Like A Sponge

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.  Titus 3:5-6

I was born one way, but years later, I was re-born as a brand-new person.  I didn’t look that different on the outside, but I was completely transformed on the inside. The enemy couldn’t see any traces of my sins.  All signs of former bondage and proof of his ownership ceased to exist. The chains fell away along with my sin-stained soul.   

In that beautiful moment of my legal spiritual adoption, the Holy Spirit was poured out, seeping into every spiritual pore.  My thirsty soul absorbed Him like a sponge, so thirsty was I for everything that He was.  I have called you and you are mine,” He said.  I came to life as each word was spoken deliberately.  His Spirit became my new source of energy.  No longer would I have to generate a reservoir of gritty resolve to do right and live right. The power of His Spirit had moved inside, flowing like a river.  

For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. Isaiah 44:3

Jesus aches to see the dead come to life and for the chance to present each one to His Father, faultless. 

Touch the blinded spiritual eyes in every member of our families.  Let them see Your glory and find You to be more desirable than gold. Touch their inner landscape so that it is transformed from impenetrable to porous, open to every part of the kingdom and the life You offer.  Defeat the enemy who pulls out all the stops to keep them stuck, blind, and unreceptive.  Display Your power and glory.  In Jesus name, Amen

The Compelling Power of Kindness

We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  Titus 3:3-5

Jesus wasn’t afraid to come and live with people who were prone to hate.  He wasn’t put off by the messiness of human relationships.  He expected to encounter people who were threatened by each other, easily jealous even among family and friends, envying to the point of taking revenge.

Jesus wasn’t surprised by this.  He watched the effects of the Fall from the portals of heaven.  He saw Cain kill Abel.  He saw Noah’s fall from grace after leaving the ark.  He saw the progression of David’s sin with Bathsheba, from desire to full-blown adultery. None of this took him by surprise for He knew the hearts of men.  He also knew the nature and character of the Archangel Lucifer – the one who had been corrupted by his own beauty and had defected against His Father. Jesus understood how persuasively Satan could lure others to sin. No one and nothing was off limits.

If you’re jealous of someone, they probably know it.  Conjuring up a fake warmth that seems genuine is nearly impossible.  Your body language says it all, pointing at times to the reality of your inner sneer. Discontent and entitlement are the enemies of us all.  They lead us to want more than what we have and if someone else has it, we struggle to love them.  If another sibling has the coveted blessing of the parent who has slighted us, a brother or sister can become an enemy.  No relationship is safe from sin.

When Jesus came to live with us, He subjected Himself to all of this. The dread of what He might suffer didn’t prevent Him from coming to extend kindness instead of condemnation.

What You have done for me overwhelms me.  What You have done, for even my enemies, humbles me.  Amen

None of It Computes!

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  Titus 3:3a

If my most trusted friend were to tell me that I was foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved, I would be shocked.  Then repulsed.  And then, sad.

If the one who revealed these things to me had credibility, how much would I comprehend the extent of my condition?  Not much at all.  Sin is insidious and my need to think better of myself than I ought to think, feeds my blindness.  As I think about each characteristic Paul described to Titus, I realize some things about what it’s like to live apart from Christ.

  • Those who are enslaved say that they really are free because they have ‘freedom of choice’.  They consider their options, make a decision, and that’s freedom, right?  Jesus says no.  The capacity to weigh all the options with the mind of Christ is absent.  Only a man or woman whose conscience has been set free from the father of lies is truly free. 
  • Those who are foolish believe themselves to wise, even brilliant.  Education makes a person smart in their field and gives a false sense of confidence about the ability to navigate life successfully.  Making smart decisions by the world’s standards is usually worlds apart from making wise decisions that align with the kingdom of God.  The wisdom of God is seen as foolishness unless God wires a new code into the heart of a new believer. 
  • Those who are deceived find it hard to believe that they aren’t thinking clearly.  Bad judgement doesn’t always lack critical thinking. The most seasoned sinner has logical rationales for bad behavior.  Deception is layers thick and begins with a history that precedes them. The human mindset is fraught with distortions because children are raised in an orphanage called planet earth.  God must re-parent each of His children, teaching them how to see the world as He does.  None of it comes naturally. 
  • Those who are disobedient cling to justifications that soothe their vague misgivings.  They might admit that their behavior is wrong for someone else, but for them, there are extenuating circumstances that make it okay.

As God’s child, I am no longer hopelessly enslaved, foolish, deceived, or disobedient.  I have a new nature, one that hates sin and loves righteousness.  But I battle my moments of fleshly imperfections with the sword of the Word.  God’s Spirit searches my heart and reveals what He finds.  He brings spiritual understanding and then empowers me to walk in His Spirit. 

All glory be to You, God. Amen

What Has Happened To Us?

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. Titus 3:1-2

I read today’s scripture and immediately felt so sad.  If this is to be the general profile of God’s people, then what in the world has happened to us?  If a poll were taken amongst the U.S. population, I believe the results would show that Christ-followers are perceived as being slanderous, un-peaceable and inconsiderate.

The roots of this go farther back than a decade.  Roots usually do.  But the ugly, public manifestations of those roots have shown up since the 2016 election.  The most obvious are 1.) the huge political divides stemming from the past two presidential elections, 2.) differing views about Covid and its transmissibility, and 3.) the controversy over vaccines. These three issues alone are splitting churches, families, and friendships.

Disillusionment then plagues the hearts of God’s people as they deal with feelings of disappointment toward those they thought they knew well, those who are acting out in ways they wouldn’t have thought possible. This is especially shocking when it’s someone within an immediate family or in a small discipleship group. Overall, both sides have allowed these earth-bound issues to erode their ability to fellowship with others who have differing views on these topics.

The problem is two-fold.  There is an apparent absence of the Spirit in how we treat those in the family of God who disagree with us, and then, how we treat those in governmental authority over us.  We condemn and withdraw from our brothers and sisters in Christ and we fight the government and its agencies with slanderous words rooted in rebellion. We are far from ‘peaceable and considerate.’  We have little credibility for being known as ‘gentle.’

What God requires of us is to ‘seek justice and walk humbly with our God.’ Micah 6:8 We, like the courageous Dietrich Bonhoeffer, should be willing to take a stand against a godless regime, the likes of Nazi Germany.  We should speak up in the face of evil.  But Spirit-driven conviction, clothed with humility, is God’s way and the only way.  Read the Christian rhetoric on Facebook.  Sadly, there is mostly anger and vengeance. It can not be! Our passionate cry for change must be accompanied by a broken heart for the people who have gone astray.  If we are not known for our love, even when righteously angry, people don’t see Jesus.  They see an angry religious mob.  We’ve taken up arms, both with words and with weapons, to ‘fight for our freedom.’ When will we realize that this is a political slogan, not a biblical one. 

We serve, and are subjected to, another kingdom where King Jesus teaches us how to advance His kingdom.  We are not Christian soldiers who are commissioned to protect our rights as Americans.  We are soldiers in God’s army who fight the prince of darkness on our knees, with prayers for repentance and forgiveness. Then we get up and look for ways to love and serve those who hate us and only in that context can our convictions be heard and not discounted.  Jesus was right.  They will know us by our love. 

It is good to conclude with a Bonhoeffer quote.  “The Christian must treat his enemy as a brother and requite his hostility with love. His behavior must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus.”

Don’t Let Anyone Despise You?

These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.  Titus 2:16

This sounds impossible, doesn’t it?  How can I keep someone from despising me?  I may have earned their dislike and perhaps I can remedy that.  But if their dislike is righteous persecution, Jesus says that I should expect to be hated.  Others can also despise me because there’s a bias not rooted in truth.  Their vision is skewed.  So, what gives with all of this?

Paul thought this so important that he wrote about it two other times.

            No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers. (1 Corinthians 16:11)

            No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers. (1 Timothy 4:12)

Paul is saying that I should give no one reason to despise me by how I live, and more specifically, by how I encourage and rebuke.  Both can be off-putting if done in the flesh.

Encouragement can come across as a putdown.  Haven’t you gotten unsolicited spiritual advice?  They said it was to encourage you, but it felt like you didn’t measure up.  You should be more like them.  This caused you to feel animosity toward the ‘encourager’.  Perhaps even despise them – if their words were delivered with a condemning spirit.  To encourage is to ‘give courage.’  No one ever inspired bravery with a put down.

Rebuking is equally difficult.  To do it in a way that doesn’t leave the other person disliking you is almost impossible without the Spirit of God in charge of the words and the spirit of the delivery.

The most effective parenting, with regard to encouraging and rebuking, is accomplished with similar tones.  There is loving concern, perhaps even tears, along with words that implore.  If the interaction was caught on silent film, it would be difficult to tell which one the parent was doing.  Encouraging or rebuking.  So similar is the way this love is expressed. 

Titus is being told by Paul that it’s possible to encourage and rebuke, with authority, in a way that constrains others to know that whether they agree with him or not, they would know that he loved them.  Through it all, his heart was communicated.  He was also to live in such a way that there was not a double standard.  He was not to be guilty of the very things for which he was rebuked. 

I cannot afford to have spiritual conversations without examining my own heart.  What are my motives?  Why am I encouraging?  Why am I rebuking?  Is it for the reasons You did it, Jesus?  Show me.  Amen

Do I Hate Who I Was and Love Who I Am Now?

[Jesus] who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.  Titus 2:14

I was not created to love evil.  Quite the opposite.  If Adam and Eve never sinned, I wouldn’t even know what evil was.  I’d be walking in Paradise, communing with God in the evening after an enjoyable day at work.  Instead of pondering my regrets of the past 24 hours, I’d be savoring the beautiful moments on God’s perfect earth.  Instead of brainstorming how to keep my soul safe from unsafe people, I’d be soaking in the beauty of perfect intimacy, one without any reservations whatsoever. 

But that’s not how the storyline unfolded.  A knowledge of good and bad opened.  Acquaintance with a thing called evil came into view, and with it, an incapacity to understand the breadth of wickedness.  It was too shocking for the human mind.  Too horrific to grasp.  Yet, there was also an appetite for what it might be like to explore the edges of the canyon of evil desires.  One taste after another put us deeper into the pit with an enemy who never intended to let us go back to paradise.  Once in his web, he lured, tormented, condemned, and maligned the only Savior who could rescue us.

That’s not the end of the story.  Nothing could stop God’s plan of redemption and restoration.  Jesus came to snatch us from the fire, to give us a new nature, one that would no longer want to sin.  Wickedness would repel us.  Dressed in the robes of the Garden, once more perfect in Christ, we would dance in our new identity.  We would forever stand in awe of the power of Jesus’ shed blood, for it was His sacrifice that made a way for us to be purified.  All things became new.  Old things of the canyon-of-evil passed away. 

I am part of the people that are Christ’s very own.  So are you if you trusted Christ to redeem you from the curse of the Garden.  We are sin-haters, often engaging with it anyway, but quick to repent as we remember who we are now, and whose we are forever!

There is Paradise in my soul now.  But Paradise for my body – coming later – is still a sure thing.  Even so come Lord Jesus.  Amen