Doing Unassailable Good

Scripture Focus: Titus 3.1-2
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

Acts 4.16, 21
“What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it…They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.

Reflection: Doing Unassailable Good
By John Tillman

In Titus chapter 2 Paul said to “show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” And today, in Titus 3.2, he implores us to, “slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.”

In today’s climate of tweetstorms, rants, fake news, and the never-ending escalation of meaningless arguments, it may seem impossible to take Paul’s words to heart. Is it really possible to live in such a way that our critics would have nothing to say? That they would be ashamed to have accused us? 

Can we really be expected not to counter-attack those who attack us with falsehoods? Rather than turning the other cheek, we prefer that if they slander us in the left-wing news, we must slander them in the right-wing news. And vice-versa.

Living in our current culture of social media outrage (and the monetization of that outrage by social media companies) we tend to answer Paul by saying, “Sorry, Paul. That’s not possible or practical.” And it may not be possible. Not without a miracle, anyway.

In Acts chapter 4, we read of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin after performing a miraculous healing. Despite the fact that Peter and John proclaimed a resurrection that the Sanhedrin was paying bribes to cover up, they could not ignore the goodness of what Peter and John had done.

We cannot, without compromising the gospel, please everyone. This is demonstrated by the suffering and death that Peter and John eventually experience. But when the church acts in incontrovertibly beneficial ways on behalf of the community, those who oppose us will confess the goodness of our works, even if they deny the goodness of our gospel.

Christians need to repent from seeking to speak stridently enough to destroy our enemies. Instead, we need to seek to act miraculously, benefiting our communities, living out Christ’s model of servanthood, and enacting his resurrection before the world.

Peter and John were drawn to their miracle on their way to afternoon prayer. Perhaps one reason we do so few miracles in our world is that we are so seldom “on our way” to prayer as Peter and John were. 

In your prayer life today, what miraculous, unassailable good will the Holy Spirit draw you to enact?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
O God, you know my foolishness, and my faults are not hidden from you. — Psalm 69.6

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 11 (Listen – 2:33) 
Titus 3 (Listen -2:04)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 12 (Listen – 2:38) Philemon (Listen -2:52)
Song of Songs 1 (Listen – 2:33) Hebrews 1 (Listen -2:15)

Read more about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
We cannot continue posting and liking things that are resentful, quarrelsome, and the opposite of gentle, yet expect to represent Christ and the Gospel in the world.

Read more about Paul’s Stance on Gentleness
Ad-hominem attacks, meanness, violent language, and unkindness are not rhetorical tools that should be in the arsenal of Christians in the public square.

This Present Age—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Titus 2.11-14

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Frodo: I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times; but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.

Reflection: This Present Age—Guided Prayer

By John Tillman

We often wish we were some “when” and perhaps some “where” else, but God calls us instead, to live for him today, “In this present age.” (Titus 2.13) 

There was never an age of this earth in which evil did not wreak havoc, governments did not mishandle justice, and in which the church, in one capacity or another did not fail to fully live out the gospel. Our faith must not be in those things. We join in a prayer today based on what Paul declared the Holy Spirit would teach. 

Teach Us, Holy Spirit

Teach us, Holy Spirit, that in this age and in this space, you have placed us and called us.

May we be made eager to do good for the sake of the gospel.

May we all, men and women, live as examples: temperate, worthy of respect, and self-controlled.

May we be sound in our faith and in our love for others, and carry out the work of the gospel.

May we live reverently and truthfully, quenching any spark of slander and never sharing or spreading anything that is not factual.

May we be unfailingly kind and submissive to other another.

May no one be able to malign the word of God because of us.

Teach us by your Holy Spirit to show integrity and seriousness, taking care that no one can mistake or condemn what we say.

May even those who oppose us have nothing bad to say about us.

May we be models of integrity to our employers and fellow-laborers, trustworthy, and immune to corruption.

Teach us to say “no” to desires that are of this world, even ones that seem “good” to human wisdom. Teach us to say “yes” to desires that lead us closer to you, even when they seem “foolish” to human wisdom.

It is no more difficult to live in this age you have placed us in, Lord, than any other age of the church, and probably it is easier. You have placed us here and called us now, to live for you in this place, in this culture, in this time.

Make us ready, Lord, for the challenges that we will face as we await the blessed hope of Jesus Christ, who will redeem us from all wickedness and set right all that is wrong.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. — Psalm 62.6

Read more about Doing All Things Well
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things wel

Read more about Kingdom Manifestation :: A Guided Prayer
Ask God to make you the answer to this prayer. You are called to make manifest the kingdom of God.

Make No Peace With Death

Scripture Focus: Ecclesiastes 9.3-4
3 This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. 4 Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!

Titus 1.1-3
1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— 2 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3 and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior

Reflection: Make No Peace With Death
By John Tillman

With all his wisdom, Solomon, the teacher, recognized that God had set eternity in the human heart (Ecclesiastes 3.11) but in some writings seemed to barely hold a glimpse of what God had in mind for humanity in eternity.

Solomon’s conclusion about death is not that dissimilar at times from billionaire tech giants of today (our culture’s definition of “wise men”) who see death as an evil that should be eradicated.

In 2018, Jacob Banas wrote about the cultish obsession of tech giants with longevity and defeating death:

“Traditional religion in the Bay Area is being replaced with…a belief in the power of technology and science to save humanity,” …Combine this…with leaders who are too young to find peace in the concept of death and who haven’t experienced the kinds of traumas that might inoculate them against some of that fear? You get a perfect storm of longevity obsession.”

When we look closer at the supposedly altruistic goals of “life extension” or “defeating death” we barely scrape the surface before uncovering the primary motivator—greed and the continued accumulation of wealth. 

The billionaire class is on a very real quest to create a new breed of altered humans who will live longer with greater ability to accumulate even more wealth and consolidate even more power. Sean Parker warned at a fundraiser for cancer research that wealth disparity will eventually create a “Class of Immortal Overlords.” He quipped, “Give us billionaires an extra hundred years and you’ll know what … wealth disparity looks like.”

The only correct thought about death that these tech giants have is that death is an enemy. The Christian does not make peace with death. Death is the final enemy to be defeated. 

The difference for believers is that we, unlike Solomon, are certain that death is defeated. (Titus 1.1-3) Death’s sting has no venom for the believer and his victory is as hollow as Jesus’ tomb. (1 Corinthians 15:54-56; Hosea 13:14; Isaiah 25:8) Death which Solomon called “evil” is to us but a door leading the presence of God. 

Death is not kind nor a friend. He is not to be smiled at or joked with. He intends to make us suffer. But like the thief on the cross, if we have the simplest and smallest faith in Christ, on the other side of death we will be embraced by our truest friend, Jesus.

Further Reading:
The Men Who Want to Live Forever — By Dara Horn
Sean Parker Says Wealth Disparity Will Create a ‘Class of Immortal Overlords’ — By Billy Perrigo
Seeking eternal life, Silicon Valley is solving for death — By W. Harry Fortuna

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said to the disciples: “In truth I tell you, when everything is made new again and the Son of man is seated on his throne of glory, you yourselves will sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or land for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times as much, and also inherit eternal life. Many who are first will be last, and the last, first.” — Matthew 19.28-30

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 9 (Listen – 3:13) 
Titus 1 (Listen -2:24)

Read more about Immortality and Resurrection
The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die. — N.T. Wright

Read more about Too Much to Hold
In Christ, we’re made to be like him
Too much for Death to hold
Grasped by him for a moment
But he cannot hold our souls

Hitting the Mark of Reconciliation

Scripture Focus: 2 Timothy 4
Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.

Reflection: Hitting the Mark of Reconciliation
By John Tillman

Mark is a key figure in the New Testament who served as Peter’s secretary (1 Peter 5.13) and according to Clement of Alexandria and Origen, wrote the gospel of Mark based on his records of Peter’s preaching and personal accounts. Mark was himself an eyewitness to parts of his gospel account, as the detail of the young man fleeing Gethsemane naked (Mark 14.51-52) fits the typical way authors of the time would mention themselves without using their name. (John referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is another example.)

But Mark and Paul had a spotty history. Mark was a relative of Barnabas, who traveled with Paul and Barnabas on one of their early trips. It did not go well. 

We don’t know exactly what happened but in Acts 13, Luke states that Mark “left them” for Jerusalem. But in Acts 15, it is clear that, at least in Paul’s mind, Mark  “deserted” them in Pamphylia (Acts 13.13; 15.38). 

Whatever the nature of the desertion, Paul refused to take Mark on a future trip. Paul and Barnabas disagreed so strongly that they stopped working together. Not exactly a church split, but more akin to the dissolving of a church planting ministry organization. It is one of those moments that, if the New Testament was fiction, would be edited out.

But woven through the rest of the New Testament, we see God’s work of restoration and reconciliation in the relationship of Paul and Mark. When Paul writes Colossians in the early 60s, we see him give instructions that Mark, if he comes to the church, is to be welcomed. (Colossians 4.10) And here, in the final letter of his ministry, we see the words, “he is helpful to me…” The gospel can move those we would refuse to work with today toward being those who are helpful to us.

Time does no such thing as heal wounds. But the gospel has the power to resurrect dead relationships just as it has the power to resurrect our souls and our physical bodies. When we know Christ as Paul describes we should, the power of the gospel and the forgiveness of our own sins empowers us to pass on to others the forgiveness of Jesus. 

Just as Paul sat in isolation in prison, extending redemption and reconciliation to those who had wronged him, may we, struggling in isolation, discover in the resources of Christ within us, the power to extend forgiveness to someone in our lives.

*As we have said before, forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness can be one-sided and does not require restoration of the same relationship, especially in cases of abuse. God can help us forgive anyone of anything regardless of whether they are repentant or not. Reconciliation is beyond that—it requires something of both sides. True accountability, confession, repentance, and demonstration of change may be required before allowing someone back into one’s life. All things are possible with God, but we must also be cautious and wise, especially concerning the protection of ourselves and those for whom we are responsible.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 8 (Listen – 2:41) 
2 Timothy 4 (Listen -2:48)

Read more about A Christian Response to Offense
Our culture is unable to bear offense and simultaneously unable to bear forgiveness.

Read more about Praying for Repentance
Defending correct doctrine is the task Paul is quite seriously commanding Timothy to prepare for. We need to prepare for it too.

Wisdom in Houses of Mourning

Scripture Focus: Ecclesiastes 7.2-4
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Proverbs 4.7
Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Hebrews 12.1-2
…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…

Reflection: Wisdom in Houses of Mourning
By John Tillman

What happens when a society addicted to activity, distraction, and consumption has every activity canceled, normal distractions displaced, and consumption disrupted? We mourn.

Solomon tells us that there is more wisdom to be gained in a house of mourning than one of celebrating. In some ways, the homes in which we are sheltering have become houses of mourning. We are certainly mourning the frenetic fantasy of fruitfulness that our former schedules gave us. Our economies, both global and personal, were accelerated and everything else was trimmed out so that we could push harder for greater gain. But were we really gaining in the ways that are important? Did we trim out the wrong things? What can we learn from this unexpected experience of mourning? 

Paul writes that we should throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us to run after Jesus, fixing our eyes on him. But in our previous life, pre-COVID-19, did we ever throw off anything to get closer to Jesus? Did we ever lay aside even one entanglement to grow deeper in faith? Did we fix our eyes more intently on Jesus than on our devices, work tasks, and investment portfolios? Did we strip even one thing out of our lives because it interfered with reading the Bible? Did we cancel even one activity in order to make more time to pray?

For the majority of us, the answers to these questions are probably “no.” Many of us may need to confess that what we tossed aside was Jesus, and the entanglement we escaped was the cords of loving-kindness that God sought to guide us by. We limited Jesus, the Bible, and prayer, to “when we have time” as if time was the issue and not our heart.

What if we learned from what we have lost how valuable what we still have is?
What if we, relieved of the burden of physically running from activity to activity, learned to run after Jesus spiritually?
What if we learned to make time with the most important things the most important time in our day?

I think personally we would be blown away by the tangible presence and power of God in our lives.
I think it would be a revelation.
And I think culturally the world would be blown away by the shockingly beautiful things God would call the church to do in the world.
I think it would be a revolution. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. 
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. — Psalm 126.6-7

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 7 (Listen – 3:37) 
2 Timothy 3 (Listen -2:21)

Read more about Prayer Amidst Evil :: Guided Prayer 
The inevitable next tragedy will come. Whether it is the result of unthinking violence, tragic accident, or premeditated and targeted hatred, we turn to God in prayer…

Read more about Fasting from the Feast
Our culture has steadily, for decades, been encouraging us to abstain from spiritual disciplines in favor of activities that we are led to believe are more profitable.

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