Tag Archives: marriage

What that little pocket on jeans can teach us about church family – Titus 3:9-15, Part 1

12 Aug

Family.  Who do you think of when you think of family?

Growing up my family was my dad and mom, and my brother and sister.  Five people.  I’m so thankful that they are still my family. 

When my wife, Michelle, and I got married, though, we started our new family.  God blessed us with children, and eventually we became a family of six. 

A few weeks ago, our oldest son was married, and now we have a daughter-in-law, making our family seven. Although, it could be said that we have become a family of five, as my son and his wife started their family. (I think we’ll just go with “a family of seven”!)

Earlier in the summer my extended family got together at the beach for my parents’ 50th anniversary.  My parents were once just a family of two, but in fifty years time, their family was now more than 20, with all the spouses and grandkids. 

Furthermore, family is not simply biological.  Three of my nieces and nephews are adopted, and yet they are completely a part of my parents’ family. Also, one of my second son’s friends calls Michelle and me, “mom” and “dad” because of the close nature of our relationship. You may have relationships like that too. For those of you in church families, I hope that you experience that kind of closeness with the people in your congregation. In this series of posts on Titus 3:9-15, we will conclude our study through the letter Paul wrote to Titus, and we will see how Paul describes the church family he was a part of, and how that family was to relate to one another, in the difficult times and in the joyful ones.

When I read what Paul says in verses 9-11, it occurred to me that we might give these verses the following subtitle: How not to be a church family. Why?

Look at verse 9, for example. There Paul will tell Titus what the people in the church should do: avoid that which is unprofitable and useless.  It seems pretty obvious that people should avoid what is unprofitable and useless, right?  But it’s like we’re suckers for it, as much as we can get caught up in it.  Have you ever been involved in an unprofitable, useless discussion? Have you ever participated in an activity that initially seemed worthwhile, but in time was revealed to be a waste? For me it was phone apps and games. You can read about my personal journey to free myself of them here.

What useless or unprofitable activity is Paul talking about? He mentions three things: foolish controversies, genealogies, and arguments and quarrels about the law. Paul here is primarily describing theological controversies in the church, based in what he already said in 1:10-16 about the misapplication of the OT Law to Christians.  Now here in 3:9-11 Paul is saying that the controversies we get caught up in are often silly and thus should be avoided. 

Paul’s principle for Christians in a church family, then, is: “avoid what is unprofitable and useless.”  Let me make an analogy. Did you ever think about that small right front pocket in most jeans?  Why is it there?  Well, when jeans first became popular in the late 1800s, that pocket was pretty handy because lots of people used pocket-watches.  In time that pocket became part of what makes jeans uniquely jeans.  So though those mini pockets are rarely used anymore, clothing companies keep putting them there.  Here’s the thing, in 2019 you could say jeans’ mini-pockets are useless.  Even when cell phones were small, they didn’t fit in there. Try to put anything in there, and it’s almost impossible to get out. But if jeans didn’t have those pockets, they would look weird. That’s the funny thing about life.  We can get accustomed to what is useless, and normalize it!  We can accept it.  We talk about it.  Get excited about it. Or upset about it. 

How does this happen in church families? The classic example is the color of the carpet in the sanctuary.  In a building project one faction says the carpet should be tan, and another faction says the carpet should be blue.  They get angry, fight, refuse to agree, and the church splits.  Talk about useless and unprofitable. Sadly, there are many other such examples that church families have allowed to become divisive.

Paul says in the church, though, we should be people committed to avoiding what is unprofitable and useless.  He was mostly talking about conversations, beliefs, ideas, and practices of how we live out our faith.  The problem is that Christians will have differences of opinion about what is the profitable verses unprofitable, and what is useless versus what is useful.  At Faith Church we have a variety of opinions like this, as I’m sure you do in your church family.

So we need to agree to disagree, lovingly.  We can and should get along in a loving way, though you may have differences of opinion with those who think differently than you. As we continue this series of posts, stay tuned, because we’ll talk further about how Christians in a church family can navigate those differences of opinion in a godly way.

Non-negotiable qualities of church leaders – Titus 1:5-9, Part 4

20 Jun
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In Titus 1:5-9, Paul says leaders of the church should be blameless. This week we have been looking closely at this passage to see if we can learn what blameless leadership is all about. In today’s post, we see that Paul tells Titus to look for leaders who have demonstrated a number of qualities that are non-negotiable.

First, in verse 6, Paul says that blameless leaders have one wife.  Is he talking about polygamy here?  Did the Romans have multiple wives?  It is highly doubtful, historians tell us, that polygamy occurred much in the Greco-Roman world.  Instead, it seems that Paul is referring to the common practice in which Greek and Roman men would have concubines. Sadly, this wasn’t considered aberrant in their culture.  It was accepted.  Paul says Christians will have a different viewpoint.  They will not have concubines.  Christians will have only one wife. In other words, church leaders’ should have a high view of the sanctity of marriage. Why? Their marriages will have a profound impact on those leaders’ relationship to the church, and vice versa. What this means is that Titus should be looking for leaders who have strong marriages, and who protect their marriages from infidelity.

Next in verse 6, Paul says that blameless leaders of the church will have faithful children.  That’s a tough one because at a certain point, kids who have been raised in a loving home can choose to rebel.  Even if they were raised right, and at no fault of their parents, they might choose to give up the faith.  While grace needs to rule the day here, Paul has something important for parents and kids to consider.  Parents are to parent their kids toward faithfulness, and kids are to choose to be faithful. What you teach your children and how you parent matters.  God doesn’t want leaders who are all about leading in the church but not caring for and leading in their homes.  That is part of being blameless; it’s a lifestyle that you are living, not just a way you behave in one spot.

Paul goes on to tell Titus to look for blameless leaders who see themselves as God’s stewards.  The word he is using here is defined as a household manager.  The leader of a church does not own the church, God does.  Paul says, therefore, that the blameless leader will view the church as God’s work.  None of us should think that we own the church, or that the church is somehow ours. It is God’s. We are simply stewards, managing the church for God.  That means Titus should look to appoint leaders who handle the church like God desires.

After talking about blameless leaders’ various roles and relationships, he talks about their character. Under the general principle of blamelessness, Paul now says that these leaders will be people who avoid five things and attain six things.

The blameless leaders avoids the following five vices.  They are not:

  1. Over-bearing.  This is an arrogance that is the result of self-will and stubbornness.  They think they are so much better than everyone else.  They are always looking down on others, always saying, “I am better.”
  2. Quick-tempered. The person is a bully. 
  3. Addicted to wine. This could be expanded to addiction in any of its many forms.
  4. Violent. This is a person who is ready and willing to pick fights. They are demanding.
  5. Pursuing dishonest gain.  Specifically this word has greed at its core. This person is shamefully greedy. 

As I look at this list of five vices, the word “narcissist” comes to mind. While I don’t believe narcissism encapsulates all that Paul is talking about here, it sure relates to much of the five. What is narcissism? As the Gravity Leadership crew discovers in this fascinating and helpful podcast interview with Chuck DeGroat, narcissism is more than “a person who is in love with themselves.” Narcissists have a strange attraction for many of us, and yet they’ve caused immeasurable damage. After listening to the podcast, I’m convinced Paul would say to Titus, “a church leader must not be a narcissist.”

So what kind of character qualities should Titus be looking for? Paul says that the blameless leader will demonstrates that they are pursuing six virtues (starting in verse 8).  They are:

  1. Hospitable.  This word has a connotation of hospitality particularly to strangers.
  2. Loving what is good.  This person really likes goodness. 
  3. The NIV 84 says the third quality is “self-controlled”, but the word the NIV 84 translates as “disciplined” at the end of the list in verse 8 is better translated “self-controlled.” Granted, they are very much related.  The word here is more about what is prudent.  A person who is sensible, making wise decisions.
  4. Righteous, “upright”. This person does what God requires. Follows God’s ways.  It is more outward.
  5. “Holy”. A person who is growing a heart that is more and more like Jesus. It is more inward. 
  6. Self-controlled. See #3 above. This person is in control of their emotions and choices.

That’s quite a list, isn’t it? It seems like only Jesus would qualify. Years ago I served on a denominational team that was administrating the process of nominating candidates for the role of Bishop. In my denomination, the Bishop is the leader of the whole denomination, and thus we created a list of qualities that we were looking for. We used biblical passages like Titus 1:5-9, and the result had me thinking, “No one fits this. A person would have to be perfect. We’re looking for Jesus, and there was only one Jesus.” But as we discussed earlier in this week’s series, blameless leadership does not equal perfection. You might review that discussion, as the list above could be intimidating. Paul did not intend to give Titus an impossible task, but he does set the bar high.

In conclusion, Paul says, “Titus, look for people who have distinguished themselves using these lists.  Appoint them to be leaders.”

And what will these leaders do?  Paul has a job description for them, which we will look at in the next post.

All sins are not the same? [False ideas Christians believe about…Sin. Part 4]

28 Feb
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This week we have been fact-checking Christian statements about sin. In part 3 yesterday we looked at the phrase “all sins are the same.” Today we’re investigating its opposite: sins are different. There is an important sense in which sins are very, very different, and they are not the same.   In part 3, we saw how this statement is true in the claim the person made when they said that they are not a sinner because they haven’t committed murder or rape.  They are correct that there is a major difference between, say, shoplifting on the minor end, and human trafficking on the major end. 

As I already said in part 3, sins are equal in God’s eyes only in the sense that all humans are sinners.  But God’s word also gives evidence that all sins are not equal.  There is no doubt that some sins have much more devastating consequences, and are thus treated much more seriously by God.

Look at 1 Corinthians 6, for example, in verses 9-11 where Paul is talking about the equality of many sins.  He lists out a whole bunch of sins saying that they are equal in the sense that people who are engulfed in these sins cannot inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.  But look at his flow of thought as it continues in verses 15-20.  There he singles out one sin in particular and shows how deeply damaging it is to a person: the sin of sexual immorality.  He says in verse 18, that all other sins are committed outside the body, whereas sexual sins are against one’s own body!  What is so egregious about sexual sin is that a Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Paul is saying, therefore, that sexual immorality is not the same as other sins!  But hear me, he is not saying that sexual immorality is the worst possible sin.  He is simply saying that it is different and should be seen that way, as it affects a person deep within.  How many of us have seen sexual immorality wreak havoc on people and relationships?  There is such a better way!  The way of Jesus.  That’s exactly what we saw last week when the writer of Hebrews quoted Deuteronomy 31:6 in Hebrews 13.  He said that Christians should be committed to keeping the marriage bed pure. 

That means that sexual expression should be between a man and a woman within the confines of marriage only.  When you are married, Christians are not to have sex with people other than your spouse.  Before you are married, you are not to have sex at all.  Why?  Because it is an intimate gift and when handled outside of a marriage commitment it hurts, it damages and can cause lasting effects.  God of course can forgive, but there are always effects to sin. He wants the best for you, so he sets up guidelines for that purpose. You can follow that standard for disciples of Jesus because God says that he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Why am I saying this?  Not to elevate sexual immorality as some super special category of sin.  No.  I am bringing it up because in the Bible we see that sexual immorality is not the same as other sins.  Think about the damage that sin does.  This is why Paul makes a big deal about sexual immorality, it does damage in relationships.  There are other sins that do massive damage as well.  Obviously, murder.  It is right for Christians to view murder as altogether different from other sins because murder is the taking of a life.  This is but one example of many.

Another is when Jesus taught, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  He was pretty serious about protecting children.

So sins are all equal?  Or sins are different?  Both are true.  While we all have equal sin in God’s eyes, there are sins that are way worse than others in God’s eyes.  All are forgivable.  Redemption is possible in everything.  He can teach us through it all.  Some sins, just by their nature, have more effects, more ripples on more people and on His temple, our bodies, on his body, the church, and on his creation.

Marriage: covenant vs. contract? [Deuteronomy 21-24]

22 Jan
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How is your marriage? Is your relationship with your spouse doing well? Or does it need improvement, even in some small way?

Our preaching series through Deuteronomy continued this past Sunday at Faith Church looking at numerous passages in chapters 21-24 related to marriage. As I was away most of the week at my denomination’s Pastoral Assessment Center, I asked my brother, Jeff Kime, to preach.

Jeff is the Executive Director of The Marriage Hub, a ministry whose mission is to help strengthen marriages, particularly those in crisis.  Jeff and his team regularly hold marriage intensive retreats designed to give couples hope and tools to transform their marriages in a godly direction.  Even if your marriage is vibrant, Jeff, in this sermon, teaches great principles for strengthening marriages.  Maybe you’re single and wondering if this sermon is not for you.  It is most certainly for you, too.  God may have marriage in your future, and it will be important for you to learn these principles that you could apply or share with others in your life who will marry.  So take some time and evaluate your marriage or relationship status.  Ask God to help you hear from him! And then listen to the sermon.

What you’re going to learn is the difference between a contract and a covenant, and why that matters so much to how we view marriage. This past weekend, there was possibility of a major winter storm, so Jeff created a video version of the sermon.

And if you know that your marriage needs help, but you don’t know where to turn, please contact Jeff at The Marriage Hub!

Was Fred Flintstone right that a woman’s place is in the home?

23 Jul

How many of you remember the 1960s era cartoon, The Flintstones?  If you haven’t seen it, the cartoon is set in an imaginary cavemen society, except their society has all the amenities of modern society with cars, television, and neighborhoods.  The main characters, Fred and Wilma Flintstone, are husband and wife.

In Season 2, Episode 23, “The Happy Household,” Fred and Wilma had gotten into a fight because Wilma came home from a shopping trip, and Fred blamed her for spending more money than he makes.  Fred thinks Wilma should get a job.  So the next day Fred is surprised when he comes home from his job and Wilma is not there.  He is used to Wilma having a big dinner waiting for him.  Instead Wilma wrote him a note saying Fred should warm up a frozen dinner.  Fred is not happy.  He tries to get leftovers from his neighbor Barney, but Barney says there aren’t any.  Barney tries to placate Fred by turning on the TV.  Does it work?  Nope, Fred gets the shock of his married life.  Here’s the clip:

Later that evening, Wilma returns, and things blow up.  Take a look at the next clip:

I don’t know why the person who posted that YouTube video gave it that title, because Fred never hits Wilma.  And yet, the cave man speaks.  Did you hear what he said? “A woman’s place is in the home!”  Is that just a cave man speaking?  Or do we still hear that phrase today?

You might think, “Well, the Flintstones came out over 50 years ago!  Society has changed.”  Very true.  Society has changed.  But for many people the questions remain. What are the appropriate roles for husbands and wives in marriage?  Does God care?  How do we find out?

Around the world we Christians for centuries have had strong feelings about these questions.  Christians have been in sharp disputes.  It still goes on today.

Think about it.  That day you say your marriage vows you begin a new journey with a long road in front on you. How should a husband and wife relate to one another?

What does the Bible say?  In our next section of 1st Peter, chapter 3, verses 1-7, Peter talks about husbands and wives. Check it out and see what you think.  Peter says “Wives be submissive to your husbands.”  Before we get into Peter’s teaching, the primary question that people ask about these submission passages, is this: Is this passage to be applicable for all time OR is it to be understood as for that time only?

If the passage is to be for all time, then Christian marriage, always, everywhere, forever, should be a relationship of the wife being submissive to the husband.  Period.  The husband is the leader, the head of the household, the decision maker, and the wife must submit to or obey the husband’s authority!

If Peter only was writing for that time, then Christian marriage roles between a husband and wife could look different.  Shared leadership.  Equal authority.  Or the wife could lead, and the husband could submit.

So how do we know?  Christians still today disagree about which interpretation to use.  I think Peter has BOTH in mind.  I suspect he is thinking both about the Christians in that day, but also laying a foundation for Christians in the future.

Here’s why.  Peter seems to be responding to the Christian teaching of freedom in Christ.  This teaching was new. He told them that they were free, but asked them not to use their freedom for evil.  That’s back in chapter 2 verse 16.  There he says, “you are free, but don’t use that freedom as a cover-up for evil.  Instead, though you are free in Christ, you are bound to serve God.”  That is a massively important mindset.  Yes we are free in Christ…free to serve God!  That means we first and foremost submit to God and to the mission of his Kingdom.

This week we’ll explore further how freedom in Christ can help us understand what Peter has to say about the role husbands and wives have in marriage.  See you tomorrow.

Does Jesus want us to be Apocalypse Preppers? – Luke 17:20-37

23 Feb

Last week, I mentioned that we can feel fine if in fact we are living in the end of the world.  Here’s why.

Some people are fine because they are ready for the end of the world.  They are prepared.  We call them Preppers.  The family in the picture above is an example. Look at all the stuff they have stockpiled.  National Geographic has a TV show about this phenomenon, and it is amazing.  If an apocalypse happens, these people think they will be ready.  But is that how we can feel fine at the end of the world?  Build a bunker and fill it with survival gear, food and water?

In Luke 17:20-37, Jesus teaches two important things about the coming of the Kingdom of God, First, the Kingdom has already come. It is among those who believe in and follow Jesus, becoming his disciples. Second, the Kingdom has not fully come, but one day it will, and we should be ready for that day. This idea that the Kingdom has come, but not in its fullness is often described as the “Already, Not Yet” view of the end of the world. The Kingdom of God has already come, but not yet fully. We live in the already. As Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is among you.” But he will return, to usher his Kingdom fully in one day we know not when. But we can be ready.

We can be fine living in this already, not yet. We can be fine because we have him now and we can be ready for his return.

Accepting Jesus as our Savior and Lord is where readiness begins. What I’m talking about is becoming his disciple. It makes us think of the moment when he said to those first disciples “Follow me”, and they followed him. They didn’t know exactly who they were following or what they were getting themselves into. But they followed. Their relationship with him and the knowledge of who he was and what his Kingdom was all about would grow in time.

It’s a lot like marriage. Remember your wedding day? Remember how you were so in love with your spouse? When you said “I love you” that day, you meant it. But has your understanding of love grown since then? When you say “I love you” now, does it mean something deeper now?

For us it is the same. Readiness starts with making the decision to believe in him, follow him, and make his way of life our way of life, but understanding of who Jesus is and what his Kingdom is all about grows in time.  This is how we live in the Already.  Allowing him to have more and more leadership of our lives, allowing him to transform us so that we act more and more like him.

But there is also the Not Yet.  One day he will return, as he said he would, and the principle he asked us to follow was to be ready for his return.  We need to have that ongoing awareness in our minds that Jesus could come today. Allow that very real possibility to be the concept by which we evaluate our lives. Are we ready today? “Lord, am I ready to meet you, either by your coming which could be today, tomorrow, decades away, or not in my lifetime, in which case am I ready to meet you as a result of my own death?”

Make this a proactive part of your life. It is a habit that we can get into. Always ready.

I find this principle to be true when it comes to exercise. When I train for a long run like a half-marathon or a marathon, I gradually get my body ready to run those long distances. At the beginning of the training plan it seems impossible that I could get to the point where I can run 13 let alone 26 miles at one shot. But day by day following that plan, my body adapts, grows, strengthens, changes. And you get to the point where you can run 13 or 26 miles. You start off looking at the 18 week training plan which finishes with a really long run thinking, “No Way, I’ll never be able to do that.”  But you can.  Little by little following the training plan, your body changes and strengthens. When the big race comes, you are ready.

From that race day forward, if I wanted, I could maintain that readiness. Some people do that. They run long races every weekend or every other weekend. Once you’ve achieved readiness, it is easier to maintain it now that you are there.

But I have a confession. I have never maintained that readiness.   After the long run is over, I am worn out from 18 weeks of training.  I go back to short runs, so that when the next summer rolls around I have to start the training plan all over again.

So how can you maintain readiness for Jesus’ coming?

First, begin a relationship with Jesus by placing your faith in him. Second, go back to the basics of spiritual disciplines, such as the core ones of reading and studying your Bible to learn more about what God’s Kingdom is all about. Pray regularly for God to fill you with his Spirit and transform you. Third, be deeply committed to your local church family. We need each other. Look at the disciples in Acts; they formed a community that was deeply committed to one another. Fourth, we should all have people that we are regularly investing in spiritually, and we should all have people that are regularly investing in us spiritually.

Do you need to apply any of these four ideas to your life?

Law & Marriage…go together like a horse and carriage?

21 Jan

I am finding Luke 16 to be exceedingly confusing.  As if verses 1-15 and the Parable of the Shrewd Steward weren’t difficult enough (I preached on them this past Sunday…you can read about that sermon here and here), this coming Sunday I’m focusing on verses 14-18 which put Law and Marriage together, and I’m not sure they go together very well!  Last week I had a lot of help from Kenneth Bailey’s studies on the parables of Luke.  Bailey’s awesome study makes great sense of the Shrewd Steward.  This week, well, the scholars are not as helpful.

Let me explain.  My first question is about the placement of verses 16-18 in the passage.  I’ve been reading a number of commentaries, and they have many theories about these verses, most of which don’t even try to see a flow of thought.  They see verses 1-15 and 19-31 as two sections primarily about how to use money.  I get that.  Here’s the strange part: they suggest that the verses sandwiched in between, verses 16-18 about Law and Marriage, are somewhat random.  One scholar, Bock (in the IVP Commentary series), has a theory for the unity of the passage, but I found it unconvincing.

I wonder what you think when you read chapter 16!

Here is a bit more explanation about Law and Marriage, the two topics that we’re going to look at on Sunday:

  1. How Christians should use the OT Law
  2. Marriage and Divorce

They seem like an odd couple of themes to place together, but that is exactly what Jesus does.  Why, though?  What is it about marriage that might relate to the OT Law?  What do we need to know about the OT Law that could help us with marriage?

There is no doubt in my mind that we need to talk about both of these subjects.  There is perhaps just as much confusion about how Christians should use the OT Law, as there is about marriage and divorce.  Randall Balmer points out in his book, Thy Kingdom Come, that decades ago the religious right stopped talking about divorce and marriage because so many of their leaders had gotten divorces.  They needed a new issue to galvanize support for their causes, so they picked abortion.  Balmer suggests that they never should have stopped talking about marriage.  I agree.  Most of us are married or will be one day, but many marriages fail or are painful.  People are hungry for help in their marriages.

Thankfully the pursuit of healthy marriage is something that God loves and encourages, and many people, pastors, churches, and organizations are talking about it a lot.  So will we this coming Sunday.

As I write this on Thursday afternoon, I have to admit that I don’t have this passage all figured out.  I’ve got study to do!  There’s a potential for a big snowstorm to cover our area, so we may need to cancel worship.  But even if that happens, I won’t be off the hook!  I’ll either record a podcast on Monday or upload the manuscript of the sermon for you.  For now, I encourage you to prepare yourself for worship.  Read Luke 16, thinking about that question of the OT Law.  Are we bound to follow it?  And think about marriage?  What does it mean to have a healthy one so that divorce is not even in the realm of possibility?

And weather permitting, we’d love to have you join us at Faith Church on Sunday as we’ll talk about this further.