There are so many biblical stories in which I wish I could have been a fly on the wall. One that ranks near the top of my list is the scene in the book of Esther when King Ahasuerus was having trouble falling asleep one night (you can read about it in Esther 6). Hoping to induce drowsiness, the king called for the local history book to be brought and read to him. As he begins to settle into his bedtime stories, one in particular stands out to him. It's about a man named Mordecai who thwarted an assassination attempt on the king's life. As the king rehearses the story in his mind, he realizes he never did anything to thank Mordecai, nothing at all to honor him for his act of bravery and service to the crown.
Now the king's right hand man, Haman, was a brutal man who loved himself a great deal. Haman was wickedly scheming to wipe out the Jewish people, largely because one of them, a man named Mordecai, refused to bow as Haman passed him in the street.
As King Ahasuerus lay in his bed that night, trying to figure out how he might thank Mordecai, in walked Haman. Before Haman could speak, the king asked his opinion on the matter: "What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?" (v. 6). Thinking himself the only one around worth honoring, Haman proceeded to lay out his plan, complete with royal robes, the king's horse and a magnificent procession through the city square. It was to be quite the gala.
Then the bombshell.
" All right. Fantastic idea. Go ahead and set Mordecai up with all that."
Oh! The look on his face would have been priceless! Verse 4 tells us the reason Haman had showed up in the king's bedroom that night was to ask about hanging Mordecai! Now Haman must lead the procession that honors and celebrates the same man!
Of course, you know the rest of the story. Through Esther's bravery, Haman's wicked plot is thwarted and the gallows he built for the Jews were tested out on he and his sons.
Much ado has been made over the fact that God's name is never mentioned in the book of Esther. However it is impossible to miss his sovereign, all-powerful intervention though out these ten chapters. Was it a coincidence that Esther, a Jew unbeknownst to the king, was made queen? Was it a coincidence that the very night Haman was to launch a war on the Jews, the king commanded him to launch for one of them a parade instead? Was it a coincidence that the king granted Esther all that she asked, thereby ensuring the preservation of God's people?
It's not coincidence, it's sovereignty.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. (Psalm 135:6, ESV)
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35, ESV)
We must never forget that God is in control.
From time to time I am struck with the realization that there are certain sins that just don't bother me that much. As I was reading Kevin DeYoung's, The Good News We Almost Forgot, I was reminded that one of these sins is anger. Listen to his insightful comments:
Anger is one of those respectable sins, It doesn't seem like a big deal. Granted, not all anger is sin (think Jesus in the temple). It is possible to be angry and sin not (Eph. 4:26). But, honestly, that doesn't describe most of our anger. Sinful anger is anger directed at the wrong person, motivated by the wrong reasons, or out of proportion to the offense. Sadly, this is a truer description of our anger. We take our rage out on other people, get upset for less than noble purposes, and blow up over minor hurts and slight inconveniences. We get grumpy with checkout clerks, snap at tech support over the phone, hold grudges against our spouse, spew venom when sports don't go our way, wish the worst on our enemies, and cherish thoughts of revenge toward those who hurt us.
We have an anger problem. And we don't just get frustrated or get our buttons pushed; people don't make us angry or make us lose our cool. We are angry. Anger, whatever else may stir it up, comes from an angry heart. And this is no small problem… I'm all for passion and righteous indignation. I want people who hate injustice and despise falsehood. But I don't want a church full of mean, angry people. We are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. If we only love those who love us, "what reward do [we] have? Do not even tax collectors do the same?" (Matt. 5:46; cf. v. 44).
We can talk about murder and the sins of others, but if we do not love our neighbors -- even those who get their theology all wrong and those who annoy us to no end -- we have not been transformed by the Sprit of Jesus… (p. 191).
Thou hast placed me in the church
which thy Son purchased by his own blood.
Add grace to grace that I may live worthy
of my vocation.
I am a voyager across life’s ocean;
Safe in heaven’s ark, may I pass through
a troubled world
into the harbour of eternal rest.
I am a tree of the vineyard thou hast planted.
Grant me not to be barren, with worthless
leaves and wild grapes;
Prune me of useless branches;
Water me with dews of blessing.
I am part of the Lamb’s bride, the church.
Help me to be true, faithful, chaste, loving,
Let no strong affection wantonly dally
with the world.
May I live high above a love of things temporal,
sanctified, cleansed, unblemished, hallowed
thy love my fullness,
thy glory my joy,
thy precepts my pathway,
thy cross my resting place.
My heart is not always a flame of adoring love,
But, resting in thy Son’s redemption,
I look forward to the days of heaven,
where no langour shall oppress,
no iniquities chill,
no mists of unbelief dim the eye,
no zeal ever tires.
Father, these thoughts are the stay, prop,
and comfort of my soul.
Valley of Vision
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8, ESV)
Hebrews chapter 11 has been a blessing and general kick in the pants so many of us who want to trust in ourselves, our plans or our own wisdom or who otherwise simply struggle to hold on to God's promises. Perhaps sometime we'll use this devotional to discuss each of the names mentioned in this chapter.
However, today I only want to mention one: Abraham. And really I only want to mention one aspect of his life, which was loaded with faith-driven exploits. God asked Abraham to leave his home country of Ur -- everything that was familiar to him -- and simply go. Where? God didn't tell him. No information whatsoever. Just: leave. The amazing thing is that Abraham went (Gen. 12:1-4). We have no record that Abraham's family worshipped the one true God, in fact they were likely idol-worshippers. Yet when God came to him, he obeyed without question.
What step of faith is God asking you to take today? What "Ur" do you need to leave behind? What do you need to trust God for this very moment? If there's anything that Hebrews 11 teaches us, it is that we have an always-faithful God who can be relied upon for anything any time. God will honor your step of faith, but you must be willing to take it.
I thought this was an insightful post from a seminary professor in Grand Rapids, David Murray, who blogs at http://headhearthand.org/. You'll realize, of course, that he's referring to the actions of the Italian cruise ship captain which headlined the news last week.I’ve steered deliberately off course too…
I’ve tried to impress old friends too…
I’ve sailed too close to the rocks too…
I’ve turned too late too…
I’ve let others suffer the consequences of my sins too…
I’ve fled from the scene too…
I’ve blamed others too…
I’ve feared to face up to my actions too…
I’ve changed my story too…
I’ve refused to take responsibility too…
I’ve lied to cover my tracks too…
Al Mohler rightly called Captain Schettino ”The Chicken of the Seas”
But am I the chicken of Grand Rapids?
Are you the chicken of…?
Don’t despair. There’s full and free and forever salvation in Christ for chickens everywhere.
Reminder #7: Be Courteous
Remind them . . . to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:1–2, ESV)
To understand the force of Paul's reminder, we ourselves need to remember that Paul's writing to his apprentice Titus, who is ministering on the island of Crete. The Cretans had nasty reputation (we've even imported their name into the English language as a derogatory term). Even Paul himself knew they were a rough bunch (Titus 1:12).
You know, it's much easier to be nice to people who are already nice. True evidence of God's working our hearts is when we're courteous to people who don't deserve it -- people who are rude, harsh and otherwise unkind.
We're reminded of these virtues in couple other scriptures:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. (Romans 12:14, ESV)
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9, ESV)
Because of the nuance of the biblical language, this phrase in Titus 3:2 is translated several different ways:
“perfect courtesy” (RSV), “a consistently gentle disposition” (NEB), “every consideration” (NASB), “always … a gentle attitude” (TEV), “true humility” (NIV).
Whatever the exact translation, the meaning is clear. An attitude of gentle humility and grace should permeate all our interaction with all people. Tall order, huh? The entire Christian life is. Everything he asks us to do is impossible without the indwelling Holy Spirit who enables us to live up to these otherwise impossible standards.
Let's be wise and listen to God's reminders. He doesn't mind giving them and we shouldn't mind getting them.
Reminder #6: Be Gentle
Remind them . . . to be gentle (Titus 3:1-2)
The leading New Testament dictionary of Greek words tells us that the word translated gentle means "not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant."*
Someone who modeled this well was a pastor by the name of John Newton. You may not recognize the name, but you will recognize him as the author of the West's most beloved song, Amazing Grace. The grace of God transformed Newton from a hardened and profane slave trader into a compassionate and tender pastor, first in Olney, England and then, later, in London. He once said, "[The Christian] believes and feels his own weakness and unworthiness, and lives upon the grace and pardoning love of his Lord. This gives him an habitual tenderness and gentleness of spirit."**
When God's life-changing power began to pulse through Newton's veins, the old sailor became meek and compassionate. This was most obvious in his life in the way that he cared for the people in his church, particularly his good friend William Cowper. Cowper, a well-known hymn writer, suffered from crippling depression much of his life. Much of what he was able to write was owing to his good friend and pastor, John Newton.
Newton's own transformation and attitude about gentleness serves us as a fine example. We should guard against the error that sees this virtue as reserved only for mothers or people who are soft. Gentleness is a manly virtue as well for it was modeled by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29, ESV)
He didn't simply claim to be gentle, he lived it. It can be seen in him as he tenderly lifts a child to his knee or when he lovingly confronts a Samaritan adulteress who has come to draw water. Each and every day, he deals with us gently and asks that we do the same with our fellow man. May we seek, along with Newton, to model a habitual gentleness of spirit.
* William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 371.
** The Works of the Rev. John Newton, Vol. 1, p. 170
Reminder #5: Avoid quarrelling
Remind them to . . . avoid quarreling . . . (Titus 3:1–2, ESV)
Some of us just love a good fight. I'm not talking about the Madison Square Garden or MMA variety. I'm talking about the quarrels sans bloody noses and black eyes (usually) -- the ones fought with lips rather than fists.
It's unfortunate, but many a church have headlined the local coffee shop gossip session (see yesterday's post) because of the infamous ability to fight over the most minuscule and insignificant things. Everything from carpet, choir robes and casseroles are fair game for a little verbal jab or fiery exchanges.
But church isn't the only place where the gloves come off. In fact, it's frequently around those with whom we're the closest that the most bitter fights can take place. Family and loved ones are usually the people who have born the brunt of our worst moments. Some of us don't even really need a reason to bicker; just a reasonable topic and breathing soul with whom to pick the fight and it's on!
But this isn't God's plan for us. If you're known as a contentious, hart-to-get-along with person, don't proudly wave that banner! God's desire is for us to avoid quarrelling. Some Bible translations render this phrase: "be peaceable." Either way you read it, we understand that we are to be people of peace. We are to build bridges, not destroy them. Jesus blessed the peacemakers (Matt 5:9) and honors those who strive to build unity (Eph 4:1-3).
Does this mean that we're a bunch of soft pushovers who stand for nothing lest we "start something"? No! Standing for the truth of God's Word and biblical and moral principles is much different than being hard-nosed. How can you tell the difference?
Reminder #4: Speak evil of no one
Remind them . . . to speak evil of no one.... (Titus 3:1–2, ESV)
Uh, oh. I think he's talking about gossip here. I've always thought of gossip as the sin no one commits. Everybody recognizes that it's bad and sinful, but I truly don't think I've heard anyone ever say, "Hey, would you please pray for me. I'm really struggling with this sin . . . it's kind of embarrassing to say, but, well, my lips have been pretty loose lately."
But I've always thought the definition a little slippery to nail down as well. Knowing what exactly this sin is, is the key to knowing if it's an issue in our own life.
The specific word used in Titus 3 means "slander, revile, defame, speak irreverently/impiously/disrespectfully of or about." (William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 178).
But God's concern about our speech goes even beyond unkind words. The Bible frequently commands us to avoid evil speech, but also forbids idle chatter and passing along juicy tidbits about the lives of others.
In the New Bible Dictionary (D. R. W. Wood and I. Howard Marshall, New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1150), Paul Ellingworth pull together some excellent scriptures on this topic that are worth a careful look:
These words translate, in the OT, expressions implying secrecy (Pr. 18:8, ‘whisperer’), evil report (Nu. 14:36), the giving out (Ps. 50:20) or carrying (Pr. 11:13) of slander, or the (wrong) use of tongue (Ps. 101:5) or feet (2 Sa. 19:27). In the NT the words translate accusation (1 Tim. 3:11, diabolos), speaking against (2 Cor. 12:20; 1 Pet. 2:1, katalalia) or defaming (Rom. 3:8, blasphēmeō). All talebearing, whether false (cf. Mt. 5:11) or not (cf. Dn. 3:8), malicious (Ps. 31:13; Ezk. 22:9) or foolish (Pr. 10:18; cf. 18:8 = 26:22; Mt. 12:36), especially between neighbours (Je. 9:4) or brothers (Jas. 4:11), is condemned (Lv. 19:16) and punished (Ps. 101:5) by God, and causes quarrelling (Pr. 26:20). Slander springs from the heart (Mk. 7:22) of the natural man (Rom. 1:30), excludes from God’s presence (Ps. 15:3), and must be banished from the Christian community (2 Cor. 12:20; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 1 Pet. 2:1; cf. [of women] 1 Tim. 3:11; Tit. 2:3), which itself suffers slander (Mt. 5:11; cf. Rom. 3:8).
May we remember to guard our words today and bring honor to our Savior by the way we speak.
The third command Paul shares with them is:
Reminder #3: To be ready for every good work
Remind them ... to be ready for every good work, (Titus 3:1, ESV)
We all recognize the importance of preparedness. Many of us have allocated finances so that we could be prepared in the case of an emergency. Some have extra blankets and flares in their vehicles right now in case their vehicle becomes stranded on a cold winter night. My wife and I recently went over an escape route with our children in case of a fire.
So we may (or may not) be experts in the area of readiness when it comes to life's curveballs, but are we as prepared when it comes to serving God? We should be. That's what Paul gets at here in his letter to Titus. He is essentially telling Titus to plan ahead for and expect the opportunity to serve God
While I don't know if we'll have to use that emergency fire escape plan (I sure hope not), I do know that I will have to execute my "good works plan." That's because God made me a Christian for this purpose. All the work he did in creating me to be a new person was with good works in mind.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, ESV)
If I am to be ready to jump into good works, I need to be properly equipped. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ties this concept together with God's Word. The Bible is God's means of getting us ready for the game. The sprinter has the race track and the slugger, his batting cage. So also we have God's Word to prepare us for what we will face.
Are you ready?