Believe Wholly, Teach Rightly, Live Godly, Correct as Necessary

My recent trip through the short book of Titus highlighted four simple, interwoven principles for those who would be teachers and disciple-makers in Christ’s church.

Titus was a leader under Paul’s apostleship in the first century church. He was also a dear, trusted brother to Paul and became a key fellow-laborer in spreading the gospel of Christ among the Gentiles. He played an especially important role as messenger to the church at Corinth when Paul was unable to visit himself.

Because of importance of sound leadership in the church, Paul instructs Titus in how to be the right kind of leader himself, and how to identify and develop other strong leaders as he travels the land.

Here are Paul’s criteria:

  1. Believe with your whole heart the message of the gospel.
  2. Teach the word in such a way that no one can accuse you of promoting false doctrines or anything contrary to the gospel.
  3. Live in such a godly way that your teaching cannot be challenged.
  4. Correct those who are wrong or incomplete in their understanding of Scripture.

The first criterion is simply, “They must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message they were taught.” Leaders must first believe with their whole hearts all that Christ and his apostles taught.

The writer of Hebrews informs us that it is impossible to please God without faith. We must believe that he is real and make him our most diligent pursuit in life. If this is true for believers in general, how much more for those who teach and shepherd others.

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

He goes on to the second, “Then they will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching.” Wholesome teaching—what a lovely phrase to ponder in this age of so much unwholesome, awful teaching coming from every direction. What they believed they were to teach, with full integrity and accountability to God.

Third, they were to live as they taught, to practice what they preached. Paul admonishes,

Promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching… And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. Teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized. Then those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say…”.

What is this lifestyle? Paul uses words like “integrity,” “example,” and “good works.” It is the same lifestyle promoted in the wisdom books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Job, or in the Prophets. As Micah so succinctly puts it, “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” (6:8)

Believe wholeheartedly…teach wholesomely…live in accordance with what you believe and teach. What a concept!

Last but not least—and this can be the tricky bit—correct people when they show themselves to have embraced wrong doctrines or ungodly practices, or even when they have incomplete information.

Paul instructs Titus to oppose people “where they are wrong.”  An example of this in their time was teaching about Jewish law, especially related to circumcision. True apostles and teachers of the gospel message had to very often correct the notion that Gentiles had to be circumcised to become part of the Christian community. Whether knowingly or not, those who promoted this teaching were bringing harm to people; they were barring entrance in conflict with the message of grace by faith expounded by Jesus and Paul.

Paul didn’t tell Titus to come against people in some sort of wholesale, critical way if they met all of the other criteria as teachers. He was just to listen carefully and correct those things that might be inaccurate or incomplete. There is a beautiful example of this type of correction in Acts 18:24-26

“A Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John’s baptism. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately.”

Let’s look at this a minute. What was missing in Apollos’ understanding? “He knew only about John’s baptism.” He knew to tell people to repent, because the Messiah and the kingdom of God were drawing near.

But there was another baptism—the baptism of the Holy Spirit that Jesus would bring! A baptism of fire that John foretold and had finally come in fullness at Pentecost.

Because Aquila and Priscilla–faithful companions of Paul–believed the message, taught accurately, and lived with integrity, they were in a perfect position to speak to the already eloquent and wise Apollos and make him an even better messenger of gospel truth!

Paul tells Titus pointedly, “Don’t let anyone disregard what you say.” He trusted that Titus had met the criteria of leadership. He was believing, teaching, and living so as to “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way.” This qualified him to recruit others like himself.

The teachings of God’s word are “good and beneficial for everyone.” Those who would be teachers are those who hold this as a cornerstone of their faith, who teach accordingly, who live in a way that brings no shame to the name of Christ, and who are able to bring correction to others as needed.  

This is the kind of teacher and leader I desire to be. How about you?

Walk with the Wise

I was talking with a wise friend recently about how we choose the people in our world we allow to influence us. He reminded me of the Scripture,

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Prov. 27:17). He explained how only iron (or I’d add, something even stronger than iron, like a diamond) can sharpen a blade made of iron.

If we try to sharpen a blade by banging it against wood or stone it will become duller, not sharper. And the surface the blade is hitting will probably be damaged in the process.

Those who would be teachers and influencers are admonished to be skilled workers of the word, to “rightly divide” (2 Tim 2:15). The NTE translation renders the instruction from Paul to Timothy (and by extension, to his church), we are to be “[workers] who have no need to be ashamed, who can carve out a straight path for the word of truth. “

The truth is a blade that must remain sharp if it is to carve a straight path. Jesus proclaimed that he brought a gospel that would be like a sword. It would divide those who believe it from those who reject it.

We are also familiar with how this metaphor is used in Hebrews 4:12,

 “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”.

If there is iron in us, and in our words, we become wise, and have wise discernment to share with others. We are able to cut a path through the foolishness of the world without being touched by it.

As we navigate the contemporary spiritual and sociopolitical landscape these days, it becomes clearer and clearer that as believers we must choose carefully who we allow to speak into our lives and influence our attitudes and actions.

The writer of Proverbs stated, “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get into trouble” (Prov. 13:20).

As I consider these things, I realize that my social world has shrunk noticeably in the last two years. Most of us have experienced this while becoming a culture obsessed with germ warfare. Most of us have become paranoid about our physical contact with other human beings in public spaces.

I attended a church service yesterday where no one knew me, and for the first time in ages, was confronted with a dozen or so people who approached me wanting to shake my hand. It took me a moment to lay aside the conditioned response of keeping my distance.

Did I put myself at risk of getting sick, or at least exposing myself to a virus that I could carry to someone and make them sick? Perhaps. As soon as I could, I slathered hand sanitizer on my hands. But I immediately returned my attention to more interesting things, like worship and hearing the word preached.

The word was delivered by a seasoned preacher, a man wise in life and wise in the Scriptures. A man who is filled with the Spirit of wisdom. I felt myself becoming sharpened again, restored to usefulness as a sword in God’s hand.

black and gold cross on black metal fence

When Pharaoh had to choose a person to lead the food program in Egypt, he chose Joseph, saying, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, clearly no one else is as intelligent or wise as you are” (Gen. 41:39). Pharoah acknowledged that those who hear from God are those best equipped to be successful in the things God defines as successful.

This theme is repeated throughout the Scriptures. Look at Moses, and the builders of the Tabernacle, and Gideon, and David, and Solomon, and of course, Jesus, the wisest of the wise.

If we want to be wise, we walk with the wise. How do we do this?

By walking through the pages of Scripture each day and allowing the iron of the word to sharpen us. By spending time with others who value and pursue this path of wisdom and sharpness. By taking care to surround ourselves with other men and women who carry the same iron in their souls.

Let Us See!

There is a fabulous story found in 2 Kings 6 that captured my attention and seems so very timely. That happens a lot, doesn’t it?

Elisha was a very powerful prophet in Israel at a time when the Arameans were posing a persistent threat to Israel’s national security. He was a key member of the national defense team, because Holy Spirit would reveal the Aramean battle plan to him, and he would get word to Israel’s troops in time for them to move and avoid attack.

This interference by Elisha became obnoxious enough to the Aramean king that he sent out “a great army” of soldiers, horses, and chariots just to seize this one man and put an end to his prophetic work.

Elisha and his servant were sitting in their house when the servant heard a commotion outside. He went out and saw the enemy troops, horses and chariots covering the entire hillside facing them.

He cried, “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” Elisha replied,“Don’t be afraid, for there are more on our side than on theirs!”2 Kgs. 6:16-6).  

I’m sure this was a baffling statement to the servant. It didn’t match what he had just seen.

Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire” (17).

closeup photo of person

Not only an army of defenders, but a bigger army, and chariots of fire! I’m trying to picture it!

Isn’t this so like what we experience as believers who are subjected to the terrors and conditions of this world rulers, when we truly belong to another king and another kingdom?

When we look at the advance of the enemy in our very midst, we can become afraid. Things look bleak and hopeless when all we can see is what people are doing. People are getting sick and dying; there is cruelty and injustice, relational stress, financial hardship, great suffering of all kinds.

We are apt to feel weak and afraid, like the Israelite spies who saw giants in the land of Canaan and felt like grasshoppers in comparison. Or like Elisha’s servant, who could only see the size of the opposition.

But this story illustrates that we are not seeing all there is to see. There is a spiritual, “but God” reality that we usually don’t see at first. God is doing things we know not of.

When Elisha invites the Lord to allow his servant to see another reality, he sees that as long as he is on God’s team, he’s on the winning side.

The rest of the story is interesting. Elisha asks the Lord to make the Aramean soldiers blind. Then he tricks them, offering to lead them to the man of God who had caused so much trouble (Elisha himself).  He leads them to the middle of the city of Samaria, and then asks that their sight be restored.

The king of Israel asks Elisha if he should send troops to massacre the Arameans since they are now vulnerable. Elisha replies, “Of course not! Do we kill prisoners of war? Give them food and drink and send them home again to their master” (22).

Once in a while, we have the privilege of reaching out to a lost one or even an “enemy” and leading them in a different direction. We don’t seek to destroy flesh and blood, even when they are acting in behalf of our spiritual enemy. We seek to rescue them and ask God to fill them with himself instead.

In the brilliance of biblical narrative, these two examples of blindness and sight are juxtaposed in the story. We “see” that the Lord can reveal much more of what he is doing in the situations we face if we ask him to open our eyes to it. He can also lead us to mercy and kindness toward even our greatest enemies, enabling them to see the reality of a miraculous, majestic, fiery God in their midst.

God or gods?

The book of Jonah is one of my favorites. It’s got everything a great story needs: a complex, flawed protagonist, a contest of good and evil, an action-adventure, calamity, rescue, victory. Like the best of stories, it reaches a redemptive ending without tying everything up perfectly.

Jonah, was supposedly God’s man of the day, a prophet called to speak for him. Yet he was unwilling to accept God’s assignment of rescuing the idolatrous Ninevites from the consequence of their great wickedness. God told him to go and speak to them, and Jonah skedaddled in the other direction.

How absurd that a prophet of God would think he could run away from the LORD and not be found!

As you Bible fans know, he winds up on a ship to Tarshish and the trouble begins. A fierce storm comes. The ship’s crew cry out to their gods for deliverance, and when that doesn’t work, they tell the man of God to ask his God to help.

Jonah, to his credit, ‘fesses up” to his disobedience to the God he says he worships. The crew is terrified, but they heed Jonah’s advice to go ahead and toss him overboard. The storm immediately subsides. At this point, these men are now trembling before Jonah’s God—with a capital “G”—and have forgotten their own illusory gods (small “g”).

Meanwhile, Jonah finds himself in the belly of a great fish. He cries out in prayer,

“As my life was slipping away, I remembered the Lord. And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy Temple. Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies. But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows. For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.” (Jonah 2:7-9).

Isn’t it interesting that he prays, while still in peril, as though he is already delivered by the Lord? He remembered the faithfulness of the God he was supposed to be serving.

After the fish spits him out on dry land, Jonah heads to Ninevah to speak God’s word of warning to the people.

God is always faithful to be God. He might change his plans, as he does when he chooses mercy over judgment toward Ninevah after they repent–even the livestock—in sackcloth and ashes. But he himself doesn’t change. The Apostle Paul cites for Timothy this “trustworthy saying” about the Lord:

“If we die with him, we will also live with him.If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is” (2 Tim. 2:11-13).

This is the way with God’s children. When we obey, he is our defender and keeper. He energizes and blesses us as we carry out his callings year after year. And when we disobey, like Jonah, he remains faithful.

So, the Ninevites are spared and Jonah goes into a sulk; he didn’t want them to be spared. He insists that he has the right take on righteousness and justice. This is religious bitterness and hardness of heart.

There’s so much to be learned from Jonah and his God. It is always better to go right into God’s assignments, even when we don’t like them. Or maybe, especially when we don’t like them. He is a rewarder of those who “diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6), those who turn away from the lure of small gods and toward this God- with a capital “G.”

The Clothing of Heaven

In the midst of a grand transition of my life, it has proven difficult to focus and find the right moment to write. But as I sit in this lovely bakery coffee shop and turn my attention to God’s truth, I’m right back in the Holy Spirit’s glory-filled revelation of mysteries.

Today it is Colossians Chapter 3, which I’m reading in the New Living Translation. I find myself immediately arrested by some phrases, from the first verse onward.

This chapter is a deep one, the Apostle Paul admonishing Christ’s followers to become conscious of the “realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power” (3:1).  The realities of heaven!

In these realities, there is a prescribed set of clothing to wear that is very different from the clothing of earth. This is metaphorical of course. The clothing of heaven Paul describes is like this:

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patienceforgive anyone who offends you…Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony…And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts…And always be thankful(v12-15).

Those are some pretty nice garments.

In order to put on a new set of clothing, we have to be ready and willing to remove the old set. The old clothing is the earthly, unredeemed stuff: sexual sin, impurity, lust, shameful desires, greed, idolatry, anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, dirty language, lying (3:5-8). Paul states that these are the things that the believers used to practice when their lives were still rooted in worldly values. But now they are stripping those things away to put on the gorgeous clothing that represents heaven.

It’s a horrific shame that so many people think negatively about Christ and his gospel. It is usually because they’ve seen awful misrepresentations of Christ and have been hurt by Christians. Christians have the unfortunate reputation of being intolerant and arrogant toward those who follow a different type of life.

Many people have felt excluded and judged by Christians. Secular media and many social institutions now reinforce the idea that all Christians are this way. The outcome is that Christianity is now the one worldview and faith position that is not tolerated in many circles.

Believe me, I know this to be true, experientially. I am working for a fantastic secular company that provides substance abuse counseling for people desiring recovery from addictions. I was speaking with a client who happens to be a Christian pastor, and he shared with me the immediate tension that permeates the Zoom group room when he makes any reference to his faith.

As a counselor in this context, I have learned over many years how to stay true to myself and my love for Christ without bringing offense or triggering the people around me. But it wears on me. Always having to be so careful not to provoke anger and defensiveness as I care for others.

I want Christ to be recognized and honored in me, not hidden away like some sort of dangerous secret. Having to be so subtle and sensitive about my faith all the time keeps me boxed in so that I’m not able to fully enjoy the freedom Christ has provided me. It’s a dilemma many of us face as Christians these days.

So, this morning I’m encouraged and emboldened by Paul’s words. He exhorts me to keep wearing my heavenly clothing and stay clear of the other kind that no longer fits anyway.

I feel strongly that if people think that Christians are other than how Paul describes them in Colossians 3, it means that the Christians being observed have gotten it all wrong. They’ve got on the wrong set of clothing. They signal that they haven’t taken on the value system of heaven.  

Throughout his letters, Paul conveys the idea that whatever our state, status, or circumstance in life, Christ is really all that matters. We ought to be on the path of becoming more like him, and this is how it can look:

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” (Col. 3:16-17).

The new nature, our new set of clothing, should be fitting and beautiful. It should attract people toward us and not repel them in fear or disgust. It should make people hungry for heaven, covetous of the beauty we have found there.

The kingdom and its wardrobe are open to whosoever wishes to enter and find love to wear.

angel statue under white string lights

Confession and the Pure in Heart

Here is a post from two years ago that is appropriate for any time. I was reading Lamentations this morning and came across this exhortation: “Let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn again in repentance to the LORD.” Repentance is a beautiful gift that allows us to be restored to a pure heart and clean conscience before God and man.

Ruth E. Stitt

I’m so grateful that God gave us a way to stay forgiven, clean, pure, and righteous. It’s called confession. It’s ironic that what often causes the most trouble in our lives and relationships also serves as the mechanism for healing and release. It is the words we speak, our confession to God and to those we have offended or sinned against.

The wise founders of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous recognized the importance of this when they included Step 5: We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”  James exhorted believers to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5-16). Without confession there is no path to forgiveness and restoration.

David wrote, “When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable, and I groaned all day long…Finally…

View original post 543 more words

Strangely Warmed, Terribly Frightened, Overwhelmed by Joy

Yesterday I finished my latest reading through the gospel of Luke, this time in the New Living Translation. I enjoy this translation very much. The word choices often arrest me with new revelation and inspiration.

Such was the case with Luke’s last chapter, the one that merges into Chapter 1 of the Book of Acts. This wonderful account takes us from the empty tomb to a road stretching toward Emmaus, and then to Jerusalem, where Jesus reveals to his disciples that he has indeed been raised from the dead!

As I read this chapter with an open heart, the emotions are palpable. I look for feeling words, and there are plenty. I am quite sure this was purposeful in the Spirit’s inspiration through Luke. This is no dry history of a day in the life of some disciples. This was a time of extreme anguish and terror followed by unspeakable joy and amazement.

First, there are the women who devotedly arrived at Joseph’s tomb. Jesus had been laid there hastily, wrapped in linen cloths, but not yet anointed or prepared for burial. We know, of course, that by the time the women arrived he was not there! As they stood gaping at the stone that had been miraculously rolled away from the tomb’s opening,

white Good News Is Coming paper on wall

two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! (Luke 24:4-6).

These wonderful lovers of Jesus of course ran back to the disciples waiting in Jerusalem to tell them what they had seen and heard. Peter and John were perplexed, but ran to see for themselves.

Next there is a scene shift to the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, where a couple of disciples encounter the risen Lord, but don’t recognize him. They were greatly troubled on their walk, their hopes of the Messiah’s deliverance of Israel seemingly dashed after witnessing his brutal murder. Jesus, incognito, asks them,

What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?” They stopped short, sadness written across their faces (24:17).” One of them, named Cleopas, tries to bring this “stranger” up to speed on current events.

Instead, Jesus corrects their faulty perception of reality by presenting the entire story of redemption, starting with Moses, “explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (27).

Naturally, when they get near their destination, they want more of this well-informed Bible teacher’s company, still not knowing his identity. Only when they get home and convince Jesus to join them for dinner do they discover who he is.

Suddenly their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! They said to each other, ‘Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?’ And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem” (31-33).

I never noticed it before, but the two disciples turn right around and head back to Jerusalem. Like the women at the tomb, they have to find the guys who knew Jesus best and let them know they’d seen him.

“There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter” (34).

Jesus had beat them to it. He’d been able to appear to all of them in different places, no longer bound by the constraints of time and space.

Their mutual excitement makes me smile so big. I wish I’d been there at that meeting! To top everything off, as they are sharing their stories,

Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!“Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? (36-38).

Jesus shows them his hands and feet, with nail holes in them. They stand staring in disbelief, but reality hits, and they are “filled with joy and wonder(41).

If we were there, what would we want to do next? Ask him questions? Give him a big hug? Fall on our faces in worship?

Jesus asks, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish.”

After all of the praying and sweating blood, being flogged and tormented, trudging to Calvary and hanging suspended in excruciating pain, dying and rising, it turns out Jesus was a tad hungry.

Maybe that isn’t the only reason he asked them for something to eat. I think he wanted to give his followers who weren’t there in person the assurance that immortal humans can still eat. That means that when our bodies take on immortality, we can eat too! I’m happy about that. I like eating–broiled fish and a thousand other things.

I can’t improve on the end of Luke’s account, so I’ll end my reflection here. After they had eaten and spent some more time together, he blessed them and was taken up to heaven.

So they worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God” (52-53).

Home Again

As some of you may know, my husband Rick and I are moving after 6 years in the Houston area to a new home in the beautiful hill country of central Texas. We are thrilled about this change and new start.

But if you’ve ever moved—and I assume if you are an adult, you’ve moved at least a time or two—you know how physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging it is to empty one home and think through what to do with all the stuff. What to bring, what to sell, what to give away, what to throw away? If this is to be our new home, how do we make it feel like home when we’ve never lived there before?

As I’m going through this sorting, planning, and envisioning, I’m also continuing through the book of Jeremiah (it’s a long one!) The words of this embattled prophet remind me that the Bible throughout is all about coming home. Sometimes coming home again after being in a far country.

Think about it. Beginning with Abraham, who traveled at God’s command “to the place I will show you,” the Bible speaks of God’s people often not being in the place where they belong, and eventually journeying there. And in a sense, we who are part of God’s story still long to go home to God’s ordained place.

Moses led the Israelites back home. It was a long, perilous ordeal getting them there, but that was always the vision and the goal. After Joshua took the baton of leadership from Moses, they finally got there. The patriarchs were buried there because you bury your ancestors close to home.

After many generations of disobedience, idolatry, treachery, and rebellion in their homeland against the God who rescued them, the people of Israel were driven into exile in Babylon by foreign invaders.

The psalmist depicts that strange place:

 “Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem.We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees.For our captors demanded a song from us.
 Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: ‘Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!’ But how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a pagan land?”
(Psalm 137: 1-4)

Do you hear the grief and longing for home, especially for worshippers of the one true God?

Eventually the people of Israel were allowed to return and restore their homeland, as portrayed in the books of Nehemiah and Ezra, and by the prophets of the exile.

Jeremiah’s contribution to this narrative is fascinating. He resided in Jerusalem before, during, and after the invasion by Nebuchadnezzar. He was treated horribly by the cowardly kings and the people allowed to stay behind. Ironically, the invaders treated him with more kindness than his own people did.

Jeremiah gave the people lots of bad news—as prophets typically do. But there was some really good news mixed in, too. A favorite Old Testament verse for many Christians is Jeremiah 29:11:

“’ For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

We love to claim this verse for ourselves, hanging it on a plaque in our homes, or embossed on our Bible covers or coffee mugs. It accurately expresses God’s devotion to those who love him, and gives us much hope, especially at times when life doesn’t seem to make sense.

We use Jeremiah 29:11 to encourage our children that whatever happens, God is looking out for them and has a plan in mind. All they need to do is stay connected to him and they will receive this promised future and hope.

But I don’t often hear people consider the context in Jeremiah where this Scripture is found. I believe it adds even greater richness and encouragement to the verse when we remember that these words were written by God’s prophet to the Israelites in exile. The folks with their harps hanging in the trees.

They had been wayward and idolatrous. They were in their predicament for a reason. God had pleaded with them over and over to come to their senses and be faithful to him. They couldn’t, or wouldn’t, and eventually, God allowed foreigners to bring some heavy consequences.

But let us not forget that while God was their judge and is our judge, he is infinitely merciful! He says to Israel, as her true Father, “I will not be angry with you forever” (Jer. 3:13).

For seventy years they would stay in exile. While in Babylon, they were to seek the good of Babylon. They were to plant crops, have babies, and invest themselves in their new land. They could do this, knowing that they were held within the loving embrace of Jehovah. He had plans to bless them, even in their captivity, and then—

“I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again…I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land…I will bring them home to this land that I gave to their ancestors, and they will possess it again. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (Jer. 29:10, 14; Jer. 30:3)

Home again.

We resonate with this, don’t we? We often feel like strangers in a strange land these days. As the writer of Hebrews states about those who died in faith, without yet receiving what God had promised,

“…They saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously, people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own” (Heb. 11:13-14). 

No matter how good we have it in this life, we all know we are not quite home yet. This place and these circumstances are not where the story ends.

Perhaps the best way to sum it up is with Jesus’ parable of the prodigal coming home to his forgiving father and unforgiving brother. After wasting all of his resources and languishing in a foreign land,

“when he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ (Lk. 15:17-19).

Even the most lost, intransigent soul can head towards home, and find the Father watching longingly for his appearing around the bend in the road. Most of us have been that person at some point.

Beyond the comfort of knowing that in this life we can always run to the safety and fellowship of the Father, is knowing that Jesus is preparing an incredibly special place we haven’t visited yet, unless in a dream or near-death experience.

We are waiting to go home. Home again.

Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Pexels.com

Denial is Undeniable

Since early March I have been serving as a substance use counselor, speaking with individuals and leading recovery groups online. This is a new specialization for me, after nearly 30 years of general practice. It has me so far outside my comfort zone, personally and professionally.

I embrace the opportunity to be stretched so much and to grow in knowledge, insight, and compassion. I can’t tell you it is lots of fun, but I believe the Lord wants me here for a time.

As I’ve interacted with my clients, I’ve become acutely aware of the level of denial that has afflicted them in their addictions, and still exists in their various manifestations of resistance to treatment.

In the process, I turn the mirror on myself. I can see more clearly my own tendency to deny my own flaws, weaknesses, unhealthy habits, and disordered thought processes. We are all blind to what it is we are blind to until light breaks through to remove the veil.

Photo by Paula on Pexels.com

Scripture comes to life on this topic in hundreds of places! I happen to be reading Jeremiah right now in my daily devotions, so I’ll focus on the insights of this strange and courageous weeping prophet.

Jeremiah spoke to Israel and Judah in the midst of their diaspora and impending destruction. Because of their relentless attraction to idolatry, especially Baal worship, God’s people faced judgment from within and from without. Their cultural bonds were crumbling, and their land would become unfruitful. They were surrounded by enemies whom the LORD would allow to overtake them.  

God had warned them repeatedly with the voices of countless prophets, but the people of God were stuck in denial. The LORD asks,

“When people fall down, don’t they get up again? When they start down the wrong road and discover their mistake, don’t they turn back? Then why do these people keep going along their self-destructive path, refusing to turn back, even though I have warned them?” (Jer. 8:4-5).

Why do God’s beloved people do this, generation after generation after generation? Why do we think that the consequences of sin and rebellion will be deferred indefinitely? Is there any biblical basis to believe that we are entitled to disregard the commandments of God, grieving his heart and forsaking his ways, and never reap a bitter harvest? Do we have the right to trample on the grace and mercy of God?

This is what addiction does. It clouds judgment of reality. It numbs our sensitivity to God’s Spirit and his voice.

But don’t think that we have to be in active addiction to experience numbness toward God. We can all become sloppy and complacent and slip into denial. We need friends—and sometimes wise counselors—to tell us the truth. We need prophets like Jeremiah (and the New Testament and modern-day prophets and apostles) to remind us of who we are, and what God intends for us to become. Jeremiah cries out,

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it’” (6:16).

Having been warned and chastened, they still refused to hearken to his word and forsake their idols.

Most addicts and alcoholics know, in some hidden recess of their brains, that they are on a path of destroyed relationships, chronic illness, premature death, and complete loss of self-respect. But it might take years for them to break through their denial and see this reality.

It’s not easy to hear the truth, especially when we’re enjoying the delusion that negative consequences only come to other people.  When we think we can postpone addressing our own sin addictions, because they’re not as bad as another person’s sin addictions.

Even Jeremiah, who was as surrendered to the LORD as a person can be, saw his need for correction, his need for the LORD to break through to him. He writes,

I know, LORD, that a person’s life is not his own. No one is able to plan his own course. So correct me, LORD, but please be gentle. Do not correct me in anger, for I would die.”

I believe the Lord is gentle with us. But he won’t compromise the truth, and he doesn’t condone sin and rebellion. He wants us to be free to pursue him and his “good, perfect, and acceptable” (Rom. 12:2) purposes for us. Not in denial or under the influence of the wrong spirit, but alive to “the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2).

I join Jeremiah in his prayer. Lord, correct me gently. I’m listening.

The Assumption of Good Will

Hello Dear Reader,
This is one of my earliest blogs from back in 2018. It came to mind as I am dealing with some minor misunderstandings with a colleague. I was reminded of my very human tendency to make negative judgments about myself or the other person when there is conflict. And I know I’m not the only one who is subject to this. The remedy is often simply to assume the best instead of the worst and see what follows. I hope you enjoy this revisiting of a favorite topic.

Ruth E. Stitt

Sometimes the people in our lives behave in confusing or offensive ways.

Over the lifespan, each of us develops explanatory models to assist us in understanding our own and others’ behavior. These models are highly subject to error.

One of these is what social psychologists label “fundamental attribution error.” This means that when someone behaves in a way we don’t like—another driver cuts us off in traffic, or cuts in line at the market, for example—we tend to believe that this is because they have some sort of internal character defect of laziness, carelessness, or selfishness.

In contrast, when we are explaining our own similar behavior, we attribute it to external forces and circumstances. When I am the one in the wrong, I quickly rationalize that I had a good excuse based on my circumstances. I had a very important meeting to get to, perhaps. But when you commit a…

View original post 583 more words