Photo of the Week: June 24, 2021

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com
Posted in Photo of the Week | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Into the Breach

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. 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. 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 1:5-9

Paul opens his letter to Titus in a customary manner for his time, identifying himself as the author and Titus as the recipient, and giving Titus his greeting. After that, he comes right to the point: Get started appointing elders for each of the local churches they have established on Crete.

These verses are referred to as “qualifications of elders” (see also 1 Tim. 3:1-6) in many local churches that practice local autonomy, as opposed to denominational governance. Interesting conversations sometimes develop when church leaders discuss these verses: Are these exact “qualifications” that must be met by every single church elder, or are they guidelines to apply as appropriate?

Many who read this might be asking themselves why they should even care about that question, and I wouldn’t blame you; it’s a silly argument… except for this:

30 years ago or so, I was in a leadership meeting where this little detail came up in a discussion about appointing a very worthy young man to be an elder in a local congregation: Does a candidate have to be a father? Our candidate was a married man (must a candidate be married?) but he and his wife were unable to have children, and you saw it above, a man whose children believe (v. 6). The question is just how literal did Paul intend to be taken?

You still might be thinking this is a silly and pointless question; I’m not sure how many churches would still be asking it, but here’s one that churches still ask, one that has split several congregations that I could name here: Do they really have to be a man or can they be a woman who is above reproach? How about a trans-person? A gay person?

Far from being silly, this is one of the great challenges of our time.

I’ll tell you this much: 30 years ago, after vigorous discussion and consideration, our group unanimously decided that these verses were guidelines, rather than absolute requirements. The key argument was that Paul, himself a single man with neither a wife nor with children, had been selected by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, to be an Apostle, and that is much higher than a local church leader. I’m sure you have thoughts on these things; feel free to share them (respectfully, please) with us in the comments. Next time, I’ll write a (simple to understand) Bonus Post on interpretational method so you can have some ideas on how to approach these kinds of things in your own study of God’s Word: See you then!

Posted in Bible | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

A Brief Introduction to Titus

We don’t know a great deal about Titus; he’s only mentioned a few times in the New Testament (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:6; Gal. 2:1; 2 Tim. 4:10; Tit. 1:4). We can glean a few things, however, from these mentions: He was a young man acquainted with Timothy and Paul and involved with them in their missionary work for quite some time. We know for certain that Paul left Crete and the new churches established there in Titus’ charge (Titus 1:5) to get the new churches organized and operational. As you might guess, this is the purpose of Paul’s letter, to give instruction to Titus regarding the proper organization and operation of the local church, and the behavioral patterns of both church leaders and members so that they, in community with each other, might advance the cause of Christ.

The only other of Paul’s letters with such a purpose are 1 and 2 Timothy, for both Titus and Timothy were the only recipients of what has come to be called a pastoral epistle. As such, these are of great value to all of us who are followers of Jesus, particularly to those of us who are leaders within the local church, because they are the only three books of the New Testament that specifically speak to the issue of local church operation everywhere, as opposed to guidance for a particular city of region addressing their local and sometimes unique challenges.

So, as we prepare for our study of Titus, our contextual point of beginning looks something like this:

Author: Paul the Apostle

Recipient: Titus

Date of Writing: AD 64-67

Purpose: Instruction on the proper organization and operation of the local church, and the     behavioral patterns of both church leaders and members so that they, in community with each other, might advance the cause of Christ.

Covent: The New Covenant

Armed with our book’s context, we are ready to begin our study… See you next time!

Posted in Bible | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some Tips for New Bloggers

I’m not the best blogger out there; let’s get that out of the way right now. Yet I have been blogging since 2011, have posted over thousands of times and have lots of hits, so at least I have a little practice. I realize that for many bloggers, that’s nothing, but it’s considerably longer and more than I ever expected, and I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve learned for anyone who may be interested.

Tip 1: Followers are a very good thing.

I know bloggers who say that they don’t care how many views or followers they have, but if we’re honest, most of us are writing because we feel like we have something to share. You can post the best content of all time, but if nobody ever sees it, what good have you done? As a Christian blogger, this is even more significant: We should be trying to minister to others, so building your following is the way to reach people with your message of inspiration and hope. If you don’t know how to get followers, then I would start by looking at the suggestions that Word Press has in the help guide. Their suggestions are easy to find, easy to do, and while not all of them will apply to you, follow as many as you can. Start by doing a couple of them, and as they become second nature, then try a couple more. As I recall, their first one is to use the Reader to find other blogs of similar interest by choosing tags that you would use for your own posts. For a Christian blog, try tags like “Jesus”, “Christian”, “Bible” and “Faith” for starters. Leave comments and likes where appropriate; be generous and kind, and people will want to visit your blog and to “like” and “follow”.

Tip 2: Always tag your posts!

If I forget to tag my posts, I have very few views; the difference between tagged posts and untagged posts for me will be in the hundreds of views. Use relevant tags and search them in Reader because some tags draw viewers more than others, and when you get more views, more people will have the chance to like your posts and follow you.

Tip 3: Keep it short.

My average word count per post is about 500 words. Of course, some are very short, and my Photo of the Week may have no words, yet my typical goal is 450-750 words. Unless you are a very good writer, views will drop quite a bit after 1,000 to 1,200 words.

Tip 4: Keep your writing style light.

When I was in school, most textbooks were really hard to read. It wasn’t because the language was hard or because the subject matter was difficult, it was because the writing style simply didn’t draw my attention to the subject and reading them was like carrying a very heavy load around. History books were the worst, and I would toss the textbook aside and go to the library and read a whole book on whatever the subject was about instead, because it was written in a way that seemed so light. That made history fun, and to this day I’m a history nerd.

I just checked my word count… 547, so one more tip and that’ll be it.

Tip 5: Be kind in your posts.

Nobody likes a jerk, so be careful how you “talk” to your readers. Remember that written language is harsher than spoken language. You might write something with a smile on your face, but your reader can’t see the smile and then take what you said the wrong way.

That goes double for comments, by the way.

Be aware of how your words will affect your reader so you don’t put them off.

Well there’s a few tips, I’d love to know what you think. If you think I’m dead wrong about something, please set me straight. If you have questions ask, and if you want some more, drop me a comment and let me know, and… who knows?… I might just write up a few more soon.

Posted in Christian living | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

Weekly Podcast: June 23, 2021

The first of our weekly podcasts features a message of hope and joy from Colossians 3:15-17…

Listen Now

Posted in podcast | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Naked Before God: Praying in Humility- Redux

Note: I was very surprised this morning to see that this post, posted in April of 2016, is my most viewed post of 2021 thus far. I was struck that a post several thousand posts ago is being found by people searching for this subject, humble prayer at this particular time… so I decided to re-post it it today. I hope it is a blessing to you.

It has been longer since my last post in this series than I would have liked; as you may recall when I last posted on being naked before God, I was giving the first practical suggestion: Recovering the wonder of being in His presence.

I’m sure that some of you might have thought it a bit strange to combine practicality and childlike wonder together as a “step one”, and if you reacted along those lines, I can hardly blame you, for it is counter-intuitive.

But then, the things of God usually are…

Believe it or not, there is actually a rationale for this “wonder” business, for you see, when we find ourselves in wonder and awe at God’s awesome Creation, or at being in His presence, our walls, barriers and defenses start to crumble; we stop holding back and begin to give it all up to Him.Lords Prayer

We are never “naked” if we are hiding behind a barrier of some sort.

Clearly, step one is to recover that sense of wonder and awe before God!

Step two is to pray with humility.

Humility hides nothing, it holds nothing back, and it gives all to God with total honesty and a lack of shame, guilt or self. Humility is submission to God, His ways, plans and will; it is the recognition that He is God and we are not. Humility has no agenda.

Can you see why that childlike awe and wonder is so important? True humility isn’t something that comes naturally (in earthly terms) to most of us; we have walls and barriers we aren’t even aware of in most cases, for humility is far too intimate, and those defenses become an impediment to our relationships, in this case, our relationship with God, and they need to come down.

So, with all of that said, what does praying in humility look like?

The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and in His response, He gave them a wonderful example which we often call the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). There are differing teachings about this prayer, some believe it was intended to be recited, others teach that it is more of a template; I join with the latter thinking, while acknowledging that there is nothing wrong with reciting it. As a model for prayer, there are a few very fascinating things contained in it:

In Matthew 6:9-10, that God’s greatness and glory are acknowledged first, followed by His Kingdom, which is always His top priority, followed by the request that His will should be done on earth “as it is in Heaven”, where His will is the only will that is done. Think about it: Jesus taught that first and foremost we should pray that the Kingdom that He was proclaiming should come, and that God’s will would be the only will done on earth, just like it is in heaven.

There’s no room for my will; there’s no place for my latest “wish list”, for this is praying in humble submission to God, not a prayer advancing my own agenda.

In verse 11, we acknowledge that it is God who supplies our physical needs, and in verse 12, we ask to be forgiven our sins to the extent that we forgive the sins of others against us; another act of humble submission. Finally, we pray for God’s deliverance from evil, and if you think about it, since this is preceded by a big dose of humble submission to God, we are really saying in this that we are not relying on ourselves in anything; not on our own cleverness, not on our own strength, but instead are giving everything up to God and placing our complete trust in His provision for everything.

This, dear friends, is being naked before God.

Having mentioned this, I should point out that what I have just said about the Lord’s Prayer is a thumbnail; I have written on it in much greater depth more than once on this blog in the past; right now I simply want us to see what praying in real humility looks like. Many are there, and have been for a long time; others… not so much. My main thought and purpose here is this: No matter how mature we are, or think we are, we can always benefit from a periodic look in the mirror to ensure that we are still on track. Perhaps this might be a good time for some reflection.

Posted in Christian living | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blog Update: 6/21/21

I’ve decided to try something new here at The Life Project, a weekly podcast. If you’ve been here for a long time, you might recall that I experimented with it back in 2014 for a while, and then dropped  it because of the hassles and problems I ran into with technical issues and with no place to put the audio files…

Now, with WordPress working with Anchor, those problems have been solved as far as I can see, so I thought I’d have another go at it. To begin with, I decided to run short devotional/inspirational episodes on Wednesdays, just to get used to producing them, but I’m certainly open to other things if you dear readers are interested. So… if you have any ideas for things that you’d like me to post as podcasts, please feel free to let me know in the comments below. By the way, you can also feel free to let me know if you think this is a stupid idea…

In the meantime, I’ve added a link to my first experimental effort that I did mainly to figure out how the site works. I’ll begin in earnest Wednesday, see you then!

Listen to the test Now!

Posted in Bible | 6 Comments

Love, Justice and Our Response

I will sing of your love and justice;
    to you, Lord, I will sing praise.
I will be careful to lead a blameless life—
    when will you come to me?

Psalm 101:1-2a

At first this may seem to be quite simple, but look closely and you’ll see a hidden complexity that often confounds people. In the first line, we read of singing of God’s love and justice; an interesting combination. Consider for a moment His great and amazing love, so boundless, so unconditional. His love is so great that He was willing to do amazing things that we might be redeemed from our sins against Him. Yes indeed, contemplating God’s love is something we like to do. Yet in this line, we are singing of His love and justice.

Sometimes we think of justice as fairness, and that is true enough, yet we must admit that it is a little incomplete, for justice is more than just fairness because when most people apply fairness to themselves, it ends up meaning whatever they want at the moment, forgetting all about what is fair to the other person. If we consider the totality of our sin against God, what is just or fair about redemption?

Nothing, nothing at all, and that is why it is called grace.

Now we can see why singing of God’s love and justice together results in praise. Of course, when we see that God’s love resulted in His paying the price for our sin to satisfy His justice, resulting in grace, we sing praises, but the next line shows how we respond to His grace; we endeavor to lead blameless lives. It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? We’ve received grace, so great was God’s love for us, so why wouldn’t we resolve to do the best we can to live lives that are pleasing to Him? This isn’t because of any rule or regulation, but it is the natural expression of our love and gratitude.

In the last line, David asked a question that we have the answer to, for He has come and He has left us with His Spirit by whom we can come into His presence any time we like; how is it that we should delay another moment entering into His presence with confidence and joy in our hearts to give Him the thanks and praise He has coming?

 

Posted in Christian living | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Peacemakers

We have already seen that as Jesus went forth proclaiming the Kingdom, that healing, and restoration of wholeness went in His wake, for the restoration of wholeness, including the restoration of relationships torn by the hostility of this world is something within the very character of God. A peacemaker is someone who places a high priority on restoring relationships, even with those considered to be enemies; this is also what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

On the other hand, many, maybe even most people of this world are not peacemakers. Look around you, this world is not a peaceful place, for people vie with each other for riches, for position and advantage. Such people are not making peace and restoring relationships, except for personal gain; this is not the behavior of a disciple, and thus the blessing of a restored relationship with God is not present in the here and now, and it is not likely to be found in the hereafter unless changes are made.

For the disciple, blessing in great supply is to be found in restoring wholeness and relationships; it is its own reward, and as a disciple the eternal future is both assured and very bright, for there will be blessing beyond imagination in store.

Note: I just wanted to mention that I will be away from my computer for several days, on a bit of a road trip as it happens; I’m looking forward to be back to blogging on or about the 20th of this month. See you then!

Posted in Christian living | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sunday Sermon Notes: June 6, 2021

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

Romans 13:1-5

Paul’s message, simply stated, is that human government is ordained by God, and that’s all I should have to say about it. Yet even though human government is ordained by God, human government exists in a corrupted world environment, and we should not pretend to be shocked when it turns out to be corrupt: It happens. What is really instructive in this teaching is that the government Paul was referring to had a nasty habit of persecuting Paul and his readers; yes, maybe we should reflect on that for a while.

If I had been Paul, I might want to write something quite different on this topic, but if I had, or if he had, then a great disservice would have been done to the Gospel. God did not call us to serve His kingdom so that we could engage in political action, for His Kingdom is not of this world. Instead, He has called us to share the Gospel, to share His love with those who have not yet heard it, to nurture and mentor other, younger Christians to maturity in the faith, not to protest stupid court decisions or corruption in Congress or the White House… or wherever it may exist in your location. I will add that if we did a better job of serving His purpose in a free society, it is quite likely that a very different group of people would be elected to represent us, without our ever needing to bring up politics.

By the way, when I teach such self-explanatory texts as this one, this is often where I toss out a question, a rhetorical one of course: When you are driving your car around town, do you observe the speed limit, or do you prefer to behave as the pagans do?

That one gets a groan from the group every time… not to mention laughter.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Romans 13:6-7

Taxes: Nobody likes taxes, except the ones somebody else must pay. Here in America, we have a horrible tax system, and I will boldly declare that if the entire Tax Code went up for a vote as is, and if it didn’t already exist, no one would vote for it; no one has even read the whole thing, and the people who enforce it don’t even understand it, and if you don’t believe me, ask a tax lawyer!

Now ask yourself, how was the tax system Paul lived under? Well… it was horrible as well. Money is not supposed to be our primary concern in this life; our priority is supposed to be on things that are above, so why should the inequities of the tax system be our priority? Paul’s message is pay them what they want and get on with serving our Lord in peace and love, for that is what we are here for.

Yes, I know… I’m gritting my teeth too, but that only goes to show that we have a long way to go to attain maturity in the faith.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

In this short passage, Paul is nothing short of profound; deep in fact. Yet it is so simple that we might just fly past it and not notice how profound it is; a second grade child can easily understand it, and it requires a mature adult to miss it− that is how simple it is.

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

If we think of love as a mere emotion or feeling, maybe we can miss this, but godly love is not an emotion, it is a commitment to put the interests of other people ahead of our own, and love in action puts the interests of everyone ahead of our own. If we actually do this, then we will not do anything to offend or hurt them, and if we love God we will not do anything to hurt or offend God. We will not do this because somebody told us that we must, we will do this because we want to.

In short, this is the transformation that Paul spoke of in 12:1-2; this is love in action from 12:9-16.

There are times when I grow weary of people telling me that the Bible never tells us how we should accomplish the Christian life; yes, dear reader, I grow weary of such remarks:

I happened across these verses just the other day as I was finishing up in Philippians for some recent posts; this is similar to several other passages written by Paul and others, and tells us how to be transformed…

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

There is a principle in these two verses that I think people tend to miss, one that is critical to healthy and happy living.  These two verses are quoted often, I’ve even heard them quoted to “prove” that we shouldn’t use bad language, but to me, that sort of thing really misses the point. Let’s see if we can find a little more than meets the eye here.

Notice that verse 8 begins with the word “finally.” This should clue us in to the fact that Paul is summing up everything he’s been teaching, and this should tell us there is a larger context here.  Paul tells us that we should take note of whatever we find along our life’s path that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy and think about them.  Notice that excellent and praiseworthy are set apart so as to sum up the others. Notice also the way he says we should think about them: “Think about such things.”  This tells us more that we should be focusing on these kinds of things, which rather expands the focus from the specific instance, to the category at large.  To put it another way, we are to focus our minds and attention to things that are excellent and worthy of praise, rather than on things that are not.

Don’t rush through this, for it is very significant advice.  Ask yourself what is not included in this, and I think you’ll end up with a list of things that we usually think about; our problems, our feelings about things, our little resentments, our little hurts and things that aren’t uplifting. Surely the kinds of things Paul wants us to be thinking about wouldn’t include our circumstances, illnesses and pains, but would instead include the kinds of things that would inspire us to greatness, and to service of humanity and to God. Now you can see how Paul has been able to have such a positive attitude in his imprisonment.

He wraps up with this statement:

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

This is one of those “if – then” statements. Put into practice the things Paul has taught and God will be with you.  By implication, if you don’t put them into practice, you’ll likely find yourself far from God. Now if I was to make such a remark, your eyebrows would surely rise, for who am I?   But by the time he was writing this, Paul had proven himself as the Apostle of Christ, the things that he has taught the people have been from God and for the sake of His purpose; they are the things that will put each of us firmly within God’s purpose and will. Paul has taught us how to be in fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ, and when we dwell in this place, His presence and peace are surely with us.

Posted in Sunday Class Notes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment