Archive for the ‘Titus’ Category

EABEF 2015

Bernie preaching from the Word

Thanking God for the East Africa Bible Expositors’ Fellowship last week in Kisumu. Great joy and encouragement to meet with brothers from 6 nations, learning from Titus together, talking honestly, finding out about what God is doing through some great ministries across this region.

Some stuff I learnt personally from other participants, preachers and facilitators:

  • It is good to stare in the face the ‘brutal facts’ in our E African context that challenge faithful Bible teaching and the practice of hard lengthy labour on the text: 1) The attitude “I know the passage already”; 2) Congregations that are easily impressed, so I can get away with cutting corners; 3) Wanting to be popular / wanting to hold onto people who are deserting to the prosperity / hyper-pentecostal churches so I am tempted to copy what they are doing; 4) Wanting quick easy fixes; 5) Hobby-horses and the temptation of sermon recycling; 6) Taking too many preaching invitations; 7) Lack of deep, honest relationships where feedback can be given and received; 8) Poverty, especially in the rural areas, where the pastor has virtually no pay, where the congregation wants him to support them (rather than vice versa) and the pastor is overwhelmed by his own needs and those of others. In the face of these big challenges ways forward proposed included: a) Continual reminders of the great Saviour God whom we serve, his charge to ‘preach the Word’, and the absolute necessity and power of faithful preaching of Christ crucified; b) Continual reminders of servant leadership – serving others and not ourselves; c) Fellowships like the EABEF where we can be encouraging one another, spurring one another on, supporting one another spiritually, emotionally and materially; d) The need to think of many rural pastoral placements as mission placements where the pastors are sent, supported and resourced as mission partners by urban churches; e) The need to keep the focus on the local church – fellowships and para-church organisations simply as encouragers of the local church.
  • There is a great value in a multiplicity of teaching voices – where there is a great deal of theological consensus and unity in the gospel but at the same time some range of style, emphasis and perspective: a) because we don’t want to create clones of our own imperfect theology but rather provoke people to search the Scriptures for themselves; b) the plurality of elders (Titus 1:5); c) many counsellors (Prov. 11:14); d) avoiding guru status (Matt. 23:8).
  • From Determine Dusabumuremyi: Before we come to the mechanics of sermon preparation and delivery there is a need for a deep heart work in the preacher. He needs to be awed by the ‘theatre’ in which he preaches – presence of God and coming of Christ (2 Tim 4:1) – and humbled by the greatness of the words and task with which he has been entrusted – words of eternal life to raise the dead. He needs to soak in the passage until he is personally convicted and formed by it; seeing himself as first and foremost aThe 6 Cs of preaching terrible sinner receiving glorious grace (Isaiah 6). And then he needs to feel the divine indignation at what is crippling the church (cf. Gal. 1:6; 3:1; 4:19-20; 2 Cor. 11:2). So perhaps there is another ‘C’ – Captured by the Word – that produces the 5 C’s.
  • One of the big problems with the ‘hyper-grace’ movement (“Sin boldly”) is that there is no process of conviction and humbling. The exposition of Psalm 32 showed us not only the great, great joy of having our sins forgiven but also the way forgiveness is connected with a deep humbling in which I see the awfulness of my sin and feel the crushing weight and admit “I am a sinner” not in a bold, flippant way but in seriousness and sorrow, having been brought to the very end of myself, finding myself face down in a muck of my own creation, and then how the humbled, forgiven, beloved sinner is, as a result, a teachable, guidable disciple.
  • The area of specific application to attitudes and behaviour (the imperatives of the message) is just as weighty as the area of gospel truths (the indicatives of the message) and requires just as much serious thought and preparation as the latter. Because the gospel is so weighty the application is weighty. Though there is danger in being too specific, often giving examples, telling stories and painting pictures of what this might look like in practice can be very helpful here.
  • The focus of faith is the forward-looking confident hope and longing for the appearing of the crucified saving God-man (Titus 2:11-14; 1 Thess. 1:10).
  • Our unity is around the gospel not around a particular method of text to sermon.

Some resources and links:

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Induction 1

Day 2 and the new apprentices are still handing in there, enduring the cold of Sigona and engaging really well with one another and the Word.

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what is the gospel

We have welcomed about 16 first year apprentices to serve with us for the year 2014/2015. We thus have a workshop to clarify expectations, introduce the whole idea of Apprenticeship and get them excited about the year ahead.

We’ve moved to our new premises in Zambezi, several hundreds metres from Sigona on the Nairobi – Nakuru Highway. It was quite a rush trying to kill two birds with one stone- planning for induction and moving offices! It’s still work-in-progress but thankfully it seems we are pulling it off!

We started with Bible Study from Philipians 1:1-30 where we saw the joy of partnership in the gospel.

Andy did exposition of Titus 1- Knowing the Truth that leads to Godliness. The saving God promises even before creation to save a people for Himself and it is in knowing this truth, holding firmly to it, living it out and teaching others also. But coupled with that is refuting those who contradict the truth.

James then took us through ‘What is the Gospel.’ It was a wonderful reminder that it was not about us saving ourselves or starting the process of salvation but it’s God who initiates it.

Man at his best, rejects God. As Stephen Seamands puts it in Give them Christ,

In our determination to be autonomous & independent, to be our own gods, we would go so far as to get rid of God so we could take His place. Here we see not “Sinners in the hands of angry God,” as Jonathan Edwards put it in his famous 18th Century sermon, but “God in the hands of angry sinners”. The cross reveals how hell bent we are & how heinous and horrible sin is.’ But that is the heart of the gospel.

Sammy then took us through the iServe Africa concept. Basically, if you take iServe Africa and squeeze and the gospel doesn’t come out then there’s a very big problem. We are big on gospel- learning to handle the word faithfully and being servant of the word. We are not trying to be professionals but to be faithful servants for, as John Piper says in Brothers, we are not Professionals,

“the pursuit of professionalism will push the supernatural center more and more into the corner while ministry becomes a set of secular competencies with a religious veneer”.

Harrison and Lydia then took us through Communication, Partnership Development and Expectations.

We then finished off the day by watching Distant Boat the movie. It’s such a great way to welcome the incoming team on board and have them think about mission. One comment after the movie was ‘I can’t believe Kenya can produce such quality stuff. This movie resonates exactly with my situation. Am encouraged.’

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What if servant leadership flows from the nature of God and his mission…

Solomon tells it like it is:

If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.   (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9)

Extractive model

That’s the default leadership position for the world. The Ancient Egyptians used it, the Roman Empire, the British Empire. You could call it the extractive model. If I’m the king in this system I just want to get as much profit as I can from the land over which I rule. So I divide and conquer. I put officials under me with layers of officials under them with the job of getting as much as possible out of the powerless peasants who farm the land. In this system the arrow is basically upward – resources, revenue, respect all goes upward. What goes down are orders and domination.

The extractive model is never going to create servant leaders. The officials are not there to serve the people under them, they are there to exert power over them and get as much tax revenue as possible from them. And the official is not even a true servant of the official above them or the king himself. In fact he hates his overlord as much as the peasant – he wants his job. So you see the nature of the king and the nature of his commission defines the sort of leader you get. If the king is raw power, sucking up resources into himself like a giant leech (as Mike Reeves puts it), then the leader under him will become like him.

But there is another model. Here’s Paul giving Titus a leadership 101:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness

Notice the ‘for’ – Paul is a servant of God and sent by Jesus Christ for a particular purpose – not to tax God’s people, not to tie burdens on God’s people, not to go on a power trip and lord it over God’s people – but for their sake – to build them up in the faith, to increase their joy in Christ, to set them free with the truth. Where does this come from? It comes straight out of the heart of God himself. He is no leech. He has always been a giving, blessing, gracious, outpouring God:

2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began

Before he was a Creator or a Law-giver, God was a Lover and a Promiser. Before he made anything, let alone before he made us, and long before we’d done anything, God set his incredible love on us and promised us everything – New Creation, Glory, Joy, Christ Himself.

3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Saviour… 7 For an overseer as God’s steward

Gospel modelYou see again how the nature of the king and the nature of his commission defines the sort of leader you get. This model is the opposite of the extractive model. The arrow is basically down. God’s nature is essentially Saviour (it says that four times in Titus). He’s not just raw power, he’s not just up there demanding glory and praise and money. He’s fundamentally an outpouring, out-going, saving God. And if you have a God like that, a servant king who says, “I love you, I’ve saved you, I’ve promised myself to you” – then you will want to serve, secure in His grace and love. And more than that, since he’s entrusted and commanded you to take His gospel to the world you are constituted as a servant twice over – you are a servant of the king who has given you the great commission and you are also a servant of the people to whom you must preach the gospel – you are not there to dominate or tax – you have a free gift for them that has been entrusted to you – it’s not yours it’s theirs – it’s like you are a motorcycle courier delivering their gift.

This is also why servant leadership and faithful Bible teaching are so closely linked. But that’s for another post…

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Ok, ok! I do still believe Philippians 2:13 (“it is God who works in you, both to will and to act”) and John 15:5 (“apart from me you can do nothing”). Any resistence to sin, any glimmer of goodness coming out of me, is not me but purely God’s doing. But that’s not what Titus 2:11-12 is talking about.  It does NOT say:

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people, giving us power to say “No” to ungodliness…”

What it actually says is:

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people, teaching us to say “No” to ungodliness…”

It’s not about grace giving power but grace teaching, training, being our mwalimu. This is really important because it is very common to think of grace as a special boost from God to overcome sin and temptation – like a spiritual adrenalin shot. So I’m struggling in sin and I get this boost of grace and now I can fight the good fight and leap walls and all of that. But what does grace mean here in Titus? Let’s look again at verse 11:

“the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people”

  • It’s the grace of God – who promised us eternal life before the creation of time itself (Titus 1:2), “he saved us” (Titus 3:5)
  • It’s appeared – past tense – grace has been made flesh and poured himself out on the Cross, historic justifying grace (Titus 3:6-7).
  • It’s about salvation – not discipleship or transformation, even less ‘realising your full potential’ – rather it is about being redeemed from God’s wrath and united to Christ as a people of “his own possession”, so that we can look forward to His next “appearing” not with dread but as our great, blessed hope (Titus 2:13-14).

That’s what ‘grace’ is here. That’s what ‘grace’ means in almost every case in the New Testament. It is not something that happens inside you (an injection of spiritual energy) – it is the historic (and the future) saving work of Christ outside of you.

It is this gospel of the death of the Lord Jesus and the promise of his return – that teaches me to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and live a self-controlled counter-cultural life. How does this work in practice? A few examples:

  • Imagine I’m on the internet late at night and I’m tempted to put something into the search engine that I shouldn’t put or follow some link I shouldn’t follow.  What I need to do at that moment is remember the gospel. Why am I tempted?  I’m seeking escape, excitement, a rush, I’m attracted by the hope of seeing a particular vision. The medcine: I need to have my heart captivated by a infinitely better hope and a better vision – “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (v13)
  • Or I’m in a town where nobody knows me and I pass a pub and I’m tempted to go in.  What I need to do at that moment is apply the gospel. Why am I tempted in this case? Maybe I’m feeling lonely, stressed, maybe I’m feeling like victim, that I’m having a hard time and I deserve a little something. I need to remember, “Jesus Christ gave himself to redeem us”. I’m not a poor victim, I’ve been given Christ and I’m freed from all this.
  • Or I’ve got responsibility for some money in an organisation or I’ve received a ministry gift and I’m tempted to ‘borrow’ a bit or not account for it properly. What I need to do at that moment is preach the gospel to myself. Why am I tempted in this case? Maybe it’s greed but more likely I feel insecure, scared, feel that God doesn’t care about me and I’m just going to have to sort myself out – I need to see afresh that becasue of the Cross, I am Jesus’ “very own possession” (v14) – I belong to Christ – my life is not my own and I am completely secure.

At times like this Law (“Just don’t do it or God and other people will hate you”) and physical restraint (computer filters, abstinence programmes, checks and balances) just aren’t powerful enough – often they won’t be able to keep me from temptation. Only the gospel can do it. What I need it to preach the gospel again and again to myself. Rub it in. Apply the glorious truths of the gospel to my festering wounds and itches. And that’s what discipleship is. Not telling people, “These are the Do’s and Don’ts,” but equipping brothers and sisters with the gospel armour with which they can withstand every assault of the world the flesh and the devil; displaying the glories of Jesus such that hearts and minds are won and lives change direction.

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Where does servant leadership come from? By looking at the example of the Servant King. But we need more than just an example to copy…

“…we need even more than Jesus’ personal example of humble service. What we need is His death… [Humble service] is not even possible for us apart from the Saviour’s unique sacrifice… Consider your own life for just a moment. Where would you be today if He hadn’t ransomed you? I’ll tell you where. You would be self-sufficient, seeking to cultivate self-confidence for the purpose of self-glorification. But what has happened to you? If you’ve been genuinely converted, you’ve been forgiven and transformed… because He laid down His life for us. What a powerful death! The cross ransoms, the cross liberates, the cross transforms!” (C.J. Mahaney, Humility, p.47-58)

We saw this at the induction workshop recently as we went through Titus 3:

  • Be servants (v1-2): “…be submissive… obedient… ready for every good work…” – i.e. be humble, be a servant, don’t wait to be asked, don’t expect to be thanked.  It’s about attitude and character and ‘being’. But where does this humility come from?
  • Because we were helpless sinners (v3): All of us (‘good boys’ and ‘bad boys’) were enslaved in mind (foolish, deceived), enslaved in will (disobedient), enslaved in heart (passions and pleasures). We had no brain to figure out the truth, no will to obey, no desire for Christ. We were stupid, evil, helpless rebels.
  • When HE SAVED US (v4-7): That’s the gospel in three words isn’t it? “He saved us…”  It’s not at all about what I have accomplished (v5). “Getting saved” is not about ‘me responding to an altar call’ or ‘committing my life to Christ’ – it’s completely, 100% the work of God. The whole Trinity is involved – the Father loves, the Spirit gives us new birth, the Son swaps our sin for his righteousness. What have we done in all that? Nothing. It’s all grace. The focus of the Christian life shifts from us to God and the Cross. “He saved us.”
  • So stress these things (v8): What things? The truths that you are a great sinner and God is a great Saviour. That Christ has justified you. That the Trinity has saved you.  All by grace. And that truth will lead to service: “that those who have believed in God (the true Saviour God) may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable…”

…excellent and profitable for forming leaders who are not madly running around trying to prove themselves but humbled, joyful servants of the Saviour God.

James Imbo (iServe Africa alumnus and a pastor at Praise Chapel Church Mombasa) posted this brilliant reflection recently:

“I have come to realize that “Servant Leadership” is more about BEING than doing. It is a lot more about the work done for/in the servant than by/with the servant. We need more servant leaders whose character is formed by the work done by the Lord Jesus!!

Servant leadership slows the servant down and the focus is not on what I have accomplished but how much has been developed in me. This brings the servant to the level of humility… where he recognizes that all He can accomplish is through Christ… who is working in him and through him.

The focus shifts from the servant to Jesus and the great work of the Cross.”

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You go to a church and you find it full of people who profess to know God but they are all liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons. What do you guess is the problem? And what is the solution? Presumably these guys need to be told, “Look you know God and you’ve understood the gospel but now you need to learn that there are some important rules and principles for the Christian life – stop associating with sinners, stop stealing from God and indulging yourself – take responsibility for yourself and get with the serious discipleship programme – praying, fasting, tithing, serving.”  

The funny thing when you look at the first century church in Crete the apostle Paul makes a completely different diagnosis. The problem is actually they don’t know God.  They say they do but their lives are evidence that they don’t actually know him (Titus 1:16). The medicine is to ‘know the truth’ that he is fundamentally a Saviour God who promised us eternal life before creation (Titus 1:1-3). And the ‘serious discipleship programme’ – don’t eat this, don’t touch that, don’t go there – is actually part of the problem (Titus 1:14-15 cf. 1 Tim. 4:1-3; Col. 2:16-23). True discipleship is rubbing our faces in the gospel truth of who God is and what he’s done (Titus 2:11-14).

That’s one reason why we studied the doctrine of God, the Cross and salvation at our last iServe Africa ministry training (Doctrine of God MTC3 2012) and it’s why it’s so important that the preaching and teaching in our churches is centred not on us or our issues but on the Saviour God, Jesus.

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