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

Hope For What?

. . while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Titus 2:13

Every day, I hope for things, from the mundane to the critical.  Each reminds me that this world is so flawed, broken, in desperate need of saving.  Here are some examples we can all relate to. 

I hope for insurance to work out for an upcoming medical procedure. 

I hope to find a repairman who can come and fix a malfunctioning dishwasher. 

I hope to find common ground in an argument I’m having with a friend.

I hope to find a medicine or natural supplement to manage pain. 

I hope for a broken relationship to be reconciled.

I hope for personal victory regarding a life-long stronghold. 

Once we start listing things, it’s easy to create a list that is pages long. 

And so today, we wait for the hope of Jesus’ appearing.  With Him comes the healing of all things, the end of everything that frustrates, or even worse, torments.  But the greatest hope to be satisfied is the longing to see the One who is Perfect Love.  We can finally put a face to, what has only been, our heart’s experience of a Savior.  We cannot picture nor paint His face.  Ah, but soon!  Our spiritual incapacities are only for now.

Jesus is anxious to come and since He doesn’t know the time or the hour He will be sent to rapture us, I can picture Him asking His Father repeatedly.  “Now can I go?”  His desire to be with us is stronger than any desire we may have to see Him appear.  His love is more powerful than ours, purer than ours, far more unconditional than ours.  The ache He must feel to bring about that moment when the trumpet sounds cannot possibly be understood by us.  He’s known us from before the foundation of the world.  We’ve known him only decades.  He knows what awaits us.  We only know in part.  He can look into the future and see happy reunions of friends and family.  We can only wonder at the joy.

 We wait for Hope.  Hope is deferred but it’s guaranteed. 

I keep looking for a break in the clouds. Amen

When I Say ‘No’

It [lavish grace] teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. Titus 2:12

You’ve joined a group of friends for lunch.  The conversation turns to a book one of them has read.  There is encouragement for everyone else to read it because ‘it’s so good!’  But when you hear the title, you realize it’s not something you can read because of your love for Jesus.  At this point, you have a choice.  You can say nothing.  You can be vocal on your disapproval of the content.  Or, if asked, you can say that you don’t want to engage with it because you know it would hurt your relationship with God.   

I’ve spoken to others, many times, in a way that falls in the second category.  The spirit of judgement begs me to speak up in order to elevate myself and to make others feel dirty.  The temptation to be ‘above the rest’ is a hard one to resist.  I’ve got to remember that when I state my convictions, void of any mention of my love for Jesus, I repel others. 

In the previous verse, Paul reminded Titus that the ‘grace of God appeared’ in the person of Christ. It’s that stooping of Christ to be tender to me that teaches me to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and worldly passion.  Any self-control I have is not because of an extraneous code of convictions. Abstaining is not because of a set of rules.  It’s my response to a collection of personal experiences with Jesus where He intersected my life with outrageous acts of grace.  He stooped, called my name, lifted my head, and offered something priceless.  

The lump in my throat still exists and continues to shape every decision I make.  A life changed by the kindness of God, in Christ, is the one that draws others.  A rigid rule-keeper does not an evangelist make!

Oh, the temptation to be a Pharisee.  I’ve done it, and I still do it.  I will review your lavish graces for yet another day.  Amen

Grace That Stoops

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  Titus 2:11

When a person is endowed with an abundance of one thing, we say that they are ‘peace personified’.  Or ‘talent personified.’  Jesus was, and is, ‘grace personified.’

Jesus was the fullness of God, the God-man, and was personified by much more than grace. 

Isaiah said, “Arise, shine; for they light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”  Jesus is light personified.  He is also glory personified. 

Malachi said, “Unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings.”  Jesus is righteousness personified.

A person who is gracious is, of himself, gracious.  It doesn’t depend on the behavior of the person who will receive it.  Grace is self-motivated.  Grace must express itself because it is generated, and then overflows, from the giver’s heart.  Grace aches to communicate, then stoop to bend over someone, to lavish unexpected tenderness. 

The most beautiful gifts of grace always surprise.  They can’t be guessed ahead of time.  The very nature of them is to leave the person who receives it speechless. 

Many years ago, I flew to Colorado to perform a 2 ½ hour concert.  It was not in a church but in a rented hotel ballroom for a specific group function.  I didn’t feel well on the flight there and it worsened as the day progressed.  By 2:00, I was lying on my bed in my hotel room, with a 102-degree fever and raspy voice.  The stress an artist feels over having to cancel their engagement last minute cannot be exaggerated.  And, the stress they inflict on the hosting organization to figure out what they’re going to do cannot be exaggerated either.  Tensions run high and grace is often absent.  I was surprised, and deeply moved, by the response I received from those who had invited me.  They were ‘grace personified’ that day.  Their initial response was not panic, though I’m sure they were feeling it.  What overflowed immediately was concern for my physical comfort and healing ~ along with a concern for the guilt I was feeling.  As it turned out, they sent a team up to pray for me and I was temporarily healed enough to perform.  But I will never forget the gift of grace and what that felt like in a situation where grace was rarely extended. 

The rest of today, I am going to reflect on the gifts of grace I’ve received from God’s hand that left me stunned; those moments when I knew He had stooped, and bent over, to pour out something undeserved.  Starting with the gracious gifts of His sacrifice, undeserved forgiveness, and the rights of adoption, I will move to the personalized expressions of His grace poured out over these many years.  I hope to be surprised by stunning moments I had overlooked and failed to recognize as direct, divine interventions.  Would you join me in this beautiful exercise today?

You’ve been gracious when we believed You weren’t even there.  Show us.  Amen