May It Be

Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.  Titus 1:8

May it be ~ that those who are characterized by today’s attributes would be the ones leading the flock to wholeness.  Each descriptive infuses a breath of fresh air into my spiritual lungs.  Think about them with me ~

Hospitable ~ How many times have you rung a doorbell and been greeted by a man who exuded sincere hospitality.  Comments like these followed.  “Come in out of the cold and make yourself at home.”  “We’ve waited a long time for this day. We’re so excited you’re here.”  Often, these are the kinds of things expressed by the lady of the house, not the man.  Oh, but when it happens, it’s easy to dream of moving in for a while.  So different than being greeted by a stoic. 

Loves what is good ~ His stories reveal that he loves to think about what is good rather than what is bad.  As you listen, you are not on edge about what’s coming next.  He seeks to find the good in others, the ways God is at work through people.  He does not delight to point out flaws, but strengths. 

Self-controlled ~ In a contentious meeting, he keeps his cool and mediates.  When offended, he works through his hurt privately and then forgives.  When frustrated, he has the skills to work it out without hurting others. His life is not characterized by indulgences, but balance.  

Upright ~ He has a reputation for sincerely doing what is right without fanfare.  When he walks into a stressful situation, people feel better because ‘he’ just walked in.  He brings security and a sense of relief.  When emergencies arise, he is one of the first people you think of to call.  He epitomizes a place where you feel safe ~ just like with Jesus.

Holy ~ He knows he’s a sinner saved by grace.  There is no need to present himself as perfect.  He is well aware that he is not, also knows his specific Achille’s heels, and is actively working with God for victory. 

Disciplined ~ He’s dependable. If he makes a commitment, he will keep it. Once carved into his schedule, he will see it through.  He is this way about every area of his life.  He gives his attention to what God says is important.  If this is your father, or grandfather, how blessed you are.

I’m so blessed to have so many men come to mind.  Thank you.  Amen

Hurting The Sheep

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Titus 1:6

God’s word is divinely inspired and rightly ordered.  Nothing written is insignificant.  Paul didn’t pull six ungodly attributes out of the air. They were the very things God led him to mention.  Each one is a giant in importance as it relates to appointing overseers in the church. 

Notorious ~ How can a man lead and inspire others to follow him if is not blameless, if he is notorious for wrongdoing?  He does not practice what he preaches.  Contradictions abound.  Those who hear him give counsel fail to take him seriously.  They reason, “If he doesn’t do it, why should we?”

Overbearing ~ How can a man lead and inspire others if he is pushy?  He does not invite others to serve, allowing them time to be prayerful as they consider his request.  He quenches the Holy Spirit by the pressure he exerts. The result is that holy offices are given to those who end up working in the flesh just to please their leader. 

Quick-tempered ~ How can a man lead if others if they walk on eggshells around him?  They will not dare be authentic in their interactions with him for fear of displeasure.  They will see him as an angry father, one where they need to keep a low profile with near perfect behavior.  

Drunkenness ~ How can a man lead if he has so little self-control that he allows alcohol to be his master?  How will anything he says hold any weight when he has lost his credibility?  His teaching will be discounted as whispers of his drunken behavior circulate. 

Violent ~ How can a man lead if he is known to act violently?  How will others trust, and then follow, someone they fear?  He will be famous for his cruelty rather than the righteous acts that bear witness to the glory of the God he claims to worship.    

Greedy ~ How can a man lead if he has so little regard for his neighbor that he will seek to exploit them out of self-interest?  Whatever he is greed for ~ is gotten at their expense.  The results are collective feelings of betrayal and distrust of God’s anointed.

These six negative attributes create a toxic spiritual environment.  No wonder Paul had to write so directly, to spell out these traits with pinpoint clarity.  Any one of them would bring great harm to a church family.  Distrust of church leaders could span generations.

You must grieve to see such dysfunction in your church, played out amongst impressionable sheep.  Give us a passion to do things your way.  Amen

Who Is Really Disqualified?

An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.  Titus 1:6

The meaning of this scripture regarding elder’s children who are either believing or unbelieving, is unclear if traced back to the Greek language from which it came.  The closest interpretation of ‘believe’ in this context is ‘faithful and trustworthy.’  With that in mind, it would no longer involve believing or unbelieving children.  Rather obedient, respectful children or lawless and rebellious children.  This correlates exactly with 2 Timothy 3:5 For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”  This is about an elder’s ability to be a faithful overseer.

Elders are to manage two households well.  1.). His up-close and personal household ~ where there are believers and potentially unbelievers. 2.) And the household of God ~ where there will be believers and unbelievers. If a man cannot bring order and biblical management to the first, how will he bring the same to a church family?

Whether Christian leader, pastor, elder, or prominent bible teacher, many (perhaps the majority) lament that they have a child, or children, who have not embraced Jesus as Lord.  Does that mean that none of these should be in ministry?   To believe that a child’s salvation is totally dependent on a man’s fathering is unbiblical.  Every child has a free will and must bear the weight of their own decision. Many are the children who have walked away from Jesus though they were raised in a home where children were discipled.  (It is true that those raised in Christian homes have a greater chance of coming to saving faith, but it is still no guarantee.)  Parents are to live out their faith but are not held responsible for whether a child ever surrenders his life to God.

Elders and other spiritual leaders might have three children who believe and one who does not.  Does this disqualify him?  Does having one unbelieving child mean that he has not managed his household well?  How then, can three Christian children be explained?  This is a difficult text and must be interpreted in the larger context of other scriptures where good leadership within an elder’s household is a pre-requisite for church leadership. 

While children are under his roof, they will dwell within a culture of respect and submission to authority.  What is the result?  He takes this style of biblical leadership into the church and develops an even larger culture of respect and submission to God’s authority. 

Father, may your Holy Spirit teach us well today and lead us into all truth regarding this scripture.  May it free someone from guilt and a lifetime of shame.  Amen

A Small Pool Of Candidates

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.  Titus 1:5

How hard can it be to find qualified people to serve in critical leadership roles?  Tough!  Just ask any pastor.  If biblical precedents are followed in the vetting, the number of candidates dwindles significantly. 

When I was growing up, our family attended a local independent Baptist church.  It was small, less than a hundred people.  Our hometown of Petersburgh, NY was home to barely a thousand people.  The teaching was somewhat sound, but the leadership lacked.  The pastor favored politics and wealth over biblical integrity.  For example, one of the head trustees was a crooked politician who boasted of having had multiple affairs over the years.  Some were even women in the church.  Not only did this man hold a church office, but he escaped accountability and church discipline for his blatant immoral behavior. Why?  Because he was a big donor and because he had connections. 

Titus made no errors like this in judgement, most likely, even though his pool from which to choose elders was small.  The churches were in trouble, full of carnality and false teaching.  Appointing leaders was stressful.  Not only did the candidates need to be mature enough, but they also needed to be able to withstand controversy and criticism.  False teachers wouldn’t back down without a fight.  Old learned behaviors involving pagan worship were part of their defaults.  What should have been shocking and repulsive was second nature to them.  Paul warned Titus that people were confused about what was holy and what was sinful.  Elders were appointed to defend the faith, expose sin, while also loving the people into Christlikeness. 

Leading others in the process of sanctification is messy.  The same pride that keeps men and women from coming to Jesus is the same pride that works in the hearts of God’s people after conversion.  Living by the flesh is more attractive than living by the Spirit.  Paul knew that.  Seven years earlier, he had written the book of Romans to address this in detail.  I’d like to think that Titus had access to a personal copy as he discipled leaders about the war of the flesh and Spirit-filled living.  Though Paul was in Asia, the Holy Spirit was with Titus as He is with us.  This timeless Counselor still indwells, still changes hearts, and still teaches wisdom – the likes of which makes it possible for us to do the work God has set before us.

Titus, in heaven, still reviews Your faithfulness.  Amen

It’s Not A Throwaway Line

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.  Titus 1:4

Paul starts thirteen of his letters with ‘grace and peace’.  It’s something I’ve been guilty of reading casually on my way to the ‘real message,’ thinking it was a lightweight greeting.  I was wrong.

Paul was reciting part of the original Aaronic blessing.  It came straight from God’s own heart.  It transcended the period of the Old Testament and entered the Church Age.  It transcended a blessing over the Jewish people to include all Gentiles who placed their faith in Christ.  Today, it transcends the circumstances of our lives to bring us what we need most —- the graciousness of our Father and an otherworldly peace that cannot be explained. 

Can you hear the words of this Aaronic blessing spoken over you?  Stop where you are right now, close your eyes, raise your hands, and open your heart to this deeply personal and heartwarming sentiment. 

 “May the Lord be gracious to you, lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

Oh, to be so blessed.  Don’t you know Titus benefitted from these words from Paul.  Titus needed to remember the kindness of God towards him as he prepared to deliver words of correction to his hometown people of Crete.  He needed to be in touch with the peace of God as he prepared to deal with contentious people who would not welcome the truth.  Externally, he would enter a spiritual war zone, but internally, he would center his thoughts on the kindness and peace God offers ~ expressed toward him through Christ and again, through Paul.

Are you feeling the effects of this application?  I am.  Never have we lived in more of a war zone.  People are unhinged and it doesn’t take much to set them off.  Is it possible for you and I to live in the fray with a spirit that is unruffled?  Titus and Paul would assure us that we can. 

I’m taking stock as I start my day.  How have I experienced the kindness of God?  In what specific ways might I ask God to express His kindness today? 

And how have I experienced an otherworldly peace when it couldn’t be explained against the backdrop of my crushing circumstances?   Where do I need to experience God’s peace today?  I can ask my kind and gracious Father for both. 

I close with this blessing over you.  Grace and peace be with you.

Lord, remind me that I don’t need to approach you in suits of armor.  I can expose my soft side.  Amen

What the Gospel Does

To Titus, my true son in our common faith:  Titus 1:4

These are powerful words about Titus, earth shaking descriptors, from a spiritual giant such as Paul.  Paul was a Jew. Titus was a Gentile.  Yet Paul was Titus’ spiritual father.  And Titus was Paul’s true spiritual convert, a son whom he had discipled. 

Why did Paul need to start his letter to the Cretan churches this way?  Perhaps because Titus was the one who would deliver hard truth to them, and the only way they would take his words seriously would be to hear Titus’ spiritual credentials.  They were reminded that he was trustworthy and commissioned by one they respected.

The Gospel blurs racial lines of bigotry.  It did for Paul and Titus, Jew and Gentile, and it did for Ananias and Paul after Saul became a believer.  (Can you imagine how hard it was for Ananias to trust Paul, considering Paul’s history of murderous rages against believers?)  It also blurred the lines between Jews and Samaritans.  Jesus paved the way as he went off his normal route to meet a woman at a well in Samaria. 

And today, the Gospel unites the racially divided, those who would otherwise be enemies.  Blacks and whites.  Muslims and Jews.  Jews and Gentiles.  Those from the Middle East are welcomed by Western believers when Christ is at the center of their relationships.  Is there initial distrust?  Most likely.  There is a history, after all.  Perhaps this was why Ananias was given a vision by God that assured him that Paul could be trusted.  While we may or may not have visions about those with whom we have been ethnically divided, the Holy Spirit is at work to confirm that there is a bond in Christ. 

Oh, the power of the Gospel.  It can even overcome family biases.  Those who once were alienated are brought near through the cross.  Husbands and wives who were on their way to the divorce lawyer can be reconciled through the blood of the Lamb.  Parents and children who will no longer share a meal can once again embrace because of their shared loved for Christ.  A history of hurt can be just history. 

Who are my true brothers today?  My trust sisters in the faith?  Of whom am I still suspicious, a wall of offense that is grieving the Holy Spirit?  Who am I unwilling to pray for with the heart of Jesus?  Am I just as willing to pray for the salvation of an Isis-K member as I am my neighbor down the street?  It should be so. 

Titus and Paul.  Their origins and cultures were night and day.  Give me your heart for those who are not like me.  Amen