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 1 Timothy, 28 January 2019

Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.  1 Timothy 5:22 (NIV).

It’s important to remember that Paul says this verse in the context of talking about dealing with elders.   Here, he’s advising Timothy to not be too quick to appoint them.   After all, these are the people who will manage the affairs of the church proper (in service to the church eternal).  Such people should be upright and able to prove their merit for such a position.  When Paul talks about the laying on of hands, that’s the thing to which he’s referring.   Laying on of hands is an ancient custom signifying God’s blessing being laid upon the recipient.   It’s a gesture representing the infusion of the Holy Spirit into a person and the commission of that person for their task in the church.   If you attend a pastoral ordination or installation, or the installation of new church officers, in many (maybe most) churches you’ll see laying on of hands.

But there’s a caution here as well.   Ephesians 5:11 warns us to “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”  Those of us in Christ’s church are to be His light in this dark world.   We shouldn’t be quick to empower those who aren’t ready for power, but we also shouldn’t be blind as to the effects of darkness in our churches.   One way to combat that darkness is personal responsibility.   If you think about it, teachers, elders, and ministers can’t do their proper jobs if you and I don’t accept the mantle of personal responsibility.   Being Jesus’ light starts with us, me and you, regardless of elders or pastors (who are human like anyone else).  Carrying that light means both shining it into the darkness as well as responsible use of it.   Sometimes we’re called to help others in dire need; sometimes it’s best to keep away and pray.   Both can be ways of shining His light.  That’s advice I wish I had heeded so many years ago.

This isn’t one of those “rules full of things Christians can’t do.”   It’s a hard truth.   It’s a tough piece of keeping it real.   There really are things that are bad for us physically and spiritually.  We do well to steer clear of them and, where need be, expose them as dangerous so that others can do the same.   That isn’t to say we’re supposed to be tattletales or judgmental Pharisees who look down their noses at others.  But we are to be judicious, cautious, and mindful when we encounter things that are sinful or even skirt the limits of propriety.

You know, like an elder.

For further reading: Acts 6:6, Ephesians 5:11, Psalm 18:26, 1 Timothy 5:23.

Lord God, I praise You for Your good instructions.  I sometimes fail at following them.   Thank You for a chance to do better today, and I ask for Your help.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 24 January 2019

I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.  1 Timothy 5:22 (NIV).

I don’t believe anyone has ever given me a charge to do something quite the way Paul does in this verse.    Perhaps that it’s because the phrase is antiquated.   Or perhaps it simply hasn’t ever happened to me.

Never the less, Paul uses his words carefully to give emphasis that this is important.   Remember, he’s been giving instructions on how to deal with elders, even wayward ones.   Here, he emphasizes impartiality, being fair and square in how we do that.   That matters, especially in our world today.   How many times do we hear about whether/not something is fair?   That’s usually when it affects us:   we think it’s supremely important.   Imagine the importance when you’re ‘the other guy’ under the microscope.

Think about it.   You’re an elder, a person respected for what you know, what you’ve done, your wisdom.   You know in your heart that these things for which you’re praised are really from Jesus, that it’s He, not you, who’s worthy of that praise.   You’re at a point where you’re achieving through Him.  And then something happens.   You do something, something happens to you, something is said; whatever it is.  All of a sudden, in the eyes of those around you, you aren’t who you used to be.  To others, you’re someone different because something has changed.   You’re off your pedestal.

That is a time of shock and disillusionment.   Paul reminds us that, especially in those times, we should be impartial and fair, that we shouldn’t play favorites or do anything with pre-conceived notions.   That’s a time to listen, to consider, to be still and know Jesus is God.   It isn’t up to us to judge anyone except for how we’ll act upon it.   Paul knew that, so his God-inspired advice was to administer justice.   That requires impartiality and no favoritism.

Brother (or sister), that’s a long row to hoe, especially since our natural inclination is to judge, to be partial, to play favorites.   Yet if we are to act as instruments of God’s justice, then we must train ourselves – more appropriately, we must let Him train us – to do what’s contrary to our human (and sinful) nature.  I’m not saying we need to by sympathetic when people transgress, only that we need to listen for understanding, then be patient and fair.

After all, God Himself once was tried in a kangaroo court where a stacked jury of theologians were partial to the status quo and were willing to kill to maintain it.   Knowing that, we should strive to be much fairer than any Pharisee.

For further reading: Psalm 46:1, 2 Timothy 4:1, 1 Timothy 5:21.

Lord Almighty, all praise to You for fairness.   Inspire it in us today, especially when we must deal with superiors who let us down.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 23 January 2019

Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.  1 Timothy 5:19-20 (NIV).

God keeps it real.   There’s a real temptation to think of the Bible as a bunch of quaint and helpful ancient stories but not applicable in our time.  Check that temptation at the door, my friend.   Your God, your Savior Jesus, is real.   He’s in your face and heart  He deals with contemporary problems in our day and time the same as He did in His own day and time in 1st Century Judea (indeed, all the way back to Eden).   It’s impossible to think that Jesus’ Spirit lives and works through us and not accept that He’s dealing with the issues we’re dealing with as we deal with them.

One of those is that some of our church leaders – indeed, our leaders in any group – are sinners like me and you.   Some of them (us) have done some pretty awful things.

There’s the teacher who’s having an affair.   There’s the treasurer who occasionally dips into the till because bills are tight in their home.   There’s the pious elder who’s a model of propriety but gives the single-finger salute to that guy in the left lane.  There’s the leader who teaches Sunday School but is also known for some pretty colorful language with their ‘posse’ or online.  Could be you, could be me; could also be the people we’ve entrusted to run our churches, projects, and other endeavors.   Sometimes truly destructive behavior intersects with our lives.

How does Paul remind us to deal with that?  Matthew 18:  go to them privately and confront them with what’s on your heart.   If they won’t listen, then gradually escalate, yet do so with the heart of wanting to be Jesus’ representative.   In all this, we are to act in love, in respect.   We can despise what someone does without disrespecting them.   There’s usually a side or story we don’t fully know.

For these times, God gives us those instructions (from Jesus Himself) in Matthew 18.   Speak privately, take a witness, and if there’s no repentance (or worse), go public.   Again, do it all with caring, no other motivation.

Allah wouldn’t do that.   Buddha would have you ignore it.  Many churches would say it isn’t enough.  But God gives us practical ways to deal with delicate situations while doing so through the love of His Son in His Spirit.  Got skin?  Got sin; we sinners do some wicked things.  Jesus loves us anyway, then moves our hearts so we may change.   How real is it, too, that He doesn’t simply smite us but offers us a path home instead?

For further reading: Matthew 18:15-17, 2 Timothy 4:2, Acts 11:30, Titus 1:13, Deuteronomy 13:11, 1 Timothy 5:21.

My Lord, You are worthy of praise for giving us ways to deal with each other!

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 21 January 2019

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.  1 Timothy 5:17 (NIV).

Respect your elders:   we’ve all learned this maxim.   It’s Biblically based; this you can see for yourself.   Yet it’s probably the best common sense advice we could learn apart from “Love the Lord your God.”

I’m in my early fifties now, so the realization that I have probably lived most of my life has finally hit my radar.   Statistically speaking, I won’t be here fifty-two years from now.   That realization is making me take stock of what older people have to offer.  Not long ago I read that, when an old person dies, a library of priceless information dies with them; I believe I may have shared that not long ago.

Previously shared or not, it’s true.   Just in life experiences, our world’s most valuable resource may just be those who have lived in it for a long time.  Doesn’t it make sense, then, that we should respect them?   Sure, there are may older folks who say and do things that aren’t worthy of respect; see “US government.”   Yet the vast majority of older people have lived honorable lives, learned valuable lessons, seen and done things that the younger generations would be wise to learn while they still have these rugged senior citizens available.

Consider this:   most churches are staffed by folks who have been around the block.   The church councils, session boards, or committees are, in most cases, staffed by people with experience.   More often than not, those people are senior citizens, mainly because they have the time and commitment to serve.   Those are things many younger families usually don’t have in abundance.   This is also true for election workers, members of the VFW and American Legion, the Ladies’ Auxilliary, the Rotary and Lions and Kiwanis and Knights of Columbus organizations.

If the (largely) elder people who staff these civic organizations that keep our communities running do so successfully, shouldn’t that mean that we should give them the respect they are due?   That’s what Paul is saying.   The people who step up to keep the church running by performing vital organization tasks are worthy of double respect, double honor.  The people who work to keep civic organizations operating are worthy of respect, honor, and deference.   Your grandparents, the old guy who won’t get out of the left lane, that woman with a walker:   God asks us to respect them because gray hair is a crown of glory.

In a world focused on worshipping the ideas and actions of the young (especially in pop culture and politics), it’s good to remember Paul’s reminder that young people don’t grow older without usually becoming wiser.

For further reading: Proverbs 16:31, 1 Timothy 5:18.

Lord Jesus, thank You for older people, for people who have lived to become wiser.   Show me ways today that I can honor them and their knowledge and experience.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 5 November 2018

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.  In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.  A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.  1 Timothy 3:8-13 (NIV).

Here we go again.   It’s more of Paul’s ancient, woman-hating, busy-body commands on how we are to be judgy and overbearing and set up a bunch of rules to follow.   I mean, it’s almost like he’s that “television preacher with bad hair and dimples” (as Jimmy Buffett would say) telling us that we are DAMNED, DAMNED I TELL YOU if we don’t toe the line just the way he says.

Whatever.

Keep a few things in mind.   One, Paul is giving direction and advice to a student minister who is dealing with a contentious congregation.   Many scholars think that, in Paul’s pastoral letters (like 1 Timothy) he was writing to Timothy about how to manage difficult people.   That Timothy was in a situation where the congregation with whom he was working was, in fact, fractured and struggling.   Paul advises order and how to restore it.

Another thing to remember is that Paul has a point.   Deacons – church leaders a step below elders – should indeed be upright citizens within the church.   They should be the kind of people we mentor and shape into elder roles.   They should be the kind of people we want to work with to get things done.   Yes, that goes for the women in the deacon role as well.   We want church members to be the kind of people who are upstanding in the community in any capacity.   Their good behavior reflects well on the faith.

Finally, it’s good advice in and out of church.   Paul is giving good advice on how to organize our faith lives in ways that impact how we organize our entire lives.  When I staff a project, I look for elder kind of people as leaders and deacon kind of people as individual contributors.   I want women and men working with me who are upright and reliable, because you can count on upright and reliable people in a fight.   There will be problems; there will be issues.   People of good standing are the kind of people you can usually count on to help work a problem instead of running from it.

For further reading:  Timothy 3:14

Lord, help me to better become someone in good standing in Your eyes and in the eyes of my brothers & sisters.   Help me to live and act in upright ways.

 

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 1 November 2018

He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap1 Timothy 3:7(NIV).

Let’s talk about reputation.  Paul is talking about an overseer, an elder.   He’s saying that the people selected as elders must be people of good repute.   They must be upstanding citizens in the church of God, believers who are respected both in and out of the church…especially outside the church.   They must be this kind of people because, if they aren’t, they risk disgrace and falling under the influence of Satan.

Tell me:   do you have that kind of reputation?   I’ll easily confess it:   I don’t.   Too many times in the past, by things I have done and said, I’ve disqualified myself from being someone like an elder.   I’ll confess again:   I didn’t set out to do that.   I didn’t set out to become the kind of person you wouldn’t want to be.   It happened because of choices I made, of choosing sin over choosing God.  I fell into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

So I’ll ask again:  do you have that kind of reputation?   Are you the kind of person who praises Jesus one minute and looks in lust at that good looking woman or man the next?   Do you lie?  Are you envious?   Worse than these, are these the kinds of things that people think or say about you?   Bad news, my friend:   you might not be elder material either.  Maybe we’re both due for a reputation gut-check.

Now let’s turn that bad news upside down.   You and I weren’t made for disgrace, bad reputations, or that old devil’s trap.   We were made to be very good sons and daughters of the Most High, the Triune God who Luther celebrated with his 95 statements five centuries ago.   When we believe in Jesus, God sees through our disgrace and poor reputations and sees Jesus living in us.   He sees His Spirit remaking us in His image, replacing our evil ways with His fruits like love, kindness, peace, patience, and self-control.  When God looks at us through Jesus, He sees an elder-kind of person, someone whose bad reputation was remade for a good one.   What the church or outsiders think matters little.

Mind you, the devil is still setting his traps.   He has since Eden and will until the end.   Sin will still hunt us, trying to pull us away from Jesus, trying to tar our reputations once again.   Don’t fall for it.   Love defeats Satan.   The love of Jesus is more powerful than what others think, or what Satan attempts.   Besides, it’s what God thinks of me that matters.   True, we want elders (and all leaders) to be people of good character and better reputation.  But what God thinks of us is far more important.

For further reading: Mark 4:11, 2 Timothy 2:26, Galatians 5:22-25, 1 Timothy 3:8-13

Lord, all praise to You that You see Your beautiful Son in me.   Thank You.