A Mix of Boldness and Gentleness

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, butaccording to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:1-7

Paul urges gentleness for the believers in these churches. He does not want the Christians to be quarrelsome but rather courteous to others. By the early churches example of such humble love and service, many were impressed with the new movement of Christians.

It didn’t mean they were pushovers. Just before this section Paul exhorts them to be bold in the truth, not letting anyone disregard them. They are to teach and rebuke with authority.

In today’s church, especially as it acts more publicly, do we find such a balance? Is it courteous and nice to the extent that we disregard ourselves and our own teachings, not wanting to offend anyone? Or are we so bold about the truth that we lose all humility and kindness?

Paul wants them to be both, and the humility I think is key. He reminds Titus, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” How can we treat those who do not know Jesus Christ and his gospel when we are no better ourselves, save for the mercy of God? We should treat others well in hopes of impressing the love of Christ upon them, rather than condemn them as though we were in a position to be the judge ourselves. We all need the mercy of God, and that should be central to the message we carry to others, and to each other in the church.

A look back at Psalm 119

Psalm 119 Screenshot

Better late than never, right? This would’ve made for more sense a couple of weeks ago when we looked at the very long psalm, Psalm 119. If you were at our church, you would’ve heard a sermon that said a great deal about this unique psalm, but I did not include anything on it here on the site. And maybe you’re more of a visual person.

I found this some months back and it emphasizes the acrostic nature of the poem (how each line of the stanza begins with the same letter, with the proceeding stanzas moving along through the Hebrew alphabet). It also points out the place that God’s Word holds throughout the psalm. The way this site puts it is this:

Psalm 119 is telling us that to know the Creator God you must know His law, ordinances, word, commandments, statutes, precepts, decrees, testimonies, ways, and faithfulness.

I’d really encourage you to go take a look at this, and maybe skim down to the end first, as it has a word of explanation that helps make sense of the rest.

Basics of the Bible – Psalm 119 (It is pretty big, so it may take a moment to load).

A supposedly more friendly mobile version is here.

God’s Work, Not Our Work

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.
2 Timothy 1 :8-9

As much as this is a letter to Timothy and about his ministry, it isn’t really about him. Paul wants to keep the focus on Jesus Christ and what he has done. It is not on the basis of our work that we are called, but because of God’s purpose and grace.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t called to do a work. We are. God has a plan for us and wants us to follow it. But just as it isn’t all about Timothy, it isn’t all about you or me. We are to make our work point to Jesus.

We do have a role to play, but Jesus deserves all the glory. We would have nothing if not for the grace given in him.

It reminds me a bit of this quote from Stacey King, a teammate of Michael Jordan.

I’ll always remember this as the night that Michael Jordan and I combined for 70 points.
(Said after Michael Jordan scored a career high 69 points and Stacey King scored 1 point against the Cavaliers. )*

*But when it comes to the work of our salvation, we don’t even contribute that one point.

Remember Jesus Christ: a lesson from The Silver Chair

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
2 Timothy 2:8-10

To remember Jesus Christ was important for Paul, since it was for Jesus’ that Paul suffered. And he charges Timothy to remember, and not only for himself and for his work, but for others. Timothy is to guard the truth, care for it, and pass it on, reminding the brothers and sisters of this gospel.

Likewise, our common calling is not just to speak about God, but to remind each other of this gospel: That God came to earth in Christ, he put to death death itself, has forgiven our sins and will give us life with him forevermore. Do you remember that? Something has happened on the cross and who we are is a consequence of Jesus Christ. We should never grow weary of thinking back to these things.

To understand better what Paul is saying here we need to stop and look at what it means to remember. I want to make sure the active tone of this word is coming across. It is not just reminiscing or simple, dull memorization so that if someone quizzes you about Jesus you can ring in with the answer.

It’s not quite, “Don’t forget.” It’s more.

My family does a far bit of road tripping up and down the East Coast. One thing we do to pass the time is listen to audiobooks. One year we went through a great recording of The Chronicles of Narnia. In my favorite, The Silver Chair, I think we learn well what it means to remember, and why we should. The Christ figure, Aslan, a lion, tells a girl Jill four signs to lead her on her journey. And before he sets Jill on her way, he gives her a speech in which he says:

“But first, remember, remember, remember the signs, say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. … The signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you met them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart, and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs.”
(Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis, 560)

Jill leaves Aslan and discovers her quest is to find a lost Prince. Tragically, all along the way the signs are forgotten or misunderstood. The result is her group had to begin their journey without official support, they end up on the menu of a group of giants, and almost fail entirely when they come face to face with the prince himself—since they hardly were able to recognize him.

The Silver Chair Cover

The problem was she had learned the signs, but was not remembering them.

She knew one sign was to find an ancient city, but failed to recognize it in the rubble she saw because she was distracted and her attention was on the bitter cold and dreams of a warm fire. She knew the Prince would be the one who spoke the name Aslan, but when that person who spoke was an imprisoned, enchanted mad-man, she was paralyzed with fear. Fortunately – against all her “better judgment”, she decided to let this dangerous man loose, freeing the prince, for she says, “What was the point of learning the signs if we weren’t going to follow them when they came up?!”

If only she could keep the signs straight. If only she could remember.

The Silver Chair Illustration

We try so hard to do the same in our lives and in the life of the Church, and how far off the path do we find ourselves. Once we are entrenched in the world the commands of Jesus, the truths of the Bible, even simple ones like “love you neighbor,” do not seem so clear to us. We get distracted, we are afraid or anxious about life, or maybe we focus on our own comfort.

We veer from our course, and all too often also try to justify it. If only we could see more clearly. To follow Christ can be simple enough, but it is difficult. It is easy to lose sight of him. That is why we need to have the discipline to remember Jesus Christ… each night, every morning, and even when we wake in the middle of the night. Only when we keep him fixed in our sight are we able to live the life and follow the path that God has laid out for us.

*This was originally a sermon I preached years ago, but have chosen a selection of it and edited it down as it fits with readings for Year in the Bible this week.

Paul’s Encouragement and Guidance to Timothy in a Nutshell

Paul describes the pitfalls that surround Timothy and that will also come in the last days, putting these alongside of commands to follow in his teachings and lead others in the same way. He gives Timothy what seems like a simple charge, but by no means an easy one. Timothy doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel, rather Paul wants Timothy to continue with what he has heard. To keep true to the message of the gospel and not be ashamed to proclaim it (1:8).

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.
2 Timothy 1:5

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 1:13

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 3:14-15

To face the demands of his ministry, Timothy must not veer from the message he has received from Paul and from family, and importantly from God’s Word. It is simple enough, but it is a difficult task for Timothy as he will come up against false teachings and false teachers. Paul anticipates the push back Timothy will receive, since he knows of it firsthand. People do not like to be corrected or challenged, so he encourages Timothy.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:6-7

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
2 Timothy 2:24-26

This isn’t then a work of Timothy’s based in his own opinions. Just as he was blessed with teachings from the sacred writings, he needs to continue in that way and base his teaching upon that same authority.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17

To complicate matters Timothy is a young man and Paul, in 1 Timothy, touches on this as well, again anticipating some of the problems.

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 4:12-16

In and around the church there will be those who flee the truth and turn toward themselves. Just read the beginning of 2 Timothy 3 and you will find a dire description of the last days that is sadly not unlike any time in history. God’s way is ignored and the demanding call of Christ that leads to hardship and persecution (2 Tim 2:3, 3:12, 4:5) is rejected. To meet this culture head on does not require some silver bullet. Timothy doesn’t need something brand new to share Christ. Timothy doesn’t need to be someone different (him being young is fine). What does he need? What does Paul instruct Timothy to do in watching over the church? Remember Jesus Christ. Guard the faith by the help of the Holy Spirit. Flee evil, pursue righteousness. It is simple and Paul charges Timothy in this way:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:1-5

Can There Be Perfect Matches Between Imperfect People?

In reading Song of Songs I thought this would be an appropriate time to share an article that is just an except from a larger book, but still one of the better and more insightful pieces on marriage I’ve read recently. It may be odd to read this along with Song of Songs, in which two people gush about one another. But it is good to remember that even the ones we love the most are imperfect, just like us.

Here is the opening paragraph:

In generations past, there was far less talk about “compatibility” and finding the ideal soul-mate. Today we are looking for someone who accepts us as we are and fulfills our desires, and this creates an unrealistic set of expectations that frustrates both the searchers and the searched for.

You Never Marry the Right Person, Tim Keller – Relevant Magazine

What sort of movie rating would you give the Bible?

Given all the sinning that seems to be so popular among the people of the Bible, you’d think it may come sealed in plastic and watched closely by booksellers so small, innocent children wouldn’t accidentally find themselves reading such graphic materials. It is a great story of God’s love, but it doesn’t shy away from the awful depths to which humanity falls.

Song of Songs may cause you to ask yourself how’d you rate the Bible (PG-13?), but not because of sin, but because of the intimate picture of love presented in it. Just read its opening lines:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine;
your anointing oils are fragrant;
your name is oil poured out;
therefore virgins love you.
Draw me after you; let us run.
The king has brought me into his chambers.

Song of Songs 1:2-4

This is not what you may expect to read as you open up a book of the Bible. But read through it and ask yourself why it would be included in our Scriptures. What does it say of love? What place does love have in our Christian belief? Does the relationship present here clue us in on God’s intent for our own relationships?

It is a unique book that isn’t often preached or taught, so I hope you take the time in this lighter week to read through it.

Salvation is Only a Work that God Can Do

"The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones", Gustave Doré, 1866
“The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones”, Gustave Doré, 1866

Our focus passage from this last week was the familiar passage (at least familiar relative to other parts of Ezekiel) of the valley of dry bones. God brings Ezekiel to a place full of death. There are bones that are long dead and have dried up. They appear to be hopeless, for who holds out hope that life can return to a corpse, let alone the bones that remain after years of decay? But God commands Ezekiel to speak this prophecy to the bones:

O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 37:4b-6

As God had described it so it happened. Ezekiel witnesses dry bones covered with sinews and then flesh. But just to have appearance of the living is not enough. God then breathes life, Spirit, into the bodies. Then they stood as a great army.

These bones represent the whole house of Israel that believed itself beyond hope, but God still had a plan for them. He would revive them and put his Spirit within them. Just as it was with the vision of the bones, the work God would do in Israel would be miraculous and therefore would cause the people to know whose hand was behind this. Then the people would know God is the Lord for only God could save them from death and gift them with life.

This chapter describes the work of God for a nation in exile and suffering from their sins, but the miracle of turning death to life is described as well in the New Testament. I find that Ephesians 2 parallels this in some ways.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:1-10

Like the dry bones, we were dead. What could the bones do to restore flesh and life? Nothing. As a people dead in our sins, how could we save ourselves? We lived according to the sinful ways of the world, like the people of God in Ezekiel. They acted just like the nations surrounding them and suffered discipline for their disobedience. Likewise we are described here as children of wrath, just like the rest of mankind. But God rescues us in both situations and it is not because we deserved it. I see two reasons, first that God is merciful and loving to his people.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…

Imagine reading that passage and ending before this verse. It is a dire situation. That is a pretty big “but” that comes to our aid. The situation was dire as well for the people in exile. In both, all hope is lost if not for the intervention of a gracious God. It is and has always been “by grace you have been saved.”

The other reason that God would do such a thing is that it fits in with his perfect plan. In Ephesians we see lines like, “so that in the coming age he might show immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” and “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Ezekiel is full of the line, “that you may know that I am the Lord your God.” God’s work for the whole house of Israel is a testimony to his character and his grace and he wants the people to know, and he wants the world to know. We are chosen not to merely enjoy a blessing, but to also carry a great responsibility in God’s plan for this world.

God saves us from our sin and he raises us up with Christ. He does so because he has a plan for us. That plan is one of blessing, surely. But it blessing to be shared. His saving us is not a result of good works, but it is part of a plan that God prepared beforehand that leads to good works for his sake.

It is only because of God’s grace could we receive such mercy and love. Like dry bones, we could not bring back life. Even if we could somehow restore flesh and sinews, we still would lack life–the breath of God within us. Fortunately his plan did not call for us to remain dead. His plan was for us to have a life where we walk in his ways. This plan bought us back from death, restored us, and raised us to life with and because of our Lord Jesus Christ.