Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 29 August 2019

 Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.  Amen.  Titus 3:15 (EHV).

After well-intentioned exhortations for Titus to ‘do good’, Paul concludes his short letter to the bishop of Crete.  But let’s not rag on Paul too much.   He meant well, and he actually was passing on good advice.   In the moment – and if you take the previous verses out of context – it’s easy to see that we can lose focus on Jesus without much effort.   We ARE to do good works; Paul was right to encourage Titus to do them; it was proper.   But it was only proper if it was a way to let go and let God work through ‘doing.’  We should give Paul the benefit of the doubt because he was doing the only thing he could in the letter:   send a written Casey Kasem long-distance-dedication to his friend that his friend might be encouraged.

Most of my friends here in Texas are Christians.   In fact, most of the people I know in North Texas I know because we have gone to church with them.   Sure, a few are neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances I know through my wife.   But most are fellow church-goers.  My wife and I are tight with four or five other couples who we call “our Peeps” because, well, we’re each others’ people.  While I can’t picture any of us saying the exact words “greet those who love us in the faith,” I can picture any of us saying something similar (usually while holding a glass of wine).

And while “grace be with you all” isn’t something I would picture any of us saying in conversation, the meaning is there.   We wish each other well because we’re friends, because we’re brothers and sisters in faith, and because we love each other.  Indeed, hoping God’s grace into each others’ lives is one of the reasons we get together.   We thrive on sharing God’s grace through fellowship (and that wine).

These days, I could cry about most anything, but that’s a blessing that comes with having your heart broken and people around you who care to share God’s grace with you after.  Years ago, whenever we’d leave my in-laws’, there would always be tears.   I wasn’t comfortable with that back then, but things change.   I’ve shared plenty of tears with our peeps, and my in-laws, and over the rest of our lives, I’m sure more will come.   But those, too, are that blessing, even when we all cry ugly.  Tears are a way of saying “God’s grace with you is important enough for me to cry for you.”

I imagine Paul might have shed a few tears when signing off from Titus.  Or leaving at all.   That’s quite the dedication, and the Peeps might agree.  Maybe Casey Kasem, too.  It’s a good place to let it be.

God’s grace be with you.  See you next time.

For further reading:  Philemon 1

Lord, thank You.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 28 August 2019

When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. Titus 3:12-14 (EHV).

Let’s look at these verses in the light of David and Goliath.   This isn’t a Dave-original thought; I’m passing along a lesson from Chad Bird, who posted it today at 1517.org.  We are taught to look at the account of David vs Goliath as man facing a giant.   As a tale of overcoming.   As a story of Israel whipping its greatest enemy.   And that’s all true.  

And that’s all a really gross sleight of hand that we make to rob God of the glory He deserves in it.  It wasn’t David who killed Goliath:  it was Jesus.   It was Jesus putting Himself there, strengthening the little boy with the out-sized confidence.   David’s faith in God was absolute, so God put Himself in David’s place and facilitated the work, allowed the conquest, powered the stone to kill the nine-foot ogre who defied God’s chosen people.  

As kids, we’re taught to think of the story with David as the focus, but that isn’t the focus at all.   If we want to look at the lesson honestly, we can only look at it through the lens of Jesus as another lesson of deliverance, of God actively interceding in the sin-torn lives of His people to deliver them from themselves.   You know:  the way Jesus did.

Ok, and that has what to do with Paul bidding Titus to send people for help, and then to exhort the believers to do good works?   Zero in on that word “do.”   That little word is the one that wraps us around the axle.  Paul does need help, so he does send messengers to Titus, then asked Titus to do something.   He then asked Titus to “do your best,” to see that Zenas and Apollos “lack nothing.”  With more ‘doing,’ Paul exhorts Titus to do more, to urge the followers to do good works, to do help, to do things that are fruitful for the Kingdom.  All great advice.   All great ideas.   All great things. 

All wrong.

Jesus said that He is the vine and we are His branches, that apart from Him we could do nothing.   Nothing.   He meant it.   He’s at the center of every thought and deed we can have.  Breathing?  Not without Jesus.   Today’s scrum goals?   Only through Jesus.   Drop the kids at school, microwave the meal, change the oil, watch “Stranger Things,” sleep peacefully, vanquish Goliath?   All only through Jesus living in and through us.

Check out 1517.org for more unconventional wisdom on the Scriptures.

For further reading:  John 15:5, Titus 3:15

Lord Jesus, turn my understanding upside-down today.   YOU are my center.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 27 August 2019

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, rivalries, and quarrels about the law, because these are useless and fruitless. Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning, because you know that such a man is twisted and is sinning. He condemns himself. Titus 3:9-11 (EHV).

This is ground we’ve covered before, in 2 Timothy 3, 1 Timothy 6, 2 Thessalonians 3, and 1 Thessalonians 5.   From those books, you’ll recall that Paul advised Timothy and the Thessalonian Christians to avoid things that are not of God and people who aren’t living in Godly ways.  It’s still true for us today; we all know this.   If we want to truly repent and change (or let Christ change) our lives, then we have to get clean, get spiritually (maybe even physically) healthy.   That includes staying away from negativity.

So let me ask this question:   is it loving to walk away from a sinful person knowing we’re all sinful?   Most of us see online memes about deleting negative people from our lives.  Psychologically speaking, it’s good advice, even critical (especially if the person is controlling, manipulative or emotionally or verbally abusive).  Yet what if you’re married to that person?   Or what if it’s you?   What if you have no control over who you work with or what others say?   How much hypocrisy is there in knowing we think, say and do things offensive to God yet calling out others who do the same and then expunging them from our lives?

If it were only that easy.

Truth is that, yes, again, this is still true and it’s still good advice.   Sinful or even negative people draw us back into things Jesus forgave and forgot.   It’s impossible to remain healthy if we continue unhealthy practices.   Sometimes, yes, that will mean that we have to avoid some people and their sins.   We can’t – and shouldn’t try to – fix some people.

So the first thing to do is to pray for them.   In praying for them, ask Christ to help you know and say and do the things He would have you think, say and do.   Ask for the fortitude to lovingly talk with someone whose conduct can threaten your well-being.   Do so out of an attitude of caring for them…and that can be tough.  Do it anyway.  And, if after two (or so) times, if they won’t change, then walk away.   Continue to pray for them; be kind; be strong in your faith and actions.   Let go to let God.  Let Him do the work of changing the situation, of healing all hearts.   Surrender your care for the person to Christ because, in doing so, He will show you real care for them even as you’re lovingly walking away.

For further reading:  Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-14, 1 Timothy 6:3-5, 2 Timothy 3:1-9, Titus 3:12

Lord, teach me to love and nurture others even when I must walk away from them.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 7 August 2019

Keep telling people these things. Continue to encourage and rebuke with full authority. Let no one ignore you. Titus 2:15 (EHV).

Finally, a summary.  After Paul has spent the chapter giving instructions on what must be taught to various people, he wraps it up with a brief commission.   “Keep on keepin on, Titus.   Don’t let anyone stop you.”  Remember what you’ve been taught.

Right on, right on.

Especially today.   I work in an industry where there is an unwritten code that you may not openly talk about Christian faith, conservative politics, current events outside a given viewpoint, non-supportive gay rights, or even, in some places, an out-of-town sports franchise.   Seriously.  If you want to survive in this well-paying industry, those are simply the rules of the road.

I wonder what Paul would say about that.   Given Titus 2:15, he might be upset.   Yet given something he said in 1 Corinthians 9, perhaps he wouldn’t.   Perhaps he would tell Titus to keep telling people these things yet doing so in a way to relate to them in their own manner.   Paul said he would become all things to all people to do whatever he had to do to win some people for Jesus.

That’s important to remember here.   Keep preaching but relate.   Paul is telling Titus to stand fast and stick to the truth.  Stand with Jesus:  anything else, you can let it go.  Yet do so in a humbler, serving way to meet their needs, relating to peoples’ circumstances.   Some need encouragement, some need rebuke.   God put these things on Titus’ heart (and Paul’s) to use them for the greater good of God’s Kingdom.

“Keep on keepin, on, Titus.”  Remember what you learned.  Stand and speak.  Minister in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.   Help folks.   Inspire justice and wisdom.  Do what you need to do to be heard…by them.   By the people Jesus puts in your path.  In ways they can understand.   In matters they need to hear.

And the people of 1st century Crete needed to hear that Jesus had overcome evil for them.   That He lived, died, and lives again so that they, too, might do the same.   Theirs was a brutal world of short lives lived in hardscrabble poverty and oppression.  The people of Crete needed hope and a leader to impart it.   They needed Jesus.

So do we.   So do all the people wandering in darkness after the terrible things that happened last weekend.   So do all the hurting people who reject Jesus and the prayers to Him as too little, too late.   So do our coworkers.  So do I.   So do you.  There is a time and place for words, and every time and every place is the right one for living out this faith the Savior put into our hands.   Keep on keepin on with it.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:22, Titus 3:1

Risen Lord, help me today to keep on acting, speaking, and living for You, for others in this world.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 5 August 2019

It trains us to reject ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, that is, the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Titus 2:12-13 (EHV).

It happened again.   More shootings, more murder, more violence done on innocents.   The media assesses blame; politicians pander for cheap points; people take sides yet again.  Average folks simply living their lives are gunned down and nothing seems to change.   It happens every day in our cities, yet when a mass shooting occurs, it shocks us.   We send our thoughts and prayers but some scoff at those, mocking them, mocking us; mocking this Jesus we follow.

God’s word is for our use, not for us to build walls around ourselves or our houses of worship.   God’s word, specifically the saving grace He describes through it, is an active tool that trains us to repent and re-shape our lives.   To reach those who don’t know or are hurting.  God’s word, ALL of it, is the one thing that can consistently teach us how to live together in peace.

So, if we can live in peace through God’s word, how is it that, over the weekend, those mass murders happen, one here in Texas and another in Ohio?  God gives us this wonderful tool and yet evil seems to prevail, people still choose evil over peace.   Christian cliques or no, these things still keep happening.

I wonder if the shooters ever considered the words here in Titus.   Jesus called Paul, and later Paul taught Titus.  I wonder if someone ever exposed them to the lessons Paul taught about how clinging closer to Jesus wards off the temptation to submit to evil.   While we wait for the blessed hope and return of Jesus our Savior, we have to live with each other here on the Third Rock.   Perhaps Paul would agree that the only way we can do that is by keeping our eyes focused on Jesus, our hearts cleaving to Him.   By constantly going back to the cross to remember what He did for us on it.  Especially when scoffers ridicule believers by saying this Jesus is absent.

Especially after this weekend, we need that invisible Christ who reaches out through us to comfort our sisters and brothers and resist the urge to respond with more evil.   In the aftermath of murder, now isn’t the time to focus on the slander, or to stick to our cliques.   To paraphrase my friend, Chad Bird, now is the time to see how violence done to innocents is atoned to peace through the innocent man on the cross who had unspeakable violence done to Him.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 1:7, 2 Timothy 3:12, 2 Peter 1:1, Titus 2:14.

Lord Jesus, help us to stay closer to You.   Comfort through us; help others through us; help us to help others by ministering as You would.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 29 July 2019

Likewise, encourage older women to be reverent in their behavior, not slanderers, not enslaved to much wine, but teachers of what is good, so that they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, busy at home, kind, and submitting to their own husbands, that the word of God might not be slandered. Titus 2:3-5 (EHV).

Last time, Paul advised older men to exhibit certain qualities.   Here he does the same thing for women.

Let’s get this out there:   male chauvinism.   At first glance, Paul seems like a chauvinist.   But when you read more of what he wrote and consider it in the context of his times AND in the audiences he was addressing, you find he isn’t.   You find that he’s merely echoing the qualities of the kinds of people God wants us to be.   Paul is no chauvinist.

I follow two Facebook pages that are full of funny memes:   “Mommy Needs Vodka” and “Mommy Drinks Wine and Swears.”   They’re snarky words to say about the conduct of older women.   Perhaps in his experience he had encountered women who drank too much or gossiped too much or whatever.  We don’t really know.

The pages point out all kinds of funny situations where, you’d think, good women would be driven to drink (mainly because of the conduct of their husbands, kids, or things around them).   It’s all in fun, and shouldn’t be taken seriously.   But if you read such pages too closely, you’ll pick up more than a subtle whiff of female chauvinism, bias in favor of a different view.   In the end, perhaps the only thing you can walk away with (from such things) is a laugh, or maybe a tweak on your morality.  They aren’t really chauvinist.

Yet underneath this is the opposite message from Proverbs 31; a message with which Paul would be familiar.   In those verses the author outlines the behaviors a wife of noble character would exhibit.   Read them today; they’re a beautiful passage in Scripture.   And they comport exactly with Paul’s words here in Titus.

Perhaps that means that they both describe the kind of people God wants His perfect creation, woman, to be.

Me, I love a woman who has a drink but tempers her behavior.   I love my wife who lets her hair down without making herself (and me, in the process) undignified.   I love that her character is strong, admirable, and that she’s the kind of woman other women should want to be.  She loves fun and being around friends and family and even likes a little wine, in moderation.   That isn’t God-displeasing.  If saying that makes me a male chauvinist, so be it.   I think not.

For further reading:  Proverbs 31:10-31, Ephesians 5:22, 1 Timothy 3:11, Hebrews 4:12, Titus 2:6

Lord God, You give us examples and qualities of the kind of people You want us to be.   Help us to do just that.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 22 July 2019

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.  Titus 1:15-16 (NIV).

Splash!   There.   There’s a splash of cold water, thrown from the cell of a Roman prisoner two thousand years ago.   Got your attention now?

Fact is that the fact is.   Truth is truth.   Over the weekend, a friend online called me out for being a terrible Christian.   And the fact of that is that I don’t know if she’s right or wrong.  My friend and I are political opposites and she’s known for calling out those with whom she politically disagrees.   I’m sure she’s going through some tough times, too.   And Facebook isn’t a place for intimate friendship, not a good place for truly intimate conversation.

So she called me out on sin.   I’ve posted so many things over the years that I don’t know whether she’s right or wrong.   Specifically, she said (that I said) that homosexuals were sinful.   To be frank, I may indeed have said that; I don’t remember.   But it’s possible.  Homosexuality is only one of the sins listed out in Scripture, specifically by Paul (and Moses and others).  Yet in our world, it isn’t acceptable to say that.

Splash, again.   It isn’t me that determines what is sinful.   It’s God, through the Word He gave us to guide our way to Him.   It isn’t PC to say what’s sinful.   If we lose sight of what is sinful and what isn’t, we lose sight of what’s right and what’s wrong.   You want to know things that are sinful?   Open up your Bible and read.

And in doing so you’re going to find the reason for Paul’s bucket of cold water.   His name is Jesus and He came to atone for those sins so that they might not control us, kill us, or divide us any longer.  Jesus didn’t tolerate sin:   He opposed it, vanquished it.  Yet if all we focus on is the sin, we miss Him.   Sin is a destroyer. He came to save us and guide us in turning away from sins.  To do that, we have to call out sin for what it is, then avoid entangling ourselves in it.   If we tolerate sin in our own lives and don’t turn from it, we’re lying about our faith in Jesus because Jesus calls us to turn from sin and follow Him.  To repent.   To forgive.   To love.   To  help others find their way to Jesus so they may know Him and do the same.

Maybe my friend was right.   If she is, then I apologize.   Yet, right or wrong, where are you in your turning today?

For further reading:  Jeremiah 5:2, Hosea 8:2-3, 1 John 2:4, Titus 2:1

Lord, help me in following You and only You.