Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 18 July 2019

One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”   This saying is true. 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 1:12-14 (NIV).

Paul’s words seem harsh here, resorting to gossip and common canards.   Yet before you or I go judge Paul, let’s go back to that history.   And context.   Both are necessary to avoid the too-contemporary mistake of painting Paul with a broad brush.

First, consider Paul’s task in Titus 1.   He was protecting the church by refuting false doctrine.   Paul wrote the letter to encourage Titus on what to teach the young church.   Part of that includes identifying what was wrong about what was being said at the time.   The purpose wasn’t to hammer those misleading the church:   the purpose was to steer even them back to the road of the straight and narrow.

He was also using irony, namely the irony of a popular aphorism from the area where Titus was ministering.   Per John Gill’s commentary, this is attributed to Epimenides (a poet) and Ovid (also a poet), both of Crete, who associated the ancients of Crete with falsehoods.   It was they, not Paul, who associated Crete with dishonesty.

Last, Paul was being honest.   He was being honest by talking frankly about the dishonesty of those who would mislead the church by demanding they do things according to Jewish traditions (like circumcision).  Many of the converts into the new Christian following were former Jews.   Christianity itself was seen as an offshoot sect of Judaism, and the roots of the Christian faith are wholly Jewish.  It’s understandable that some people would think that the traditional Jewish laws governing circumcision, sacrifices, festivals, and daily life would, then, apply to Christians.

It’s also false.   Those who would preach that from within the workings of the church must be silenced.   Their falsehoods must not be allowed to take root or believers could be swayed away from following Jesus.   It isn’t that Jesus wasn’t strong enough to overcome that.   It’s that people weren’t.   As we talked about yesterday, that same push happens today.   The Catholic concept of paying a penance has its roots in the false idea of doing something to earn God’s grace.   The idea that churches must adhere strictly to a man-made church calendar is another manifestation of it.

If tradition glorifies God and helps people believe in Him, it can be a good thing.   Yet the second it becomes about adhering to the tradition and not giving that glory, then the tradition is bankrupt.  It was true in Paul’s day; harsh or not, it’s true now.

For further reading:  Acts 2:11, Acts 17:28, Colossians 2:22, 1 Timothy 5:20, Titus 1:15

Lord Jesus, forgive those who misconstrue Your holy words.   And help me today to only truthfully teach them to others through what I say and do.

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Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 17 July 2019

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 1:11 (NIV).

Let’s get this out there.   I don’t like censorship.   As a matter of course, I don’t like it when government, or authorities, or ‘people in charge’ try to shut down the free exercise of ideas.   My wife will tell you:  I enjoy debate, especially political debate.   Too often, I debate to try to get the last word.   I don’t like it when someone tries to quench the debate using volume to drown out, or lies to change the topic, or (worst of all) making a topic off-limits while attempting to hammer you with it.

That isn’t what Paul is talking about.

In this verse, Paul is reminding Titus that there are those in the church who are purposefully spreading false doctrine.    He’s saying to the new bishop that there are those under said bishop’s spiritual umbrella who are telling parishoners that they must be circumcised to receive Christ, that they must do X or Y to be worthy of Jesus, that they must perform some kind of task to contribute to what Jesus did on the cross.

The churchy term for this is “works-righteousness”, meaning you must work or do something to earn salvation or make yourself righteous.  Paul’s term for it might have been “lying.”

It was a lie in Paul’s day; it’s a lie now.  We do nothing to contribute to our salvation or to our being made righteous in the eyes of God.   Everything possible, everything necessary, everything we could even think of doing was already done by God Almighty Himself in Jesus’ self-sacrifice at Calvary.    More importantly, He did it at Easter, when He opened the door to heaven for anyone who would believe by opening that garden tomb.

You don’t have to be circumcised to believe in Jesus.   You don’t have to pray the rosary.   You don’t have to say the Lord’s Prayer, or ten ‘hail Mary’s’, or go along with the leadership team, or not question the pastor, or wear a suit and tie to church.   The only thing you or I bring to Jesus is ourselves:   our imperfect, sin-addled selves.   We say “I believe” and learn that He made everything (even our saying “I believe”) possible.  We don’t become Christian drones by doing this:   we are adopted as His family.  It’s Him, not what we do.

And I don’t like being told otherwise.   I’m an intolerant work in progress, and I don’t like being told I’m wrong if I’m not.   I could use your prayers in learning to better deal with this; I’ll offer you mine as well.  We’re both struggling against the lies of censorship.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 5:13, Titus 1:12

Lord Jesus, You and only You did everything for salvation.  Remind me today, again, of this most important fact so I can share it well with others.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 16 July 2019

For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group.  Titus 1:10 (NIV).

History matters.   It’s pretty difficult to understand how Jesus fulfills everything about the Old Testament without understanding the history of the Old Testament and why things were the way they were.   And it’s pretty tough to understand what Paul means when he’s talking about “meaningless talk and deception” and “the circumcision group” and how that affects one’s belief as a follower of Jesus Christ.

What does having a man’s foreskin sliced off have to do with believing in Jesus?   It’s everything and nothing.  Circumcision was given – and directed – to mankind as a way for men to remember God’s devotion to them.   So that they would know God is with them in the most private, intimate of places in their lives, God commanded Abraham to circumcise everyone in his race.   There were spiritual, medical, hygienic, and physical reasons for all this yet the message to man was still the same:  (from God) I am yours and you’re marked as mine.  No matter what anyone does or says, God is ALWAYS present even in our proudest and most personal moments.

Sort of like now.  In Romans, Paul talks about how a Christian’s circumcision is of the heart, how God marks us from within.   The old covenant has been replaced by a new one.  God’s Son Himself would cut away the sheath around our hearts and reside within.  From now on, it would be God working from the heart – and the words and actions emanating from it – that would make new believers.  There would still be those who insist on putting rules and boundaries around our faith, but those wouldn’t be able to touch God where He truly lives.  Or harm us there.

Because, then as now, the world is full of people who rebel against that, ridicule it, try to pull people away from it.   Most of our world doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ.   Most of the world isn’t circumcised ‘downstairs’ or inside.  Six of seven billion people either don’t care or don’t know about the man from Galilee.  And among those who do know Him, there is internal dissention, disagreement, discord, and disunion on just who He is and a host of other largely meaningless issues; don’t this, don’t that.  Don’t.  Really.  Matter.

Because He still is.   He’s still the Son of God.   He’s still a person in the Trinity.   He’s still the Way, the truth and the life, and the only path to God.   Because He still circumcises those He marks as His own.

It would be difficult at best to understand these things without knowing why circumcision originally mattered.  History matters because He still does.

For further reading:  John 14:6, Romans 2:29, Acts 10:45, 1 Timothy 1:6, Titus 1:11

Lord God, thank You for the gift of circumcision, both its original meaning and Your circumcision of the heart.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 15 July 2019

Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.  Titus 1:8-9 (NIV).

A bit more on elders and the kind of people they should be.  Last time, we talked about how we should all lead in Jesus’ name; how we should model Him in how we lead others, whether it’s at work or in the church.   Here, Paul (again) lists traits and behaviors that elders/leaders should have, specifically for fit service to the church.

But it’s more than that.   You know it is.

I’m struggling with Agile.   I’m a project manager (or at least I used to be) and I have been trained over the years in the traditional business methods for managing project (specifically IT projects).    To get something done, you plan it, you organize it, you staff it, you execute it, then you deliver it.   Included in that are dozens of sub-concepts such as project plans, budgets, sponsor management, test development, test execution, planning for shut-down, and post-delivery evaluation just to name a few

Agile upends all that.   Agile is a way of managing and thinking that streamlines delivery of things, specifically software.   It cuts out much of the traditional process and focuses on what is most important at the moment to rapidly deliver what matters most   It uses new tools and quick solutions.  And I’m struggling with that concept, that focus on rapid, sometimes incomplete, delivery over the more cautious approach of tradition.

In a way, Paul is advocating traditional “waterfall” staffing of the church, recommending that those who serve her must exhibit the traits of maturity and godliness so that God’s message can be shepherded in a needy world.   Impulsive, cut-to-the-chase approaches go only so far when sound doctrine is in the mix because sound doctrine always loves, always perseveres, always bows down at the feet of Jesus before anything else.

And yet the early practice of Christianity was agile.   It DID cut to the chase, namely that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that nobody would come to God except through Him.  The traditional ways of worship that went back even to Noah wouldn’t justify a man to the Father.   Only Jesus can do that.   The message of redemption is for both the mature and the immature, the Jew and the gentile, the new and the old.   Paul’s decades-long journey in righteous Judaism was up-ended in a flash on that road to Damascus.   And that’s a great thing.

Do you struggle with that?  Whole churches struggle with the idea of traditional approach over ‘modern’ agility.   Where does God have you in how you react to that?

For further reading:  Romans 12:13, 1 Corinthians 16:13, 1 Timothy 1:19, 2 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:10

Lord Jesus, help me to see Your mission how we do it.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 11 July 2019

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.  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 1:6-7 (NIV).

Paul tells us what our leaders (especially our church leaders) should be.   Then he tells us about habits they should not have.  It’s a lesson we should enthusiastically, but carefully, heed.

We’ve been here before.   Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Jim Bakker, Mel Gibson, John F. Kennedy, Jay-Z; name your celebrity or politician.   I dare say most couldn’t pass Paul’s smell test to be an elder.  Most people don’t vote for politicians because they’re saints.   Most people don’t listen to popular artists or movie stars because those people are paragons of virtue.   We listen to those people, watch them, vote for them because we like them and what they say or do, or we agree with some of what they say and do.

Got skin?   Got sin.   Donald and Bill and Jim and the rest are me.   They’re you.  Sinners and fallen.

Those who are our earthly leaders, celebrities, and such are fulfilling roles that God appointed for them as well.   That doesn’t mean we should excuse repugnant or bad behavior.   It does, however, mean thinking about it in context of why – and who and where – they are.

In Titus 1, Paul is talking specifically about leaders in the church.  You’d think that a faithful humanity would want our church leaders and civic leaders to have the same virtues.   In reality, we do.   Yet, in the church, we should hold our leaders to a Godly standard that isn’t always germane for civil service.   Especially in a time when so many are uber-sensitive to the (not in the Constitution) separation of church and state.

We shouldn’t be jerks (but so many are).   We shouldn’t be wallowing substance abusers (but many are).   We shouldn’t be violent (but way too many are).   We shouldn’t pursue dishonest gain (but way too many use the church as their own springboard).   There’s a lot we, as leaders of the church of God, shouldn’t do.   But there’s lots more we should do.  Our leaders are, as front-line soldiers, representing the family of Jesus.   We should be morally upright, publicly virtuous, and a good example for others to aspire to follow.

In other words, we should model Jesus.   That’s what Paul is telling us to do.   It isn’t any more complicated than that.  Trump couldn’t do it.   Neither could Clinton or Obama or any of the others.   Neither could you or me.   But, then again, maybe all of us could.   With the help of God, anything is possible.  Maybe we could – and should – lead in His name.

For further reading:  Matthew 19:26, 1 Corinthians 4:1, 1 Timothy 3:1, Titus 1:8

Lord and leader Jesus, help me to lead in Your way today.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 10 July 2019

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 (NIV).

Our goal should be to want to serve the Lord with honor.   Our conduct shouldn’t detract or distract from His purpose, His work.   Our lives as leaders in the church should be upright, and bring great credit on ourselves and the united church of Jesus Christ (that last phrase is actually very close to every Air Force medal citation I’ve ever read).

Good luck with that.

Years ago, I was asked to serve as an elder but I pointed out that my conduct (at the time) would preclude that; Paul would have agreed.  Nobody has asked me since, and all glory to Jesus in all things, including humbling one’s self to serve the Kingdom in unconventional ways.

How many of us are truly blameless?   Many couples deal with infidelity, either physical or emotional.   And where are today’s families whose children are not a little wild and disobedient?   When I left home, my faith drifted and I didn’t attend a formal church for most of a decade.   I believed in Jesus, but I wasn’t sure about many things, or what faith really meant.   I can say the same thing about all three of my kids.   And, as a proud Dad, I’ll brag that all three are coming out of that fog just as I did.   All three have faith-journeys of their own with the Lord, both in and out of formal congregations.

They aren’t blameless.   They aren’t angels.  They aren’t perfect.   Neither am I.   Neither are you.

Could you or I be an elder?   Some people who read this blog are; some are pastors and evangelists; some are teachers; some serve in other ways.   It isn’t a clique or a club or some group where you get a secret handshake.   It’s a way to serve God’s church in an orderly position.   And the elders, pastors, evangelists, and teachers I know who serve the church are flawed human beings, people who make mistakes, sometimes cuss like sailors, and do things that bring discredit on the family of Jesus.

Got skin?  Got sin.   The cure for the common sin is Jesus.

Who then is ‘fit’ to serve?  Certainly not the leaders in my church, or yours.   Or me.   Or maybe you.  None of us but all of us.  “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”   Jesus said that.

I don’t know if you’re truly blameless, or if your kids are wild (or even if you have any).   What I do know is that God can use your life in His work, maybe as an elder, but definitely in some good way.

For further reading:  Matthew 19:26, 1 Corinthians 4:1, 1 Timothy 3:1, Titus 1:7

Lord Jesus, use me in Your service today.   Forgive my sins, and help me repent to move forward from them to better serve You.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 9 July 2019

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 (NIV).

The church is an orderly group, so that the work of our God may be advanced.    Like it or not, we need order, we need structure through which to manage our lives.   Very few people could simply say “I’m going to build a house today” and do it successfully without order, a plan, and help.   Very few projects could be executed without planning to order the work, ensure it’s done correctly, and implement a solution that doesn’t interfere with other things already in place.   Hardly anyone would wake up in the morning and decide “I’m going to get married today and have a 500 person reception” and then have it happen without a great deal of help (and money).

Jethro advised Moses to organize judges and leaders for minor tasks so that the major work of Israel could be accomplished.  After shepherding the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses was beaten down with hearing all the disagreements and legal disputes that happen in a nation of a million former slaves.  His father-in-law, Jethro, paid him a visit there in the desert of Sinai and advised Moses to appoint a structure of leaders who could handle lesser disputes.   That way, only the most sensitive or pressing disputes would land in Moses’ lap for him to take to the Lord.

Delegation is a wonderful thing.

Paul recognized this.   He trained Titus to be a leader in ‘the Way,’ and then appointed Titus as a bishop in Crete.   This happened less than a generation after the resurrection of Jesus, meaning that the church has had formal structure since very early on.   Indeed, even the twelve Apostles were a group of improbable leaders right from the start.   But the important lesson is that the church works well when there is organization.   That doesn’t mean every minute decision must be made collaboratively or by committee.   But it works well when a senior leadership team delegates tasks to lesser groups or committees or leaders who can act.  Titus was one such person.   He was competent.   Paul recognized it, so Paul commissioned Titus to lead and go forth.   And that’s what happened.

Mind you, any group (but especially the church) must be mindful to delegate only to people equipped to act or lead.   Most people hate working for control freaks.   Whether it’s a small church task or building a new line of cars, people don’t like working for other people who get high on power.  A good leader knows their limitations and will seek advice and help when they need it.

How will you lead today?   How can you lead – and serve – where you are today?

For further reading:  Exodus 18:1-26, Acts 27:7, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6

Lord Jesus, empower me to serve and lead where You have me today.   Thanks for Your help.