Can You Imagine It?

Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.  Titus 1:2

I know a lot of men who are temperate and worthy of respect.  They are good to other people and are good fathers and husbands.  I know even more who are self-controlled and infinitely patient.  All these traits can be cultivated in us whether Christian or non-Christian.  But then the list of qualifications Paul lists for elders gets steep. 

He must be ‘sound in faith, in love and in endurance.’ No matter how intense his own personal trials are, his faith will not waver.  He is sound in his knowledge of God and steady to trust His promises.  No matter how many times he hears others talk of their trials, he can be depended upon for a response that reflects unshakeable trust in God.  Putting platitudes aside, he weighs in with answers that have substance and credibility because of his life-long walk of faith. 

Think of your steepest problem right now.  Is it a relationship that is stuck?  Is it your health?  Is it a set of circumstances that, when grouped together, point to a disastrous outcome?  Think of how much you churn inside about it.  Think of what the thought of it, right now, does to your spirit.

What if a man of God, the kind I’ve just described, invited you to open up and share your burden?  He would be a great listener.  He would not be distracted, giving you undivided attention, with his face open and eager to hear whatever you’d like to say.  He would be relaxed and would not rush you to condense and conclude your story.  You’d empty your heart and afterward, you’d await his response.  You’d hold your breath, wondering if you would hear Romans 8:28, but instead, you’d hear soft assurances that God can be trusted.  He’d tell you a story or two of his own, reminding you that God is unchanging and gracious, no matter how difficult the path.  He’d wisely ask you a few questions that would cause you to dig deeply for an answer.  You’d gain an expanded perspective of your burdens and realize that you are not really hemmed in like you thought.

He’d offer to pray for you and would take his time.  He’d talk to Jesus in a way that revealed he’s really been listening.  He’d ask Jesus to pour out His love in practical ways that would let you know you are not forgotten.  And the best part is ~ after the ‘amen’ ~ he’d offer you a listening ear whenever you might need him again. 

You have just met a man who is sound in faith, love, and endurance.  This kind of person is not fashioned overnight.  He’s been seasoned by life, by living through sorrows and mountaintop experiences.  He’s faced a myriad of moments where he stood in faith for his own places of unbelief. 

These men are rare but I can think of some and am grateful to say that I have.  It would have been easier if Paul would have said ~ ‘Find someone with intermittent faith, conditional love, and one who is likely to quit.’  The pool of possibilities would have opened wide.

The call to develop these sterling qualities is upon me too, Lord.  Keep me steady.  Amen

Connecting Doctrinal Dots

You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Titus 2:1

Apart from the weighty task of choosing elders, Titus was also commissioned to teach sound doctrine.  It pretty much guaranteed him explosive feedback with the false teachers that had preceded his arrival.  His job wasn’t easy whether choosing elders, confronting the wolves among the flock, or teaching doctrine for course correction.

Doctrine should always affect lifestyle.  The dots connect between my behavior and my beliefs, between choices and convictions.  The way I conduct my life reflects the truth that I know.  While there is not a chapter a verse for every situation, the whole counsel of scripture provides a context for making a righteous decision.  Sound doctrine intersects the diverse circumstances of life, life inside, and outside, of a classroom.   

If I believe that all scripture is inspired and God-breathed, I will live deliberately and prayerfully, honoring the Word that captured my heart, soul, and mind.

If I believe that Jesus was divine, one with God the Father, I will live a cross-centered life, humbled and grateful that Jesus paid for my sins. 

If I believe that Jesus is coming again, I will detach from things that pass away and invest in the kingdom that lasts forever.

If I believe that God created mankind, I will bear no prejudice to race, color, or creed.  Each person will be seen as an object of God’s love, their soul precious enough to be sought after by Jesus. 

How would the damage from false teaching on Crete be corrected?  How would so many believers, engaged in perverse learned behavior, begin to love what God loves? By a diet of sound teaching ~ carried by the wind of the Spirit of Truth.  Titus knew all that was at stake, how messy a process this would be with so many people he knew well, but he knew the power of the Gospel and believed God when He said that ‘Light overcomes the darkness’. 

Examine your church, beginning with me.  Whatever is foggy, skewed, out of line, reorder me through the power and purity of Your Word.  Amen

Is This Kind Of Talk Acceptable?

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for doing anything good.   Titus 1:16

My parents were strict about the way we talked about other people.  No name calling or disparaging comments allowed. The cliche, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it!” was the rule of the day.

If I walked into my next small group meeting and overheard someone say, “Frank is detestable and unfit for Christian service,” it would be a turnoff.  So how is this kind of talk from Paul okay?  Since all scripture is God-breathed, can name calling really be inspired by God?

‘Detestable’ was the word used in Leviticus 7 regarding those who had not kept the observances of the Torah about touching or eating unclean things.  It came out of the mouth of God.  But it’s one thing for God to say it as His motives and words are pure, but quite another thing for me to say it. 

And isn’t Paul the very one who told us to encourage one another, and build one another up in holy faith?  I Thess. 5:11 He is.  Both kinds of talk are to be Spirit led.  God models it for us.  God is just and God is gracious.  He has harsh words for the rebellious and fatherly words for His children.  He is both fierce and tender.  The challenge comes when God’s children use harsh words outside of prayerfulness and an examination of their own heart.  Can’t you hear the sneer behind the mean name calling?  I can.  But in a much rarer sense, I can also hear the holy cry of a righteous man who laments the damage done through false teachers.  He has discerned the heartbreak and anger of a righteous God who fiercely guards His flock. 

When I use words like disgusting or detestable, what people come to mind?  For what reasons?  Have they personally offended me?  Or am I upset because they offended God?  Finally, is it possible I call them and their behavior detestable because I have the same log of offense in my own eye?  People can be most offended by the sin of others that they, themselves, struggle with.

If I’m bent toward mercy, I must grow into bolder speech.  If I’m bent toward justice, I must grow into more merciful speech.  In either case, I must examine my heart.  If I’m only merciful, I probably fear conflict and rejection.  If I only want justice, I am probably reacting to past hurts where evil behavior went unpunished.  I’ve never worked through it to the point of forgiveness.  Either way, I am to be like Jesus, who was, and is, the exact representation of God.  He is the full package and will, by the power of His Spirit, transform me into His likeness.

Show me where I need to grow.  Amen

Control Freaks

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. Titus 1:15-16

Know any control freaks?  They run a tight ship at home and come up with rules for everything.  Like, how much water to use to wash dishes, or what knives to use to do a certain job, or even what methods to employ to stock the cupboards correctly.  People who need to control everything are miserable to live with. 

There’s a common trait among those who make all the rules.  They don’t trust people.  It’s wearisome to listen to their reasons.  If a person is quiet, he’s hiding something.  If he’s too sanguine, he doesn’t take his job seriously enough.  If he’s generous, then he wants something from you.  Unhappy are the spouses and children of such a person.  Trusting will never come easily for them because of the suspicious rhetoric they hear in their home day in and day out. 

Titus had to deal with people like this in the church; rule makers, otherwise known as false teachers.  They manufactured laws and codes of conduct.  Paul warned Titus that these people were corrupted unbelievers, though their work was in, and among, the churches.  There was no pleasing them if their rules weren’t kept perfectly enough.  To question them was to be traitorous and disloyal. 

Christians who languish under false teaching are told that these standards are from God.  Who is going to love God when He is presented as unreasonable and impossible to please?  Who is going to trust God with his heart?  Not many.   

To the pure, all things are pure.’ God has given us pleasures to enjoy, starting with the enjoyment of Him.  To the pure, there is no suspicion of God’s intentions.  Love can be trusted.  Grace and mercy inspire awe.  Consciences are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.  Believers are the freest people in the world.

False teachers operate with satanic charisma, but also with a spirit of judgement and condemnation. They love to size people up and make assessments regarding their performance. But with the pure in heart comes the spirit of our gracious and loving God.  They live to find opportunities where the love of God can be expressed.  For true believers, fellowship is a party where God’s gift of salvation is celebrated among sinners saved by grace.

Are there any rule-maker tendencies left in me?  Touch me with grace so that I may be gracious.  Amen

Aunt Ida and a Free Gift

Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth. Titus 1:13-14

My father’s aunt was a feisty old woman named Ida.  She survived brain, stomach, and breast cancer in her 60’s.  In her 70’s, she shingled her own roof and laid flagstone on her outdoor patio.  In her 80’s, she still kept a loaded shotgun beside her bed and used to say, “Anyone who comes in here in the middle of the night without telling me ahead of time, will be picking buckshot out of their backsides.”  The language was spicier than that!  Aunt Ida was a version of Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies. 

Aunt Ida wasn’t good at accepting gifts.  She figured out how to repay you – making sure that she gave you more than you gave her.  Everything was a contest.  If you had her for dinner (which we did for most every holiday throughout my childhood), she would let you know, while she was still eating, that she would be reciprocating.  She would ask my mom for some of her recipes and announce that she was sure she could make them just as well, or maybe even better, than she had.  Was her payback meal really a gift?  It sure didn’t feel like it.  Lots of strings.

Despite this, she could be fun to hang out with.  We played dominoes most every weekend with a primitive homemade scoreboard that dated back to her farmhouse of the 1880’s.  She sure loved to win!

The false prophets in the church didn’t believe in the free gift of salvation.  They believed that men were good enough to earn God’s favor.  They added Jewish myths to the equation; Gentiles had to be circumcised and believers should abstain from the consumption of meat.  The sinister message behind everything was this ~ You must do religious things, religiously, to impress God and feel good about yourself.

These false teachers promoted a lifestyle that was characterized by ‘a form of godliness but without power.’  Christian cultures are full of people who talk alike, read the same books, attend the same conferences, and share the same communion bread.  Some have the power of the Spirit on the inside, but some are empty shells just going through the motions.  There are false teachers today who promote rule-keeping, giving approval and acceptance that is conditional upon conformity.  Guilt is used to keep the people in line.  Grace is a rare commodity.  So far from who Jesus is and what He graciously gave. 

Thank you. Amen

A Quiet Rebellion

For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.  Titus 1:10-11

Truth is radiant, uncomplicated, and unpolluted.  When God’s Word begins to transform a congregation, it doesn’t take long for wolves to show up with attempts to disfigure what is holy.  Paul predicted this kind of satanic activity back in the book of Acts.  He said, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.”  Acts 20:20

Paul named these disruptors, ‘rebellious people.’  The Greek language gives more specifics. They refused to submit to anyone’s authority. They disregarded restraint, were insubordinate, headstrong, and uncontrollable. 

The first rebel, Satan, planned the first rebellion and he carried it out in the heavens.  Though he was once a worshipper of God, his heart became corrupted.  God speaks of him in Ezekiel 28.  Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So, I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. By your many sins and dishonest trade, you have desecrated your sanctuaries.  No longer willing to be subject to God’s authority, Lucifer took his mutinous plan to the angelic hosts in heaven.  His leadership gifting was impressive and effective as he persuaded one third of them to defect. 

Akin to the first mutiny in heaven, rebellion is a force to be reckoned as it is fueled by the god of this age.  False teachers are not always recognizable at first.  They are articulate and their arguments are logical, even if twisted.  Their true nature might not be fully revealed until there is a threat of exposure.  This happens with a biblical confrontation.  Their smooth veneer begins to splinter with the truth and their ability to cloak themselves in false light is diminished.  Paul told the believers in Ephesus, “Do not participate in deeds of darkness.  Instead, expose them.” Ephesians 4:11    

Paul’s mandate to Titus was to pick strong elders who could contend for the faith.  He did not advocate a quiet meeting behind closed doors with rebellious troublemakers, appealing to their good nature to change.  He said they must be silenced.  The elders Titus was searching for were to resemble Jesus ~ who knew when to extend mercy and when to initiate tough conversations with religious people. 

It was hard for the people of Crete to recognize liars because this intersected their own native blind spot.  I have not always been wise about spotting a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Show me why.  Amen