In this final online service lesson we focus upon the letter of the apostle Paul to Titus who was on the island of Crete. The island had a long history going back at least 3,000 years before Christ. For the last 200 years a Jewish community had flourished on the island as well.
As an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea it served as a nautical crossroads between the middle east and Italy and Spain, from north Africa to Greece and Asia Minor. As a cultural center, the people knew how to take advantage of visiting foreigners passing through. Hence, their reputation as “liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” as described by Epimenides, a Cretan philosopher from around 600 B.C. and quoted by Paul in the first chapter of his letter to Titus. “This saying is true,” Paul says (Titus 1:12-13).
DEVOTED TO DOING GOOD
Ethical behavior is so important to the early church in Crete that Paul starts the letter describing what behavior their leadership must exhibit in their community. The contrast between the native Cretans and the newly established Christian community could not have been more stark. By the end of the letter, however, Paul stresses that everyone is getting ready for the day of Christ’s return by being devoted to doing good (Titus 3:8).
This is to be our rallying cry today, as well.
Please Note: This will be our final online worship service during the Covid-19 pandemic. Starting this Sunday we will begin moving back towards the building with a “Welcome Home Celebration” on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 21, 2020 at 10:30 a.m.
We will have a meal outside on the grounds focusing upon dishes that our father’s loved. Lord willing, we will combine this love feast with our worship and communion service.
Living a godly life is filled with challenges and opportunities. On this side of eternity we struggle because no matter how earnestly we long for righteousness, there is always the human desire to live independently of God’s rule. It is a consequence of man’s free will because he can choose those things that he desires in contrast to the things God desires.
In this brief section of scripture, Peter lays out how we can do this successfully. Several important concepts detail the adventure of learning to live godly lives in a world that constantly competes for attention.
Faith is the beginning of living the godly life. Peter makes it clear that “was given to you because of the justice and fairness of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). Contemplate the dynamics of that concept! The very faith that anchors your life in Christ was a gift from Him because of His nature of justice and fairness!
The importance of coming to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and God, His Father, cannot be minimized. It is the core to living a godly life. Five times in this brief section of scripture, Peter talks about an informed faith. How can one know how to be godly if he or she does not know the one who is calling them? When we know them then we desire to be like Them. This inherently makes us more godly than we were before and it is the starting point for going further. Knowing Christ is the touchstone of our lives (see Philippians 3:7-11).
By God’s divine power, Peter says, God Himself “has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter1:3). Note the word “everything.” Of course, we struggle to realize the dynamic of this reality. However, as we have seen before, perhaps the most important calculus for estimating the significance of this reality is found in the midst of suffering and even death; two of the great, universal challenges of mankind.
Secure in your faith we come to know God through Jesus Christ who empowers us to be just like Him: i.e., godly. It is in the security of this complete connection, that we are now free to pursue Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
The more disciplined we are in this pursuit the more godly we will become. The serendipity of this pursuit is that it begins to crowd out our desires for this world’s distractions. As Peter concludes:
One definition of fruit is “the sweet and fleshy product of a tree or other plant that contains seed and can be eaten as food.” This is a wonderful way to describe the effect of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the lives and hearts of Christians who are serious about following Jesus.
In fact, Paul tells us that we have the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23); that Jesus was “the firstfruit” of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20) as we await His return to become His firstfruits of the resurrection along with everyone else that belong to Him (1 Corinthians 15:23). In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul tells his audience that “God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” James echoes this insight as well in James 1:18 as he describes us as “a kind of firstfruits of all He created.”
ALREADY…BUT NOT YET LIFESTYLE
This ‘Already…But Not Yet’ Lifestyle is both fruitful evidence of the Spirit’s work in our lives and it the vehicle through which the Gospel’s seed is planted in the hearts of others to reproduce itself. So, it should not be surprising that when Paul talks about “the fruits of the Spirit” he is talking about the evidence of God’s working in our lives that is easily digestible and seed bearing.
Even as the Spirit begins to manifest itself in our own lives, it does so with a view to one-day bringing us out of the world of flesh, death and decay. At the same time, the fruit of our lives is an appeal to others to eat, enjoy and to multiply.
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Heaven can seem to be so far away when we think of floating around on pillowy clouds, strumming our harps and lost in thoughts of eternity. Not really too appealing.
This is because it is not an accurate picture.
HEAVEN STARTS HERE AND NOW
What we know about heaven begins now.
When we express our faith in Christ and devote ourselves to following Him and imitating Him, we are ushered into the presence of God as His children. More than that, we experience his presence every day as He welcomes us into His kingdom.
Furthermore, when we face difficulty and hardship, suffering and pain, God gives us the strength to endure with joy because of the hope he has planted in our hearts.
Colossians 3:1-17, our reading for today, addresses our past, present and future in Christ and how God begins transforming us to be more like Him. It means discontinuing living by the values of this world and growing in the virtues of God that match His qualities and characteristics.
Our present reality and our future hope give us meaning and purpose that transcends the grave and reaches out to eternity. The changes that occur in our lives over time assure us of His continuing work to bring us home.
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Eternal Life is not only a future hope. The New Testament assures us that, for those who believe in Jesus, eternal life is a present reality. This is what Jesus’ resurrection assures us (remember 1 Corinthians 15!) and it is what keeps us changing, transforming and growing into His likeness day by day.
The power of 1 John 5 is the beauty of how John brings together Jesus’ humanity and his divinity, His relationship with His Father, and how our belief in Christ brings us into God’s family. As family members, of course, our desire is to obey His command to love because we want to be like our Father and His Son. We are not burdened by this desire for it is our desire to be like our Daddy that challenges us.
There are those who pay lip service to God; but, their lifestyles speak with more volume than mere words. Caught up in the world their claim of love is betrayed by their hatred and distain of their brothers and sisters. Their destiny is death and salvation is an illusion.
Why would anyone want to settle for anything else that would threaten the fulfillment of the deepest longings of our hearts for eternal life and total satisfaction in the God Who created us and welcomes us home?
“Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, NLT).
Paul makes it clear that this message 1) was welcomed by them, 2) was that in which they took their stand, and 3) it is the message that saved them. He is so confident in this message to assert that Jesus’ resurrection was predicted by the Scriptures, verified by Paul and the other apostles and by more than 500 witnesses.
What more could be asserted to verify that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection? On the one hand is the internally consistent testimony of the scriptures that were fulfilled. On the other hand is the externally consistent, historical testimony of eyewitnesses from Jesus’ closest associates to more than 500 people.
Having anchored our belief in this certainty (1 Corinthians 15:1-11), it is now time for Paul to turn to those who would challenge whether or not Jesus’ resurrection was true (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Suffering for the Gospel makes no sense if this were to be true. Fortunately, Paul does not spend much time here.
VICTORY IS OURS!
The conclusion of 1 Corinthians 15 is a rousing affirmation of confidence about how God is going to finally transform us into heavenly beings that will live forever. The resurrection is certain to Paul and those who put their trust in Christ. There is no other historical event that is more validated and verified. It’s centrality to our faith provides power to transform lives, the strength to go on and to provide hope in the most challenging of human circumstances.
This is our focus in this morning’s worship with prayer by Mike Plouhar, reading by Pam Pylkas, singing by Harold and Ashley Jackson and final reflections and observations by our shepherd, Dean Wolf. Join us by clicking the link below.
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Harassed by a demon, falsely accused, judged without trial, beaten, imprisoned and chained. Just another day in the life of the apostle Paul. Only, this time, he waited until the end to ask why they would beat a Roman citizen without the benefit of a trial. For the local officials, this was inviting disaster and probable execution from the Roman authorities.
If Paul would have mentioned his Roman citizenship at the first, he probably could have avoided the sufferings of beatings and imprisonment. He and Silas might have lived under house arrest until the trial in which they would have likely been found innocent. Then they would have either continued their work in Philippi or moved on.
On the other hand, as we see in Acts 16, if he had not been imprisoned he and Silas would not have had an opportunity to sing and pray out loud. Their captive audience of prisoners and jailers might never have heard the gospel. The Philippian jailer may never have saved himself and his household.
By choosing to endure the unjust suffering, Paul and Silas let go and let God use this opportunity for His purposes.
In a culture in which we believe that all suffering is bad suffering, it is important to pause between our prayers for relief. During those moments of silence it is good to ask the Lord for opportunities to allow Him to redeem our suffering for His purposes. How can God use our time to accomplish His will?
Click the image below to join us we dig into Acts 16:16-40 for the details about Paul’s missionary work in Philippi.
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Times like this often lead us to feel powerless, helpless and alone. James 1:2-8 talks about enduring suffering with joy because the testing of our faith leads to a greater good: perseverance.
A double-minded man has faith in God, and prays for God to make the suffering stop. When his prayer is not answered as he desires, he becomes angry and resentful. He concludes: If God was truly God he would have answered my prayer.
POWER IN DEPENDENCE UPON GOD
On the other hand, the believer may still ask for the suffering to end; but, they know that this is not the most important thing from God’s perspective. For the person who is truly dependent upon God, he or she knows that God uses those troubles in our lives–when we feel weak and powerless—for His purposes.
POWER IN BROKENNESS
Paul said, ‘when I’m weak, then I am strong.’ Perhaps it is something we can grow through in our personal walk with Him. Or, perhaps, it is for someone else’s benefit as they watch and listen to us in the midst of our struggles. When we are truly dependent upon God, it is God’s power that works in us to accomplish His will.
Jesus claimed the authority to both lay His life down and to take it back up again (John 10:17-18).
Who does this kind of thing?
Only God–a Being that resides outside of our limitations–can choose to do this. So, of course, this is what Jesus did.
Why? What difference does this make on how we live our lives?
QUESTIONS WITH ANSWERS
During the Corona Virus “stay-in-place” we can ask these kinds of questions with the assurance that Jesus has already answered them by actually doing what He said He would do!
The purpose of today’s lesson is to ask a question that will chart the course of this series. What does it mean for us to know that God has shown us the way to His source of joy by His Son’s death, burial and resurrection.
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