Tag Archives: theology

Qualities of a Sound Church

The following message is based on Titus 2:1-15.  It was delivered on February 3, 2013

Etiquette is important.  “How to’s” are necessary.  I remember eating dinner with a friend from England.  My father in-law reminded me to eat slowly, enjoy the experience etc.  If I failed to follow his instructions, I would look like a fool.

When I gave the prayer at the PA House of Representatives, I was briefed on how to enter the chamber and what I was to do and not do.  They told me how to walk, when to approach the podium, when to sit, everything from top to bottom.  One wrong move and I would be toast!

When you go to receive an MRI, they give you instructions about what to expect.  How you’ll be placed in a tube, how there will be loud noise, when to hold your breath, etc.

In a courtroom, you may be told what will take place by your lawyer.  All of these are important because etiquette is essential to being your best.  Then there are “how to’s” for the Christian life.  Being aware of our behavior, knowing my role in relationship to others.  Last week we looked at one of the few household texts that teach how family members ought to treat one another.  Today, we study Titus 2 which is a community text, addressing the church as a family of families.  Titus’ job description in found in 1:5: “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.”  Later in Titus 2:1-15, Paul addresses the different groups within a church community.  This is a very basic text.  It tells us something of how God has constructed community life

All of this instruction has a serious backdrop that we can easily overlook as it applies to the health of our church. Jeff Reed states: “Paul’s theme through this dynamic letter to Titus is clearly a profile for a Christian life style.  By contrast, his primary concern was the ungodly life style of false teachers and, consequently, the way they were influencing then new Christians in Crete.  Too often today we embrace the gospel and yet fail to pay attention to His instructions concerning how we are to live as a community of believers.” [1]

MENTORS ARE IMPORTANT IN THE SHAPING OF OUR FAITH.

Notice verse two: “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. 3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.” All of these qualities we look for in leaders.  And this was before any of the popular books or DVD’s on leadership were ever produced.  For both the older men and women, these are qualities that we look up to, those that we want in our mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers.  They are values that come from those that get high acclaim; those that command respect.

For a moment, I would like for you to think back of who has influenced you in the church.  Who have you looked up to?  I have several.  In my last church, are a couple named Tom and Annette Reed.  Tom was an elder of mine.  Soft spoken.  I never saw Tom angry.  When he served on the city council of our town, he was ridiculed for making decisions that were unpopular, but ethically right on.  They even slashed his tires.  But he never retaliated.  He always took the high moral road.  Tom led our men’s prayer meeting with a devotional.  His wife Annette was a prayer warrior and led the Beth Moore Bible studies in our community.  They were my confidants and are still good friends today.  Although I was their pastor, in many ways, they pastored me.  They loved Linda and me like we were their own kids.  People like that are the salt of the earth.

Who was it for you?  Is there someone now operating as a mentor?  Do you take advantage of the opportunities to connect with them?  A lot of progress can be made over the lunch counter.  Ask questions.  Life experience coupled with the knowledge of God’s word is invaluable. Are we listening?  Wisdom beckons everyone who will listen, as an experienced master would guide a green novice.  Proverbs 3:1: “My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands; 2 for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you.”  Would be a mentor to someone in the church?  Would you take the time to invest your life in someone else?  This can be done one-on-one, either formally or informally.  I challenge you older, more seasoned Christians to pray and ask God who He might bring your way to mentor. Next Sunday, you’re going to witness our young people participate in Youth Sunday.  Encourage them; but also be mindful that they need your guidance.  Secondly…

LEARNING AND DISCIPLESHIP IS A LIFE-LONG PROCESS, WHERE ONE REALIZES THEIR ROLE AS RELATED TO OTHERS.

Verse four instructs older women to “…train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. 6 Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled.”  Note that this section is not a criticism of women who work outside the home.  If you were to read Proverbs 31, you’ll see a woman who is very industrious.  I realize that in this culture that there are situations which force women to work outside the home.  But it also is important to state that women are the heart of the home.  A wife who is keenly aware of the needs of her home is worth her weight in gold!  She provides comfort and sets the tone.  Our home would be lost without Linda.  She recently went away overnight and my kids were waiting for her at the door upon her return!

Verse six tells us that younger men are to be self-controlled.  The Greek is sophroneo which literally means: “to be of sound mind, to be temperate.   It has in view that of sound judgment.  The New American Standard translates it as sensible.  Notice that this is the trait that shows up either explicitly or implicitly in all four groups.  In the Greek culture of widespread immorality and abuses of relationships woven into their religious experience, it was necessary that Christians give a different impression.  This applies to one’s appetite, emotional or physical.  It is keeping yourself in check according to God’s word.  It is practicing self-restraint.  It is knowing your weaknesses and not giving yourself over to accesses that are neither healthy nor right.  On this weekend, as we think of the Super Bowl and the Wing Bowl and any other bowl.  Christians are to be temperate.

Another trait that shows up is focus.  Knowing what you’re job is.  Keenly aware of responsibilities; being resourceful.  Aware of what God has given you and applying yourself to the needs around you.  Our culture seems to communicate an attitude towards finding yourself, being on a journey, but no one knows what their supposed to be looking for when trying to find oneself and the journey never has a destination.  We must understand that it is not all about me; the world does not revolve around me.

A recent study revealed that young people in our culture struggle with direction, yet they also feel entitled and put up a front like they do not need help.  Psychologist Jean Twenge and her colleagues compiled the data and found that over the last four decades there’s been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being ‘above average’ in the areas of academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability, and self-confidence. But in appraising the traits that are considered less individualistic – co-operativeness, understanding others, and spirituality – the numbers either stayed at slightly decreased over the same period.

Researchers also found a disconnect between the student’s opinions of themselves and actual ability. While students are much more likely to call themselves gifted in writing abilities, objective test scores actually show that their writing abilities are far less than those of their 1960s counterparts.

Also on the decline is the amount of time spent studying, with little more than a third of students saying they study for six or more hours a week compared to almost half of all students claiming the same in the late 1980s.[2]

We must not forget that we are connected and related.  We need each other.  Martin Luther King Jr. said: “We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”[3]

Effectiveness of our church’s witness depends on us living properly towards each other and towards outsiders.  Gene Getz states: “The way we live in community, as a local church, makes a difference in our impact for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is also true for the way we live within our own homes.  As homes and communities disintegrate in our Western culture, we can have an especially powerful witness before the watching world.”[4]  Lastly, there’s an underlying motivation and dogma underneath this behavior.  That teaches us that…

THEOLOGY IS IMPORTANT.

Paul’s instructions to Titus remind us that how one believes ought to affect how one lives.  The first century cults had a disruptive nature.  They would ruin whole households (cite Paul, Peter).  The Church has always believed in a plurality of leadership that consisted of many functioning as under shepherds.

Titus was to be a model of good works.  In his teaching, he was to show integrity, dignity and sound speech.  This was the picture of the shepherd in the tradition of Jesus.  Jesus was the good shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.  If you remember from our Scripture Lesson in John 10:1-16, Jesus is the door.  He warns that there will be those that will try to enter by another way and even determine to lead others astray.

Then there is Satan, who seeks to kill and destroy.  Jesus brings life, as He said in John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.”  And we await His return.  He is looking for the faithful.

One of the biggest obstacles to right belief is our own intuition.  We make up our own theology as we go, rather than conforming our thoughts to Scripture.  Scripture is a revealed book upon which we must center our lives.  Its ideas don not originate with man, but with God.  At a critical time in the life of the Israelites, after Moses died, Joshua could have said, “This is my game now.”  But notice what God said in Joshua 1:7: “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

All of this is necessary as we wait for Jesus’ return.  I could easily preach a sermon on the last four verses of our passage, and someday I will.  But for now, I will read them and then tell a story.  11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. 15 These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority.”  Our living is in anticipation of something greater that is right around the corner.

Have you ever wondered why folks in a cemetery are buried facing east?  It is in anticipation of the second coming of Jesus.  As Christians, we anticipate a great day, in which we will come face to face with the Lord of the Universe.  It will be a day of freedom that we can in fact enjoy now.


[1] Reed, 43.

[3] Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 72.

[4] Jeff Reed, Belonging to a Family of Families, (Des Moines, IA: BILD International, 1997), 41.

“A Series of Gifts: Assurance”

The following message is taken from Luke 1:26-38, the passage which tells of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, telling her of God’s special plan for the birth of Christ.  It was preached on December 16 and 23, 2012.

 

What is assurance?  Webster’s uses such words as security, a being certain in the mind, confidence of mind or manner; easy freedom from self-doubt or uncertainty.  Today, people place their assurance in many places.  Some put their assurance in government, whoever holds office.  Some put their assurance in their education or career, their ability to make money. Others put their assurance in relationships- whether it is in a child or a spouse or a friend.  When these relationships dissolve, they feel lost and alone.  This past week, the parents of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, sent their children off to the Sandy Hook Elementary School, school fully expecting to see them at the end of the day.  Tragically, they could not be assured of this.

But do any of these destinations for our assurance please God?  At a strategic time in their history, Israel sought an unhealthy alliance with the Egyptians.  Isaiah 31:1 states: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD.”  Before then; and since then, God has been showing man that He must realize his own self abasement and that He is desperately in need of God for his life to have meaning and purpose. God has created each of us with a void that can only be filled by Him.

This could have been the thoughts of the young Virgin Mary, before she was visited by the angel Gabriel to announce her role in bearing the Christ child. This morning, let us consider this event and see that yet another gift that Jesus came to give was and is assurance.  We first learn that…

ASSURANCE COMES ONLY FROM GOD.

Note Luke 1:26: “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’  “But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.”  After the angel Gabriel approaches Mary, she was scared to death.  Fear is a real part of life.  Mary was afraid when she encountered the angel.  But notice that the angel dispels her fear by informing her that she is being picked for a very special role in the plans of God.  Verse 30: ‘And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.

This brings up the interesting roles of angels.  An angel tops some of your Christmas trees in your homes.  What place do they have in the Christmas story?  Last week, we saw how the angels appeared to the shepherds, announcing the birth of Christ.  “Do not fear, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all the people….”  Here we see the role of Gabriel, one of God’s special angels.  Let us be reminded of the role of angels.  They are given the task of announcing, providing protection, and service. As Hebrews 1:14 teaches, they are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.

Here, the angel would tell Mary that she was a special individual in the plans of God.  She is not our co-redemptrixt, as some churches teach.  Nor is she to be the recipient of our prayers.  We pray to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; not another human being.  But Mary is the mother of the Lord Jesus and a willing servant to the things of God.  She was a woman of incredible faith.  Her statement in verse 38 is a statement we should all adopt for our lives: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

Just as Mary needed God’s assurance, we do too.  Through a colleague of mine, he received this quote from someone in the ministry: “When bad things like this happen, people ask, “why doesn’t God do something?”  Well, He did.  He sent Jesus.  It is our job to let them know.” Not only do we find that assurance comes from God, next, we discover that…

REAL ASSURANCE IS FOUND ONLY IN JESUS.

What will happen is listed in verse 30.  This explains who Jesus is.  First of all, “He will be great.”  Secondly, “He will be called the Son of the Most high.”  Then there are two statements that attribute the office of the Messiah to Jesus.  “The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; He will reign over the house of Jacob forever.  His kingdom will have no end.”  There is tremendous Jewish significance in this statement.  I mentioned last week that in the first century, there was a sense of anticipation for Jews surrounding the coming of the Messiah.  He was seen as a rescuer, a political figure that would come and crush God’s enemies, particularly the Romans.  But Jesus is a different type of Savior.  He saves from the guilt and power of sin.

This citation is a reference from the book of Daniel, 7:13.  It says: “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. 14 “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”  Many times, Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man.  That was because He fulfilled this reference in the book of Daniel as God’s unique Son.

Christians live with the knowledge that God is upon His throne.  He reigns perfectly.  He will right every wrong and bring justice to the earth one day.  Although I experience heinous crimes, disease, disappointment and stress in this life, God has so ordered my existence that my comfort is not the main objective, but that I may be formed to be more like Christ, so that I can live and reign with Him when He returns.  Paul wrote in Romans 7:24: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God– through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

There are those things to be afraid of; but our fear should be diminished by the assurance that we have in Christ.  Listen to the following testimony by Subal Dang from India.  He writes of Bhubaneswar, a city in central India, where 1.9 million people live.  “Bhubaneswar is mostly Hindu.  Nearly 95% of the surrounding Orissa State is Hindu.  This perspective dominates the government, and it can make it difficult to be a Christian at times.  The radical Hindu groups are the most dangerous.  In 2008 there was some very significant violence directed toward Christians in my area. Some Christians were killed, churches were burned, and many lost their homes and property.

This continues in Orissa where Christians still live in a state of insecurity and danger.  Sometimes government food supplies that should be distributed among the poor are not delivered to the Christians.  In some villages Christian children are not allowed access to government schools.  The former archbishop of the Catholic Church in the Orissa region, Raphael Cheenath has said: “There is no violence, but there is no peace.  About 16,000 families have no homes and Christians are not allowed to return to 20 villages unless they convert to Hinduism.  In many villages in Kandhamal, Christians live with mistreatment and humiliation every day. They are not allowed to take water from the village well, collect firewood, or buy food from shops.  The authorities do nothing to prevent such abuse, even if we have made complaints. Their silence is disturbing.”

Christmas remains one of the most exciting times for Christians even with threats in nearby regions.  It is a time to send cards or give gifts to friends and family.  On Christmas Day, almost all families will go to church services in the morning.  Afterwards there will be a time of feasting for the entire church.  In the evening on December 25, Christians will gather at the church and dance, sing, act our plays, or perform comic routines.  We will also act out Bible stories such as Jesus’ birth.

Christmas is also a time for more intense spiritual discipline in for Christian in my part of the world.  Some people like to fast during this time.  They may fast for 2-3 days around Christmas.  Others will devote themselves to special prayer times.  Some will pray for the gospel message to reach the world or for peace.  Others pray for the gospel ministry in India, especially since other religious groups are more open to the Christian message.

Fear and joy were a part of the very first Christmas.  The angel told (Mary) not to fear because she had found favor with God.  This Christmas, I hope that you, too, will seek favor with God.  If you are feeling fear, being in the center of God’s will is the best place to be.[2]

This morning, we have found that assurance is comes from God and found only in Jesus.  This means that assurance is possible, regardless of our contexts or the experiences we face.  God has created us in such a way that real assurance can only be found in knowing Him.  Augustine of Hippo, the 4th century church father, said: “…because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”[3]