Civility

1 Timothy 3: 7

And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Paul, in writing to Timothy, gave direction regarding the qualifications for church leaders. This verse points out one of the requirements, i.e. that he must have a good reputation outside of the church. I don’t know that we discuss these requirements often, in the general church but perhaps we should. Even if you have been privy to the discussions, is a person’s reputation outside the church something often considered?

When we contemplate this requirement for church leaders we must certainly pause. I know it has given me pause today. I think we are preferring the exact opposite result. We are listening to, choosing and following people who not only do not enjoy a good reputation outside the church but who, instead, alienate those outside the church.

This requirement makes a strong demand upon each one of us. It means that we are not given license to discriminate, and certainly not disparage, any group of people. This is an absolute and it is high time the church adopted love and its central theme. Love means we do not get to disclaim any group of people. One, especially, cannot be a church leader if he or she creates animosity or harm in any segment of the “outside the church” population.

I recall some of the men I have heard speak over the years, whose diatribe is an accusation, conviction and condemnation against a segment of the population. NO MORE, I say. Today is the day we must end this practice. No longer should you tolerate a leader whose rhetoric condemns those outside the church. You, my beloved, are called, this day, to stand up for those outside the church. You are responsible for only allowing leaders who are respected by those outside the church. This is the litmus test. It always was but we have neglected it out of laziness and our own comfort and prejudices. No longer is it acceptable for the church to stand against God’s kids, and I mean any of God’s children, not just the favored and blessed few who have been fortunate enough to come to know Jesus.

Furthermore, we, by our acceptance of abrasive, hate filled leaders are pushing people away from the invitation to Christ. We make grand gestures of missionary trips to remote parts of the world while we allow our leaders to advance positions of judgment and condemnation in our own backyards. Do not misunderstand me. I completely support free speech. I will defend your right to say what you think. However, if you cannot express your opinion in a way which allows you to retain the respect of others, I will not support you for a leadership position in the church. If your rhetoric smells of racism, bigotry, sexism, ageism, or any other intolerant ism, I will defend your right to spew that garbage but I will not allow you to speak for me and I will challenge your right to speak for God.

My God is love. He so loves “the world”, people, that he condemned His own precious son to die a horrific death. It is high time we listened to Paul’s admonition to Timothy and only support those as leaders who can preach a gospel of love and acceptance. We do not have to agree with one another. We don’t even have to adopt the party line. We do have to treat each other with human civility and kindness. It doesn’t matter which side of any debate you choose, that is not the point. The point is that Jesus died for each and every one of us and that includes those people outside the church, especially those outside the church. It is time we took the responsibility of social leadership which means embracing people of differing customs and opinions with grace and humility. Therefore, you and I have the responsibility to elect leaders in our churches, and even of other social and governmental organizations who can respect others and listen to them. If they cannot love the world, as God did, then Paul would have us reject them as leaders.

We can remodel our churches and make them a viable force for good in society if we will make this one requirement mandatory. If we will do this, the church can again become an important player in society instead of the institution of last resort.

And last, whatever your scars, blemishes, spots and wrinkles; despite your sins, beliefs and shortcomings; without regard to whether or not you are saved, you are a child of the living God. He loves you and so do I. Do not feel alone and unaccepted. Do not allow yourself to be isolated by judgment and condemnation. Of all the voices out there, only one of those gave his life for you. Listen to that voice and damn the others. Reach out to the Father who gave all for you. Let him bathe you in His continual love and mercy.

Overseeing in Christ

Titus 1: 7

Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.

This is Paul’s message to Titus regarding the selection of elders for the church. We should all be pursuing spiritual maturity and this is a good measure of what it looks like. One might expect a spiritually mature person to have overcome any tendency toward drunkenness and we would expect that person not to attempt gain by deceitful or dishonest means. Certainly a spiritually mature person should not be a person of violence. Would we, though, have thought to include a quick temper and an overbearing manner to the list of characteristics that a spiritually mature person is not? 

Webster’s defines overbear as: to dominate, domineer over, overrule, or subdue; and overbearing as: acting in a dictatorial manner; arrogant; domineering, overriding. When we think we have the answers or God has shown us something that has helped us to mature we sometimes begin to shove those answers down other people’s throats. We sometimes try to overrule or subdue others thoughts or feelings. I doubt any of us wishes to be described using any of the terms above.

That is not God’s way. He was patient with us; let us, then be patient with others. Besides, our answers are not always their answers. If we are truly mature in Christ, then we can fully trust the Lord, even to helping others find their way.  

Incense Offering

Revelation 5: 8

And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Today is a visual day. I want you to look with me at the golden bowls which each of the elders holds. Did you notice that they are full of a substance which gives off a sweet smelling aroma? That substance is the prayers of the saints. Can you see the aroma wafting up from the bowls and filling the throne room? The vapors reach the Father and He inhales deeply of them. Think about when you walk into a kitchen where someone is baking. Don’t you stop in your tracks and take in a deep breath savoring the pleasant smell? Or I think about when I drive by someone mowing their lawn. I take deep breaths letting the scent fill me until I can no longer smell it. 

Those pleasant aromas arrest our attention. You may be in conversation but you immediately take that deep breath so you can enjoy the scent. This is the way our prayers are to our Father. They constantly fill His nostrils with the most pleasant fragrance of all. I like the idea that there is something we can do which brings pleasure to our Father. It is no coincidence that all twenty-four elders hold a harp and a golden bowl. These are the things which please God; musical praise and prayer.

As I read this verse today I found that I immediately wanted to pray and put a prayer in the bowl which would smell exceedingly wonderful as it is offered. Not surprisingly, the prayer was much more about how great our Father is than what I needed Him to do for me. I will confess that I found the prayer very fun and even gratifying for me.

Picture, if you will, an altar in the throne room where we give our offerings to the Lord. Rather than the meat of goats and lambs, we offer up music and prayer. We give to the Lord not something that is external like a sheep but rather that which comes from within us; our praise and our song. 

I wonder sometimes if our Father is tone deaf because I have noticed that He enjoys us singing to Him no matter how cacophonic the sound. You don’t have to have a good voice, just a heart of love for Him. He hears sweet music when you sing and He smells sweet incense when you pray. You cannot sing wrong or pray wrong when you give your offering from your heart.

It is amazing that the God who created Mt. Everest, the Amazon River and every star and heavenly body in the universe can be pleased with something as simple as our prayers. It sure makes one rethink one’s theology. It also reveals so much about our Father. It is delightful to realize that we can give Him joy. Even better, it is really easy for us to do so. We do not have to create a masterpiece. We have only to appreciate that which is. So, let’s fill up those golden bowls and flood the throne room with a sweet aroma.