Tag Archives: Titus

Paul’s tools will work

Sermon given on Sunday, November 5, 2017.  After completing the letters of Paul to the early churches, this sermon focuses on the letters he wrote to the pastors he appointed to two of the churches, Timothy and Titus.  

For two months I have been totally consumed with the fallout from the chaos that followed our baptismal service. I have questioned my calling. I have tried to apologize. I have tried to sort out the details of what happened. And I have kept moving forward. All the time, I have not been able to shed the immense sorrow that I feel as a result of that day’s events.

I continued reading Paul’s letters to the early churches and asked what would the message be for our congregation. There is truth in each letter that applies as much to today’s church as it does to the earliest churches. Sadly, I do not think the lessons made an impact.

During these weeks, I have sought council. I have heard opinions. I have experienced shunning. And I have had to answer to the district superintendent. All the while, only one source continues providing Christ-like advice and that is the Bible. After exhausting all the various sources I could, I turned again to Paul. This time I found the pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, two of the pastors he placed in churches.

Last week, I shared a brief scripture from Titus, so this week I decided to focus on reading the two letters to Timothy. I discovered that Titus was actually written between the two letters to Timothy and 2 Timothy was written by Paul while he was under arrest and trying to prepare for his final trial that in historical perspective turned out to end in his execution. Therefore, 2 Timothy was his last letter to the earliest Christians.

This week, searching for answers and direction, Paul’s advice to Timothy may provide needed guidance. Let’s begin with today’s opening verses (2 Timothy 2:10-14):

10 So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.

11 This is a trustworthy saying:

If we die with him,
we will also live with him.
12 If we endure hardship,
we will reign with him.
If we deny him,
he will deny us.
13 If we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny who he is.

14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

 

These words written as Paul sat in a Roman prison alone, about AD 66 or 67, are words that pastors need to hear. These are words of encouragement, almost like a mantra to develop one’s self-confidence. But these words are for all faithful followers, not just pastors. As long as we remain faithful to God, he will continue to be with us.

The rumor mill that has churned out stories in our community have caused damage. Words have divided us in ways we may not even realize. But Paul wants us to remember to stay faithful. To remain loyal. To endure hardships. And in verse 14:

 

14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

 

Those words mean the same thing regardless of the translation:

 

  • KJV: 14 Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
  • NRSV: 14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God[a]that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.
  • NIV: 14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
  • MSG: 14-18 Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out.
  • CEB: 14 Remind them of these things and warn them in the sight of God not to engage in battles over words that aren’t helpful and only destroy those who hear them.

 

Today, these words must be the very basic principle that is the foundation of a healthy congregation. When one is hurt by the words that are being spoken, healing is difficult. But with God, anything is possible as long as all words spoken whether by myself, the pastor, or by any of us need to be Christ-like at all times.

This is a tremendous order that Paul has sent to Timothy, and it is a tremendous one for each of us. I do the best that I can, and I apologize for any words that may be hurtful. What I must do now is stay focused on the words Paul shares and all the words of the scripture. I must turn over my hurt feelings and my self-doubt in order to move forward and continue sharing the Good News.

Reading on through the second chapter of 2 Timothy, there is a metaphor that applies to us:

 

20 In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. 21 If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.

 

We must continue developing the tools that work for us each and every day whether a special day or an ordinary day. The tools will assure that we work as a team to carry out the various ministries of our church. The tools will demonstrate our skills to live our faith visibly in the community. The tools are defined and refined in the words of the scripture, from the first book of Genesis, through the last book of Revelations. Are we using the best materials to develop our tools, or are we failing to use the tools?

Last week while reviewing the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, the verse from Titus 2:12 was shared:

 

12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God . . .

 

Paul continues this instruction with the second letter to Timothy in 2:22:

 

22 Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.

 

Sadly, I do not believe we have achieved this level of Christian fellowship. Our tools are not sharpened and honed to perfection as a congregation. Instead, there is a split that continues to divide and destroy the effectiveness of the sharing the Good News God has commissioned us to do.

Right now, today, we must consciously turn to Paul’s instruction and ask for God to forgive us and to ask each other for forgiveness, too. I know that the heart of this church is for the transformation of the community. The truth is that no transformation has any chance if the church itself is battling “foolish, ignorant arguments” as Paul states in 2 Timothy 2:22: 23 Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.

Still, Paul does not give up on making his point. He continues stating:

 

24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. 25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

 

Paul’s letter was to the pastor Timothy. The words may serve to remind today’s pastors also, but the words are true for all Christians. The Wesley Study Bible’s notes for 2 Timothy 2:25-26 states:

“Gracious and theologically sound instruction results in salvation. Wesley persistently argued Paul’s point: Scripture rightly interpreted saves sinners from “the snare of the devil” (v. 26).”

 

Personally, I will do all that I can to provide “gracious and theologically sound instruction” through the reading and study of scripture. I expect each of you follow the same set of instructions that Paul gave Timothy to develop the tools that can assure you live the Christian lifestyle that the scripture defines for us.

I apologize for any of my words or actions that may have been misunderstood or hurtful, and I expect each of you to honestly evaluate your own use of words and actions. Together we can continue to serve God by living our faith out loud—boldly demonstrating the value of loving one another.

Closing prayer:

Dear God Almighty,

We come to worship,

     Yet there is pain in our hearts.

We come to hear your words

     But our hearing is often blocked.

Open our hearts to your words

     So we can heal the pain.

Open our minds to learn

     The lessons so we can heal.

Forgive us of our closed hearts

     And our closed minds.

Forgive us of our actions

     That keeps doors closed.

Let us come to the table

     Unified in Christ.

Let us experience pure joy

     Knowing your grace.

Send us out the doors

     With renewed conviction.

Send us out to live boldly

     As faithful servants

     Loving one another.

In your name, God the Father,

     The Son, Jesus Chirst,

     And the Holy Spirit, amen.

           

[The prayer transitions the service to the sacrament of Communion.]

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Are you a worrywart?

given on Sunday, September 22, 2013

How many times have we come together on Sunday morning bemoaning what has happened during the week?  Monday I stopped at the dentist office and started watching the news report about the shooting in Washington D.C.  The report was another horrendous violent act by one forlorn man shooting lunch-eating workers.  Why?

As I was getting the answer for my own question, I chatted with the receptionist about the horror of the day and even more.  The flooding in Colorado has been unbelievable.  The pictures and reports caused flashbacks to the 1993 flood here in Missouri, but this flooding was along the Rocky Mountains and its valleys.  The news said it was a 1,000-year flood—1993 was called a 500-year flood.

Let’s begin with a word of caution, though.  The events that we see on our nightly news are brought directly into our homes and can feel overwhelming.  The urge is to say the world is coming apart and God is about to destroy everything.  For many, the anxiety brought on by these news events creates a lifestyle of worry.  Individuals cannot look at the world without fear, and they become the worrywarts.

Another caution is also about reading the Bible too literally.  In the conversation I had at the dentist’s office, the receptionist wrote down a Bible scripture she wanted me to read:  2 Timothy 3.  She went on to suggest I should then read Titus.  I was curious, so when I got home lat, I opened up the Bible and read these scriptures:

3 You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! [the NLT]

Those words could easily send fear through the hearts of Christians around this world, but Paul was warning the earliest Christians.  In fact, this book is the last letter Paul was able to write before his death, not Titus.  Reading through the study helps, 1 Timothy and Titus were written in 64 AD, during a brief time out of jail.  The second letter to Timothy was written in 66 AD, while in jail and shortly before he was executed.

The words from this scripture seem to parallel much of what we are witnessing in our 21st century world right now.  The list in this book sounds all too familiar.  In fact it would be so easy to create a list that was as unchristian or even worse right now in 2013.  For so many of us we could easily be lured to believe the end of the world was coming soon.

Those are the concerns, and that is why so many are becoming worrywarts.  Maybe I unintentionally fed worrywarts last Sunday when I talked about looking at how we serve.  With all these concerns, I looked for answers—again in scripture.   Reading on in 2 Timothy and Titus does improve the understanding; but turning back to Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” (Matthew 6:28-30) worrywarts can find some assurance that as bad as things get, God is there to take care of everything:

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.

What a relief!  Worrywarts all over the world need to hear Jesus’ words of assurance.

Granted, saying we have nothing to worry about is somewhat a ‘Pollyanna’ view.  We certainly cannot just sit back and not do anything, not try to do the right things, to live a Christian lifestyle, or work to help others.  Paul spoke to Timothy trying to assure him, to prepare him for his continued ministry once he was gone.  Jesus was trying to prepare his followers for handling the evils of the world in which they were living.  The masses following him were hungry for his teaching.

The words from Matthew 6:25-34 sound like a guarantee for a life when times were extremely difficult.  Hear those words of promise:

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.

Can you just imagine how those words sounded to the people crowding around Jesus there on a mountainside?

Do these words provide us the very same sense of relief?  If we sit down to the nightly news and hear of one more tragedy, can we turn to the words in Matthew and experience a release from worry?  Can we share these words with the other worrywarts we know in our own world in an effort to relieve them?

Our role in today’s world is no different than it was for the earliest Christians who were taught by Jesus himself.  Our role in today’s world is to lead others to know that with God nothing can be against us.  We do not have to feel as though all the bad things happening are because God is missing in our lives.  Or even more, the bad things are not because God is punishing us.

The entire Sermon on the Mount provides Christians today as much training as it did the first Christians, the ones who were still Jews or Gentiles not realizing the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy had happened.  We need to take some time to focus on those very basic lessons for us in an effort to lesson the worry that seems to consume us.

I am one of the biggest worrywarts I know.  I have struggled to keep my life moving forward rather than give in to the negative experiences I have confronted.  And, just like eating too many sweets, when I try to change my bad habits, I can make mistakes.  But, I never give up.  Jesus tells us that we simply must believe and to turn over our worries to God.

Turning over our worries is not turning our backs on the causes of worry.  God asks us to follow the one commandment: to love one another.  Anything we can do to maintain that one law is our responsibility.  For every single human we can reach and turn into a believer, we take one more step to transform the world.

We may not be able to prevent all the evil in the world, but we can wrap up the evil in prayer, turn it over to God, and do what we can to keep the evil away from our Christian foundation.

When we begin to feel the negatives in the world wearing us down, we need to look around us carefully and see the good that still exists right there along with the bad.  We are to look for the proverbial silver lining in the clouds, and then reveal that silver lining to others.  If we share the good with others, we can defend ourselves from evil.

Each one of us has the potential of being a Christian leader.  Each one of us can model the lessons Jesus taught us from the mountainside.  Each one of us can read the scripture to renew our own understanding of God’s grace.  There is nothing to stop us from talking with others, just like the receptionist at the office, and sharing the confidence we have in God.

In casual conversations, rather than dwell on the negative, look for the positives.  We do not have to take the evil reports and accept them as today’s new standards.  We have a job to do:  share!  Share the good news with others you meet along the way.  Be prepared with a verse or two to share with others.  Model a worry-free life to family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers.  Use the words without guilt.

Look at Paul’s words to Timothy as he concludes his warning of all the trials that may confront him in his ministry–2 Timothy 3:10-11, 13-14

10 But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance. 11 You know how much persecution and suffering I have endured.  . . . 13 But evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived.  . . . 14 But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught.

Worrywarts, let those worries go!  Christians, remain faithful to God.  Then watch carefully as evil looses its control over our world.

Closing prayer:

Dear Master Teacher,

Over and over we are challenged by evil.

We feel our joyful selves draining dry.

Open our memories to the words Jesus taught.

Remind us that worry is an enemy, too.

Help us keep worry from controlling our lives.

Help us defend ourselves while helping others, too.

Help us to see God’s glory amongst the troubles.

Then fill us with joy as we release our worries.

Then let us share with others the wonder of God’s grace.

May we all do all we can for other worrywarts

so they can find the excitement of living

in God’s world now and forever.  –Amen

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