Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Greek word kata or kat appears four times in the first four verses of Titus. It carries a variety of meanings including down from, over against, and according to. Paul is “a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the sake of (or according to - kata)” faith and knowledge. The faith and knowledge of the elect “accords with (or according to - kat) godliness, in hope of eternal life.” God’s promise of eternal life was proclaimed through proclamation or preaching. Paul was entrusted to preach this good news “by the command of (or according to - kat) God our Savior.” Finally, Titus is the spiritual child of Paul in (or according to - kata) a common faith. By the way, there is no difference in meaning between kat and kata. The only difference is that if the next word begins with a consonant then kata is used. If the next word in the sentence begins with a vowel, then kat is used. It is the same word. That may sound very academic and impractical, but it gives us an understanding of how the paragraph develops.

So the paragraph develops around four core ideas. First, Paul’s role in ministry is according to, or for the sake of the faith and full knowledge of God’s elect. Central to the argument of Titus is the importance of good, or healthy teaching or doctrine. Ministry has several aspects, or expressions. A shepherd leads, feeds, guides, and protects the flock. Those in church leadership have aspects of all of these activities in their ministries. A pastor (shepherd) leads, feeds, guides, and protects the church. Elders are responsible to lead, feed, guide, and protect the church. Parents are responsible to lead, feed, guide, and protect their children. Sunday School teachers lead, feed, guide, and protect their Sunday School class. Some leaders are more gifted at feeding. Some leaders are excellent leaders or guides. Others are in their element when it comes to protecting the church against spiritual or theological attacks. No one is gifted in all of these areas of ministry, yet in some ways we all do them all. It is for the sake of the Church.

In this letter to Titus Paul is zeroing in primarily on importance of teaching. Teaching builds faith and full knowledge. Faith and knowledge promote godliness. Godliness affects every area of life. Sound, good, or healthy teaching is foundational to the health of the church. At Northern Bible Church we may not put on a great show, but for us it is not about the show. We believe that sound teaching is central to all that we do. If we don’t do anything else, we are committed to pursuing our mission of reaching, growing, and equipping devoted followers of Jesus Christ through Holy Spirit led living and teaching of the Word of God. Sound teaching is for the sake of the faith and full knowledge of God’s elect. We are all in positions of influence in someone's life. what you are teaching. Can the influence of your life be characterized as sound teaching?

Second, faith and knowledge accords with, or is according to godliness. Faith and full knowledge never stand alone. I can know a lot of information that never changes my life in any way. But when knowledge is fully known and coupled with faith it changes me. It is one thing to be able to explain perfectly all the dangers of cholesterol in a diet coupled with a passive lifestyle. That is just information. It is when I come to truly believe that my diet and lifestyle need to change that lifestyle transformation actually begins to happen. In sound teaching our goal is not to prepare people for their “final exams.” We are not interested in pumping information into people for the sake of information. Sound teaching accords with godliness.

Godliness is rooted in our hope of eternal life. That hope is rooted in the promise of God. God’s promise is based on the character of God. He never lies. God’s promise is rooted in eternity past. It was “promised before that ages,” or before time eternal. God’s promise was revealed “at the proper time.” From eternity past, before time began, God had a plan. That plan was guaranteed by the very nature and character of a God who cannot be untruthful. The Fall of mankind did not catch God by surprise. He didn’t have to quickly come up with an alternate plan. There are theologies which suggest that God knew all possibilities, but that he could not be sure whether mankind would eat of the Tree in the Garden of Eden. That theology is incorrect. God does not develop contingency plans in case things do go his way. His plan has been in play since before time began. Adam did not completely understand God’s plan. Noah did not completely understand God’s plan. Abraham did not completely understand God’s plan. I doubt that anyone in history has completely understood God’s plan, but God himself. Yet, he called each of them to trust him with as much as he had revealed. At the “proper time” God chose to reveal more detail about his plan. He did that through preaching, or proclamation. Sound teaching accords with godliness which is rooted in our eternal hope.

Sound teaching is for the sake of the faith and full knowledge of God’s elect. Sound teaching accords with godliness which is rooted in our eternal hope. Third, the proclamation of these truths are “by the command,” or according to “the command of God our Savior.” The word “command” carries a unique meaning. It is not to be equated with the commandments. Rather, it carries the idea of being a command fitting to a particular situation or circumstance for the purpose of achieving a particular goal. This takes us back to the promise rooted in eternity past, and the truthful nature of God. What is the goal toward which God is working? Faith and full knowledge in hope of eternal life that is according to godliness. 

Sound teaching builds faith and full, experiential knowledge in such a way that it actually changes how we live. How we live equips us for leadership, influences our relationships, and impacts our world. It all starts with sound teaching.

All of this is by, or according to the command of God our Savior. Teaching and preaching is God’s idea, not man’s. Godliness in the context of eternal hope is God’s plan, not man’s religion. The plan is God’s. The timing is God’s. The implementation of the plan is God’s. Sound teaching and proclamation of God’s truth may look somewhat different in different cultures, but it is always teaching and proclamation. Five minute sermons, and light devotionals were never God’s plan for training up believers in faith and knowledge according to godliness. Attention spans may be short. Preachers and teachers may need to hone they ability to communicate. But proclamation has always been central to the church.

Finally, Paul writes to Titus “in (according to) a common faith.” The word common holds the idea of being shared. It is the opposite of something that is set apart for one person, or one group of people only. It is the opposite of sanctified. It is common. If we were using these words regarding plates and utensils in the in the context of the Old Testament Temple, then the plates and utensils dedicated to temple use would be called sanctified or holy. The plates and utensils used in the priests’ homes would be called common. They were for everyone’s use. Paul and Titus share a common faith. It is not a faith only for the spiritual elite. It is not a faith that only spiritual superheroes like Paul can experience. This is a faith for everyone.

Paul is assuring and encouraging Titus. Even though Paul had been entrusted with the proclamation of the gospel, teaching the truth is not limited to specially called people. We have a common faith. We all stand on level ground before God. We are all entrusted with the responsibility to communicate the truth of God’s word in our own unique setting and calling. Titus ministry was not the same as Paul’s ministry, but Paul is encouraging Titus to get on with the ministry to which he has been called. We are all called to unique roles in the Kingdom, but we are also all called to proclaim the hope of eternal life because we share a common faith. It may not be through preaching. It may not be through formal teaching, but we are all teaching in some way.

Who are you teaching? What are you teaching? How are you teaching? We have the same faith as Paul and Titus. It is a faith rooted in the Grace and peace that comes from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. Trust him, and get on with the job. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

We noted earlier that fear can produce chronic anxiety, or missed opportunities for blessing and ministry. I can also produce reactivity, conflict, and despair in our lives. In Gen 3:10 Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The result was that when God came calling on them they hid in fear. “But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself’” (Genesis 3:9-10). Because of their own bad behavior, their guilt, and their shame, they were fearful. Their fear caused them to react and hide rather than throw themselves on the mercy of God. Fear often causes us to react rather than live proactively.
In 1Samuel Saul tries to kill David. By chapter 18 Saul is not only lashing out at David in emotional and/or demonic oppression. He is actively planning David’s demise. Why? “Saul was afraid of David because the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul” (1 Samuel 18:12). Fear causes reactivity. It also causes conflict. Fear can set friends at odds, cause hurt feelings, and create suspicion and mistrust. Fear divides.
Fear also causes despair. The Psalms are full of expressions of despair and depression. Psalms 142 was written by David when he was hiding in a cave. Saul was out to kill him. David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king, but he was hiding in a cave. Here is how he felt as expressed in Psalm 142:1-3:
[1] With my voice I cry out to the LORD;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
[2] I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
[3] When my spirit faints within me,
you know my way!
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.

David was experiencing despair because he feared for his life. Not all fear, depression and despair is the result of sin. Not all fear, depression, and despair can be solved with a quick prayer. Chemical imbalances, short-circuits in our brain, and a variety of other medical issues can also cause these feelings. We need to be careful as believers that we do not throw easy answers at those who struggle with feelings of fear, depression, and despair. Depression and mental health issues are complicated. But, there are times when our experience of depression and despair is simply the result of allowing fear to creep in and take over our lives. It is significant that two verses later in Psalm 142 David pens these words: “I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living” (Psalms 142:5). David was learning to turn his trust from himself and his circumstances to the covenant keeping God, Yahweh.
Fear can cause reactivity. It can produce conflict. It can lead to despair. But God offers something better.
Proverbs 3:1-8 (ESV)
[1] My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
[2] for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.
[3] Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
[4] So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.
[5] Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
[6] In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
[7] Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
[8] It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Luke 12:4-7 (ESV)
[4] “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. [5] But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! [6] Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. [7] Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

We live in a time characterized by fear. Our current political debates are characterized by fear. The leading presidential candidates on both sides are using fear to press their agenda. Businesses have been built on a foundation of fear. Churches have allowed fear to be their driving motivation. We are afraid of the world, and we are afraid that God will be unhappy with us unless we perform rightly. That is not what the Bible means by fear of the Lord, but it is how we have often defined it.
Once fear is our motivation, it is a short step from acting because we are afraid that God will be unhappy with us, to acting because we are afraid of the world. It develops like this: We are afraid that God will be unhappy with us if we fail to perform rightly. We are afraid that a world that is not performing rightly will influence us to not perform rightly. We separate from the world and build tight, inwardly focused groups that are safe. Our groups become smaller and smaller because any difference is a possible threat. We know that performing rightly includes evangelism, but we don’t know any unbelievers to evangelize because they are not safe to know. We pray that God will somehow bring them into our closed little group so they can hear the truth. We preach loudly against those ungodly outsiders, making it all the more likely that they will never come in. The fact that they don’t come is further proof that we are right; the world is evil and to be feared. Our evangelism looks more like hate than love, but we call it love because we are speaking the truth. We have become Westboro Baptist Church carrying angry signs, and writing incredibly unbiblical things like, “"GOD HATES FAGS" -- though elliptical -- is a profound theological statement, which the world needs to hear more than it needs oxygen, water and bread” (a quote taken from their website). The Good News has become Bad News because the people of God are driven by fear rather than faith.
Of course, Westboro Baptist Church is an extreme example that we all love to hate, but the truth is that when fear is what motivates us as Christians we are not far from them. When fear drives all our decisions and policies we have moved away from faith. Imagine Jesus saying to Peter, “Jump out of the boat and walk on water, but before you leave the boat I need you sign this waver in case your faith fails and you start to sink. I wouldn’t want you to sue me over your new sandals getting ruined by seawater.” Imagine Jesus saying to the woman at the well, or to the woman washing his feet with her tears, “God hates you because of your immorality! You need to repent!” I find it incredible that the only people Jesus was harsh with were the religious elite that thought they were better than everyone else. Jesus was called a friend of sinners because he wasn’t afraid to hang out with them. He was not driven by fear.
We live in a time characterized by fear. We are afraid of the politics of the opposing party. We are afraid of aliens coming across our borders. We are afraid of losing our rights. We are afraid of economic downturns. Fear mongering books sell because we buy them. It is time we stop living in fear and start trusting God. “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do” (Luke 12:4). It is only when we learn to live by faith that church can begin to be described like Jesus as a friend of sinners. Then we have a platform for the Good News.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...