Truth and Godliness

the BibleThis morning I happened to be reading through Paul’s New Testament letter to Titus. Oddly, it was the very first verse that grabbed my attention. “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness…”

Let me unpack that a bit for you. Paul was called by God “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth.” Paul was not given to himself. He was called to help God’s people. Based on this verse we could say that Paul’s two main responsibilities were to bolster their faith and strengthen their knowledge of the truth. Unquestionably, those are major issues for Christian leaders.

But then there is that next phrase, “which accords with godliness…” If you notice, that phrase follows immediately after the word “truth.” So what is it that accords with godliness? Truth.

In other words, if you want to live a more godly life, then you need to more fully grasp the truth of God. Allow the truth of His Word to permeate you. It will cause you to become a more godly person.

For leaders, helping people to have a “knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness” means that we must not hold back the full counsel of God. Controversial issues don’t get a free pass. We dare not – just to keep everyone happy – ignore topics that might be seen as contentious.

Why? Because helping God’s people to grasp the full truth will help them to become more godly. And that’s part of the responsibility of leaders.

And let me add one final thought. This will become more difficult in a culture that has an anti-godly bias. Issues that are clear in the Bible will be mocked and ridiculed by society. That simply means that the job of true Christian leaders will become more difficult, but also more necessary.

Posted in Scriptural Perspective | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

No Divisiveness

divisivenessNot long ago, I ministered in a church where there was a couple that was very divisive. They opposed the pastor and other church leadership at every turn. They even spread untrue rumors about some of the people in congregational leadership.

I wish it was the first time I had encountered such divisiveness, but it’s definitely not. In fact, I’ve seen it much too often. Self-appointed leaders who push their own agenda with no regard for anyone else seem to be rampant in the Church today.

Such scenarios always remind me of Titus 3:10-11. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

First let me say that anyone who suggests we should not judge people has not really read the Bible, and certainly not this passage. How could you know if someone is stirring up division unless you judge him? You can’t!

So, if someone is being divisive, he gets two warnings. That’s it. Two freebies and then the hammer falls. “Have nothing more to do with him.” This makes me think of the time God was violently angry with Israel because of the golden calf. In essence, the Lord told Moses, “Get out of the way so I can annihilate those reprobates.” (That’s the Tom Kraeuter paraphrase of Exodus 32:10.)

“Have nothing more to do with him.” That’s the concept of excommunication. Leave him on his own with no spiritual covering. That’s a dangerous place to be.

But it must be understood that there’s a reason for such harsh treatment. Because “such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” Warped. Sinful. Self-condemned. Those are strong words. But that’s clearly what God thinks of divisive people.

May I make a recommendation?

Don’t be divisive in God’s Church.

Posted in Scriptural Perspective | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Paths or Not?

pathsI have found a wonderful place for personal prayer retreats. It’s just over a half-hour from our house and it’s fabulous. Great accommodations. A scenic pond and some well-kept gardens are added attractions. But my personal favorite part is the acre after beautiful acre of nature with walking paths through fields and woods. I really like to walk and pray, and this place is like paradise for me.

Now, you should know that whether this retreat facility or others I’ve visited in the past, I have a tendency to veer off the paths. Of course, if I’m honest, this is not just a prayer retreat tendency. I regularly do the same thing in life. Nicely mowed paths just don’t offer the same intrigue as that creek bank or that forest over there.

While walking through an unmowed field on a recent prayer retreat, I came to a section where I was nearly blocked by briars and brambles. It appeared as though I might need to go back from the direction I came. But, instead, I decided to press on. Carefully picking my way through, I was able to find spots where the thorns were less plentiful. Only a few minor scratches – and a couple small thorns I found later in my socks – and I made my way through.

But I realized something in the process. I encountered no thorns – none, zero, zippo, nada – on the paths. It was only when I got off the paths that there were times when the going got a bit tougher.

See, staying on those mowed paths was safer, but it was also more bland. The views and the opportunities for things outside the norm were definitely better off the paths. I doubt I would have seen those four whitetail deer running through the woods from one of the nicely manicured paths. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have encountered the briars and brambles on the paths, either.

Some people love the paths – at the retreat center and in life. I have difficulty staying on the paths in either.

Which is your preference? Why?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Concealed God

hidden GodWhat a crazy thing. The God who is a spirit made the physical worlds. The One Who is unseen created the seen. The Lord Who cannot be touched made the sense of touch.

So, the big question, then, is, “Was that all thought through from the beginning?” Because it does seem sort of … odd. And, of course, the obvious answer to that question is, “Yes, He clearly had thought it through!”

I think it’s safe to say that God intended for us to relate to Himself in a way that is outside of our usual human interaction. It was not some afterthought. “Uh oh, I never considered that aspect.” No! God knew – and planned – beforehand.

There are those who think the Lord made a mistake in this regard. If only God would show Himself, then people would be more likely to believe. But He did just that two-thousand years ago. And so many still rejected Him.

There are times I wish I could see Him, or at least hear an audible voice. But, like it or not, that’s not the norm for God. It is generally not the way He operates.

Martin Luther once referred to Him as “the hidden God” or “the concealed God.”

However, He does promise that His sheep will hear His voice. (John 10:27) It may not be audible, but somehow He will lead and guide.

So stop worrying. Although you can’t see Him or audibly hear His voice, He’s still there. Through His eternal Word, the whispers of His Spirit (based on Scripture), and other people in your life, He will make sure you hear what you need.

Posted in Scriptural Perspective | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Not of This World

crossI’m so tired of the political rhetoric that flies at us from every angle.

  • “He’s awful!”
  • “He’s even worse!”
  • “She’s going to destroy the country!”

Why are we so up in arms about these things? Don’t misunderstand. I’m as concerned about my grandchildren’s future as you are about yours. But what is likely the biggest revival in modern times is taking place right now in places like China and oppressed countries in the Middle East. And the governments have no control over it.

Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) He didn’t come to take over the government. He came to take over our hearts.

And, again, don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be involved in politics. But, as followers of Christ, we need to keep the main thing the main thing.

Let’s put Jesus’ statement to Pilate into context. Rome was corrupt. It was an ungodly government.  Jesus knew that. He had no particular affinity toward the Roman government. But He also knew that His kingdom was not about taking up the sword and defeating those nasty Romans.

In fact, on the surface, it looked like Rome had beaten Jesus. Nailing Him to a cross, it appeared to be the end of the story. But it wasn’t. He rose up from the dead. And that was just the beginning.

The fact is that it really wasn’t a whole lot later that Jesus actually ended up conquering the Roman Empire. But it wasn’t through might and power. His followers had so affected the culture that everything was changed.

It is said that one of the last Caesars, on his death bed, in a reference to Christ, said, “You have conquered, Galilean.” But it wasn’t with the sword. It wasn’t by voting the right leaders into office.

It was with through changed lives that turned the culture upside down. It was through love.

May you recognize anew the power of the Risen Christ this Easter! And may that power be at work in you and in your church as you reach out to your community and the world with His love.

Posted in Scriptural Perspective | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Those Tricksters … Like Me

trickster“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, … said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’” (Mark 10:35-37)

I’ve taught about this passage many times. Those haughty disciples. Trying to finagle their way into the top spots. Secretly soliciting the CEO without the others knowing about it. Worming their way past their peers while looking and acting like they’re innocent. Those tricksters!

But, as I read this morning, they reminded far too much of … me.

When I look in the mirror, the face reflected back at me is often prideful and even arrogant. I see someone who is too frequently willing to edge out others to gain the prominent position. My fleshly nature craves that top spot. Just like James and John.

Jesus, of course, turned the entire conversation on its head. If you truly want to be great, then you need to become a servant. If you want to be at the top of the great category, then you need to be a bondservant – in essence, a willing slave. That is, after all, what Jesus did.

None of us – not you or me or even Mother Theresa – thinks like that in our fleshly nature. Because of our sinfulness, servanthood is not our default setting. Yet, whether it’s easy or hard, a small step or huge leap, Jesus declared it to be the right path for His followers.

So, I regularly need to willingly lay aside my prideful, haughty attitude, and become a servant, a willing slave, ready to abase myself. That is, after all, what Jesus did.

Posted in Scriptural Perspective | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Flying Toward God

Flying Toward GodRecently I’ve been reading through the Gospel of Luke. Numerous passages throughout that vividly descriptive book gripped me. But none commanded my attention more than these nine words about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly.” (Luke 22:44)

Many times, being in agony has caused me to pray more earnestly. Trials seem to have a way of forcing us to seek God more fervently. Uncomfortable situations push us toward the “God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3) How many times in the book of Psalms does David – and the other psalmists – cry out to God for rescue and help? That’s an ongoing theme.

When “life is good” we tend to forget about God. He can become just an afterthought. We’re glad that He has us on a path toward heaven, but that’s not our usual focus.

And then crisis hits. Life gets turned upside down. Our equilibrium is thrown out of kilter. Circumstances are upended, and we’re in a disoriented freefall through darkness.

But what happens next? Being in agony, we pray more earnestly. Suddenly we have proper orientation again. Our compass gets set on true North. We may still be stumbling through a dark tunnel, but we know the right direction. Our face is set in a Godward direction.

The truth is that this pattern can be seen over and over again throughout the Bible – and throughout our lives. It’s as predictable as the changing seasons. Times of ease followed by difficulties followed by seeking God followed by times of ease. You and I have both experienced this repeatedly.

Of course, Luke 22:44 is referring to Jesus. He certainly never had a lackadaisical relationship with His Father. At the same time, the trial – the agony – apparently caused Him to kick it up a notch. “Being in agony he prayed more earnestly.” How much more should that be true for you and me?

I fly to most of the places where I minister. People often ask me, “Do you enjoy flying?” My answer to that question has been pretty consistent over the years: “Flying gets me to where I need to be, quickly.” That’s what difficulties in life often do: They get us to where we really need to be, quickly.

So, why are we so concerned about difficulties? When you’re in agony, pray more earnestly.

Posted in Scriptural Perspective | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment