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.

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Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 6 May 2019

Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.  2 Timothy 2:17-18 (NIV).

My wife and I went to the Ark Encounter in Kentucky last week.   If you haven’t seen it, it’s a full-size recreation of what Noah’s Ark may have (even probably) looked like; a three-story museum of what it must have taken to create the Ark, then to tend to the animals, then to repopulate the world.   Ken Ham Ministries, which operates the museum, did a great job intertwining this story of how God saved physical life through the Ark with the account of how God saved spiritual life through the Good Friday Easter ark who is Jesus Christ.

At the end of walking through, it occurred to me that I had absorbed the message:  Jesus is the only way.   It was no surprise, but it was pleasantly shocking how much I agreed with it, how easily I identified with it.  Jesus is the antidote to false teaching.   He’s the opposite of all our sinful experiences.  Jesus as He was, is, and is to come.   Jesus as He is presented in the Bible is the only truth that matters.   In Paul’s day, the gangrenous teaching that Hymenaeus and Philetus had spread had already been overcome by Jesus and His resurrection.   All that Jesus said and taught was the highway to heaven.   Whether we receive that teaching in a tourist attraction, our neighborhood churches, online, or in person is all part of our human experience.

Duh.   Better do it while we can.

Back in Noah’s time, nobody other than his family believed that God had told Noah to build the ark because devastation was coming.   After Noah’s descendants repopulated the world, few believed that God would send His Messiah to redeem us from our sins.   In our world, even though there are over 2 billion Christians, there are also over 5.2 billion non-Christians who think our faith in God’s Son as Messiah is foolishness.   Some reject it as that.   Others, like Hymenaeus and Philetus of Paul’s day, spread false teaching about it for ungodly reasons.   Still others would have you and I suffer or die for our belief in Jesus.   Think ISIS or other radical Islamic sects; think Communists in China, Cuba, and elsewhere.  Think even about dilletantes here in the peaceful US of A.

Noah or now, some things never change.  Through it, the message of the Ark Encounter remains:   Jesus is the only ark, the only way to live through this terminal adventure called humanity.  How will you share that message today?

For further reading:  1 Timothy 1:19-20, 2 Thessalonians 2:2, 2 Timothy 2:19.

Saving Lord Jesus, You are the only ark into eternal life.  You are the only truth.  Forgive me when I’ve failed You.   Thank You for today in which to do better.   Help me to do so.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 29 January 2019

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.  1 Timothy 5:23 (NIV).

Paul now moves from advice on dealing with elders to a bit of homeopathic medical advice.   It should be noted that the Bible doesn’t condemn drinking alcohol; Verse 23 gives support to that.   What the Bible does condemn is overuse and drunkenness, and it should.   Nothing good comes out of being drunk.   Yes, I’ve done it many times, and I agree with that statement.  Scripture repeatedly condemns drunkenness; it gives examples of bad things that result from drunkenness.   Think Noah and his sons, Lot’s daughters, and repeated exhortations throughout both Testaments as to the negative effects of drinking too much.

Here endeth the ‘preachiness’ of the sermon.   I’d rather focus on the positive aspect of this verse because, once again, it talks about personal responsibility.   It’s as if Paul is saying “you’re a grown man.   Be responsible about this.”

In most parts of the world in the first century, good sanitation didn’t exist.   As long as a well wasn’t tainted, it was generally safe to use, and people knew how to boil water, even how to filter it to make it clean.   Yet modern water filtration didn’t exist for another two thousand years.   You could get sick and die from bad water; you still can.  Alcohol was safer.   It’s simply history, not advocacy.

Mind you, if someone prefers to avoid alcohol because of the negative connotations associated with it, they’re doing a Godly thing.   If churches prefer grape juice to alcohol for Holy Communion, they’re doing a Godly thing.   They’re removing an obstacle to the Lord’s Supper for people who can’t or won’t drink wine.  And if someone insists that they simply don’t like wine, well, there’s nothing wrong with that.

About communion:  it’s significant that Jesus used wine at the first Lord’s Supper.  There’s good debate about whether that was true wine or simply strong grape juice.   Yet most versions of the Bible say “wine” so I take it that it was wine He used to give His blood to us.   It matters that the Son of God used wine constructively.   So should we.

Finally, wine can have good effects on the body.  A small amount of alcohol does calm nerves, settle a stomach, and builds immunity against the common cold.   Periodic small drinks of alcohol can lower one’s risk for both diabetes and heart disease.   But to be honest, so do many other things that don’t involve booze.

Whatever your position, live it out responsibly and to the glory of God.

For further reading: Genesis 9:18-29, Genesis 19:31-32, Proverbs 20:1, Isaiah 28:7, Romans 13:13, Mark 14:23, Proverbs 31:7, 1 Timothy 5:24.

Lord, praise to You for wine and Spirits.  Forgive our misuse of them, thank You for giving them, and help us to always use them to Your benefit.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 26 September 2018

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 1 Timothy 1:8 (NIV).

What is the law?   God’s law is the set of boundaries He gave to us, through the Old Testament, to help steer us back to Him in all things.  More than just the Ten Commandments, God’s law is a complex set of rules He gave to the Jews of old to live by.   It’s not just a bunch of “no’s.”   The law, given to us by a holy God, points us to our need for the forgiveness that only He (God) can give.   We don’t live by the law now, but if we reject God, we may die by it.   To quote Paul in Romans 6, the wages of sin is death and we all die.   Yet we can live.

In Romans 7, Paul illustrates that the law is holy in that it identifies our transgressions.   It does so in order for us to understand the consequences of sin (death).   When we are bound by the law, we’re buried in our sins, and through the law the only sure destination for us is death.  Sin – the defiance of God – works against us, using our knowledge of the law, given by a holy God, to mire us in the despair of our wrongdoings.

So many churches (and so many followers of Jesus) get so wrapped up worrying about what not to do that they forget a crucial thing about the law.

It’s holy.   It’s loving.

The law of God is holy, given to us by a God of loving justice, purity, and righteousness.   The motivation for the law isn’t punishment:   it’s love.   Jesus Himself said so: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.””

God didn’t give us the law to hurt us:   He gave it to us because of love.   Because He wants to see us turn to Him whenever the threat of anything wrong approaches us.  God’s character throughout all of history hasn’t changed.   The same God who flooded the world to destroy every sin-soaked creature on it (except those kept alive in His ark) is the same Jesus of Nazareth who prayed from the cross “forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

He gave us a code to live by because He means business, namely to join your soul to His in perfect love.   So that you and I might shy away from things that could try to tear us away.   So that we know the way home when we stray.   So that we would trust Him when He gives us tools like the law to properly guide our hearts.

For further reading:  Romans 6:29, Romans 7:4-12, Matthew 22:37-40, 1 Timothy 1:9

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your holy law.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 August 2017

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  Hebrews 11, verses 13.

Today’s verse is a powerful conviction of the human race and an even more powerful demonstration of the grace of God.   It’s kryptonite to the world thinking of itself as Superman.  It’s a grace bomb.

Up until now, the writer of Hebrews has mentioned Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham as paragons of faith.   They were men who lived out what God asked them to do.   They weren’t better than anyone else in their day; they weren’t better than you or me.   They simply did a better job at putting all their faith in God.  He said then they believed.  They had faith that, if God said so, it would be so no matter what.  No matter what it cost them (even their lives), no matter what had to happen in the world, no matter anything, if God promised something, it would be so.   His word is more reliable than anything else.  I’ll ask you to back up a bit and consider the unspoken implications of what the verse is really saying.

Faith in God is worth dying for because when you have faith in God you’re a stranger in this strange land.

God created this place to be perfect.   It was perfect for a time, though we don’t really know how long Adam and Eve lived in Eden.  God created Adam and Eve to be perfect and they were for a time, existing in harmony with God and the nature He created.   In the Garden there was perfection and there was even evil.   Yet Adam and Eve lived perfectly with evil present until they accepted evil’s lying proposition.  After that, they (and we) embraced evil in corrupting the perfection of what God had created.   As a result, they (and we) fell out of harmony with God and the perfection He intended for us.

Sin, evil, corruption, sickness, deterioration, death:   those weren’t what the world was created for.   They are the abnormalities that have overtaken the world and made the normal perfection for which it was created abnormal.  We have become abnormal in a world that considers things truly abnormal to be normal.  The way around all this dysfunction, this frustration of God’s good plan, is faith in Him.   Putting our faith in God, in His Son, Jesus, changes the equation of abnormality back into one of true normality.   Disharmony becomes harmony again.

And to have that harmony in full again, unless Jesus returns, we have to die for it.   Loving Jesus fully means being willing to die for Him.  After all, He died for us.

The world of hate that we inherited from Adam and Eve’s idolatrous rebellion thinks itself to be above God.   The men cited here in Hebrews saw past that.   They didn’t have the benefit of the knowledge of Jesus for Jesus wouldn’t be incarnate for thousands of years.   Yet they still put their faith in this unseen God, trusting that He would redeem them from the hatred of sin.  They put their faith in Him doing what they couldn’t.   They hoped He would redeem them in this life, but trusted He would keep His promise whether in this life or the next.

My friend, Bill Brimer, likes to talk about ‘grace bombs.’   This is a big one.   It dropped right in front of you and exploded in your face.   Blew you away, in fact, with it’s power of love.  The ‘you’ that revels in the sensuality of our world is paled by the ‘you’ who is better than all that.   You’re better than all that because God re-made you to be better.   He remade you by redeeming you even when you and I distrusted Him.  His grace overcame our grudges.  He exploded his grace in your face by being His Word, by giving His word, by keeping His word, by being Himself for us.   All we have to do is believe because He does everything else and He does it because of love.   He proved it to these biblical forbearers.   He does it still.   BOOM.   Take that, wannabe Superman.

For further reading:  Matthew 13:17, Genesis 23:4, Leviticus 25:23, Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:17.

Lord, thank You for exploding Your grace in my face, for all You have done and do today.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 28 July 2017

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.  Hebrews 11, verse 7.

Even unbelievers know the story of Noah.  The account of Noah and the great flood is perhaps more famously known than even many stories about Jesus.  God made a number of covenants with mankind, and the one he made with Noah was the second.   God first ‘covenanted’ with man through Adam.   The covenant with Adam consisted of blessings before and after the fall.   In Eden, God promised to bless mankind; after Eden, God promised to curse the ground because of mankind while sending a redeemer to redeem mankind.   Noah lived under that covenant, awaiting that redeemer…until the day God confided to him that He was going to wipe out all living things because of man’s sin.   That’s when Noah’s faith had to kick in.  So what exactly did Noah do by faith?

He built the ark.  Some scholars think it took almost 100 years to build the ark.   Up until the mid-1800s, Noah’s Ark, a craft of Biblical ‘legend,’ was considered to have been the largest ship ever made.   Noah, his 3 sons, and their families worked for decades to build the ark that would protect living creatures from extinction.   They did it based on a promise made by an unseen God.  I get frustrated if it takes me longer than a few days to complete a project on my farm.   Imagine how I would feel working on something, full time, for an entire century.   Morning, noon, and evening, for days, weeks, months, and years…then decades.   Imagine how Noah’s neighbors must have ridiculed him for what he was doing, all the more so when he answered “because God said so” when they asked him why he was building this thing out in the middle of nowhere.

He built the ark out of fear.  Noah built the ark because God told him to, and Noah walked with God.   He knew God and pursued God’s heart.  To do that, like his ancestor Enoch, Noah feared God and respected Him.   He understood his place as a man yet also his place as God’s cherished creation.   A thousand or more years before Moses recorded Genesis, Noah listened to stories told by his ancestors about the Father’s indescribable power and love.   Yes, Noah built the ark out of fear:   a healthy fear born in love.

He had faith that God hadn’t forgotten him during the long days on the ark.   Noah and his family lived on the ark, floating on the world-wide ocean, for nearly a year.   Imagine how it must have felt hearing things crash up against the side of the ark.   Think of how they must have felt to hear the muffled screams of people pounding to get in as the rains poured and the waters rose.  Think about the somber loneliness when those screams stopped.  I can’t imagine taking care of dozens, maybe hundreds of kinds of animals for all that time.   Perhaps the eight people on the ark kept so busy that they didn’t have much time to think about it, but I imagine there must have been times on the ark when they wondered if God had forgotten about them.   Noah probably clung desperately to his faith because that faith of 500 years had persisted through a century of building, and a year on the waters, and all through everything that happened afterward.

After the flood, when God caused the waters to recede and it was safe to leave the ark, God covenanted with Noah to never again destroy the world in a flood.  God made Noah the heir of righteousness so that, through him, the world would eventually know redemption.  Noah had faith that God would use all this to change things for the better.  And that’s exactly what happened, even as it would take many generations before Noah’s descendant, Jesus of Nazareth, would come to make it so. These days, in America, the rainbow has been co-opted by the gay rights community as their ‘pride flag.’  Yet even this serves God’s purpose for He gave rainbows to the world as a reminder of his ancient promise to Noah:  to love and sustain us and never again destroy the world in the way He had once done.  What mankind would twist for his own ungodly devices our God is still overseeing for His better purposes.   Perhaps that’s part of what kept Noah going all those years ago.   Even unbelievers can understand that.

For further reading:  Genesis 6:13-22, 1 Peter 3:20, Genesis 6:9, Ezekiel 14:14-20, Romans 9:30.

My patient Lord, thank You for the life and account of Noah.   Thank You for the rainbow reminder of Your love.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 March 2017

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:  “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.  This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord.  I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.  Hebrews 8, verses 7-12.

It’s like God was saying “folks, you just don’t get it.   In fact, that is what He was saying, and doing, and is why He kept instituting new covenants to benefit mankind until, finally, one could be instituted that would be eternally complete.   Keep this thought at hand:   this was for our benefit, not His.   This was to prepare us, NOT because God had to practice to get it right.   All throughout human history, since the fall in Eden, God has been reaching out, preparing us for the ways and the time when He would restore a clear path to Himself again.   In Eden, Adam and Eve were without sin.   They lived in full harmony with God, seeing Him face to face, talking with Him one on one.   It’s how God designed people to live.

Enter sin.   Enter the serpent.   Enter falling into temptation.   Enter the divide.   Millenia later, we’re still in that divide.   Many thousands of years after Adam, 4500 years after Abraham, 4000 years after Moses and even 2000 years after Jesus, mankind is still in the divide between himself and his God Almighty.   You and I can disagree with that, and we can rail against the fact of it.   We don’t like it when people confront us with ugly truths, but they’re still truths.   We’re full of sin and unable on our own to walk with God.   It’s true for you.   It’s true for me.  It’s true for your saintly mom, Billy (and Franklin) Graham, Pope Francis (and Pope Benedict), the heroes fighting for freedom in Afghanistan, and even my minister friend, Raymond, in Africa who does practical Godly ministry better than anyone else I know.

Enter Jesus.

Jesus built the bridge.   Jesus serves as the path between sinful men and our perfect God.  Jesus forgives all our sins and teaches us how to turn from them.   And He clothes us in Himself so that, when the perfect Father sees us, He sees us through the prism of His perfect Son.   Without Jesus, God (who sees everything) sees an unholy person who can’t be in His presence because His holy presence requires holiness.   Without Jesus, sins aren’t forgiven.   Without Jesus, the old covenants of Moses and David still hammer us with unachievable law, requirements that we still misunderstand and can never fully comply with.   Without Jesus, there is no path to God.  Mohammed can’t get you there.   Buddha and years of navel-gazing can’t get you there.   Paiute, chanting to Mother Gaia, praying to your ancestors, and a thousand Hindu gods can’t get you to God.  Only Jesus.

This is true because God instituted the new covenant that He promised in the verses above (much of which are quoted from the prophet Jeremiah).   What men couldn’t make right through our insufficient means and petty pagan religions God made right through the selfless sacrifice of Himself in His Son.   We didn’t ‘get that’ when it happened.  Far too many of us still don’t today.

For further reading:  Jeremiah 31: 31-34, Exodus 19:4, 5, 20: 1-17, Romans 11:27, 2 Corinthians 3:3, Ezekiel 11:20, Zechariah 8:8, Isaiah 54:13, John 6:45, Luke 22:20.

Lord God, I praise You for making things right, for Your selfless sacrifice that purchased salvation for all of us.   Thank You more than I can say.