The task of the church is to make God attractive.
If the church is attractive then people will probably think that God is.
I sometimes find it hard to believe that God trusts us with that task, but he does.
That's what Paul is getting at in Titus chapter 2. He tells people to do a lot of things "so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive." (Titus 2: 10 NIV)
He wants the church to behave so that people will have nothing bad to say about us. (verse 8)
He wants us to be eager to do good.
He says that's why Jesus gave himself for us.
Paul wrote almost 2000 years ago. Some things have changed. To my taste this chapter seems rather sexist. I find it uncomfortable that Paul has nothing to say about slavery. I'm pretty sure that Paul would write some things differently today. But not much.
So here's today's big question: what can I do today that will make the faith I represent attractive? The best answers will probably be drawn out of Titus chapter 2.
I guess many of you have already said 'no,' but stay with it ...
Church leadership is about a lot of things, but mostly it is about setting an example. When you become a leader you get an invisible badge that says 'copy me.'
Scary, isn't it? Leaders set themselves up as the people that others should follow.
The good news is that leaders don't need to be perfect. A bit of honest imperfection actually helps.
So here, from Paul's letter to Tutus, are some areas where leaders set an example:
* in their marriages and other relationships
* in parenting, whether that is with their biological family or others they support
* in avoiding any trace of bullying
* in managing their temper
* in not getting drunk
* in not being violent
* in financial integrity
* in hospitality
* in holding fast to the good news
Quite a list, isn't it? There are technical skills too, but they are secondary.
The more you have these qualities the better you will lead. Anyone feeling brave enough to volunteer?
One more thing - if the correct people don't step forward the wrong people will. The second half of Titus 1 will show you what I mean.
I've got a few. I won't say too few to mention, but I will tell you one of mine.
I regret that I didn't work out how to brush my teeth until well into adult life. Don't rush to me with sympathy; my teeth are ok, but there's been a lot of work in mouth that predates the dentist carefully explaining the best way to brush and floss. When my children were young my catchphrase was 'every bit of every tooth,' a lesson I learned the hard way.
This week is our harvest service and we are supporting a project organised by Operation Agri in Nepal. They do a lot of things; one is that they teach children to take care of their teeth. They also teach them what they should do in an earthquake and many other things.
I didn't know that I was brushing my teeth incorrectly, but boy did I notice the difference when I started getting it right.
Jesus tells us to come and learn from him. I wonder what else I'm doing wrong. I wonder what I need to hear from him. Maybe the work of Operation Agri will help me find out.
If you want to pray there are lots of helpful resources. I would especially recommend the 24-7 prayer site: www.24-7prayer.com/helpmepray
I've often heard that prayer is the key to everything, that the secret is to spend a lot of time on our own seeking God. Jesus did it and we need to do the same. It's hard to disagree, but maybe it's not the whole story.
This week I've been reading John 15, where Jesus makes an astonishing promise about prayer: ask whatever you wish and the Father will give it to you.
It sounds great, but how are we meant to get there? Jesus' answer is straight forward and perhaps surprising. He commands that we love one another. Then answered prayer will follow.
Love comes first.
If we want to pray like Jesus prayed we must learn to love as he loved.
We pray alone, but we qualify to pray alone in community.
Why is this so? Because only those who love like Jesus loves will pray the prayers that Jesus prayed. It's when we learn to lay our lives down that we get released from selfish prayer and pray in line with the prayers of Jesus, as his friend.
More on Sunday ...
'OK, Jesus, we know you loved him. But what's the point of all this crying? You could have done something. You opened the eyes of a blind man. Why did you hang around doing nothing? This man was dying. Are you crying because you were too late?'
'It's like Martha said. If you'd been here this man would not be dead.'
'What's that? Take the stone away? Come on. Jesus it's going to stink. Don't you know what a body smells like after it has been dead four days?'
'You want us to see the glory of God? Come on! There's no glory here.'
'And really there is no point in calling a dead man by name. He's not going to get up and walk out of the ...'
The story of Jesus and Lazarus raises as many questions as it answers. The basic point is that Jesus is the resurrection. He is victorious over death. But it's still a story of great pain and confusion. Nobody knows what Jesus means when he says that Lazarus is 'asleep.' Jesus' tears look more like defeat than victory.
I think that the pain of this story matters. It gives us permission to be confused. It gives us permission to cry. It lets us tell Jesus that if he had been there things would be different. It lets us tell Jesus when things stink. And somehow in the end we hear the voice of Jesus, saying that if we believe we will see the glory of God.
A shepherd at the time of Jesus had two roles. The first was to protect the flock from thieves and wild animals, if necessary by putting his own life at risk. The second was to take the flock to pasture so the sheep could eat and drink and live.
So Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd. The 'flock' are God's people. Jesus risks and give his life for them so they will be completely safe. He gives us everything we need for eternal life, having laid his life down and taken it up again.
When Jesus said these things he got two reactions. Some found it strange and difficult and rejected him. Others found it equally strange but they felt that someone who did the things Jesus was doing had to come from God.
People told Jesus it was time to start speaking clearly. Jesus said he already had, and if they looked at things he was doing they would see that he came from the Father.
So it's simple and it's complicated. Jesus died. He rose again. He is God's Son. Anyone can accept this and receive what Jesus has to offer. And it's so wonderfully complicated it takes image after image to explain: the bread of life, the light of the world, the good shepherd etc etc.
More wonderful than we can ever imagine.
John's gospel is full of people who got confused. Nicodemus hadn't a clue what Jesus meant by being 'born again.' Some Pharisees thought that Jesus might be going to kill himself. A formerly blind man didn't know whether Jesus was a sinner or not.
Confusion is a vital stage in our journey of faith. If Jesus hasn't confused you , maybe you don't know him very well.
As we saw last week, John's gospel isn't simple. This gospel spends 20 chapters circling around two ideas, that Jesus is God's Son and that he gives eternal life to all who believe in him.
Confused? Well there are two non-confused sort of reactions. The first is to reject the claims that John makes. Surely a human being cannot be God's Son? Surely all this stuff about eternal life is a pipe-dream? The second is to believe it at face value. Yes it must be true because the Bible says it is. I prefer the second reaction to the first, but I don't think it is the best we can do.
Let's think about Jesus as God's Son. John's gospel uses this idea as a shorthand for something much more complicated. That's why this book has a strange opening about the Word of God that is God and is with God. If that opening line doesn't confuse you I don't know what will. But please grasp this: John doesn't want to leave us confused. He wants us to look at a whole list of signs and pictures so we grasp as far as humanly possible who Jesus is.
This gospel tells us twice that Jesus is the Light of the World. He brings us from darkness to light. Our first reaction might be confusion, but that is only the start ....
"I like to keep things simple. Don't give me all this complicated theology."
I know. I sort of understand. It's just that people say that sometimes when they don't want to think.
"Can't I just be a simple Bible believing Christian?"
Yes you can, but that means that you have to take on trust the scholarly work of your Bible translator. And he or she may be wrong.
"But isn't the message of the Bible simple?"
Not really. Have you read what the Apostle Peter wrote about the letters of Paul?
"But what the Bible says about XXX is crystal clear, isn't it?"
OK, let me tell you why it's not quite that simple ....
Jesus' disciples thought that the feeding of the 5000 was simple. It meant that Jesus was the new king who was going to lead them to victory. I suggest you read John 6 all the way through sometime. It's a sad story in which those who wanted to keep things simple found their hopes dashed, got completely confused, took offence at Jesus and walked away. The miracle was great but the words of Jesus sounded ridiculous.
I believe in a God who is so wonderful that he is beyond human explanation. I hope you do too.
XXX - insert whatever you are debating at the moment.
I've never been on a cruise. People tell me they are great but I haven't yet been persuaded to try it. I do remember being on the boat from Calais to Dover when the water got a bit choppy. I thought the rocking motion of the boat was quite pleasant. Others were running to the toilet ...
Christian songwriters love writing about storms ... 'all through the storm your love is the anchor' .... 'God is the lighthouse who will lead us through the storm' ... 'Christ is firm through the fiercest drought and storm' ... 'when oceans rise my heart will rest in your embrace.' These songs testify to God's presence in the storm even when we are being thrown about. It doesn't feel like it at the time but believers have long testified that it is true.
In John's gospel Jesus appears walking on the sea. He says 'It's me. Don't be afraid.' The disciples are more scared of Jesus than they are of the storm. But he's there and they eagerly take him into the boat.
The words 'it's me' could also be translated as 'I am' or 'I am real.'
I pray that you will find Jesus in an unexpected place today. Maybe you will find that he is real in the least likely place.
The book of Proverbs is wonderfully down to earth.
Like one who takes away someone's clothes on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. (Proverbs 25:20)
There's also warning that it is not a good idea to speak loudly first thing in the morning and another that it's not good to trick someone and then say you were only joking. As a morning person I find the first of those a challenge.
Proverbs has a lot to say about angry people. Rescue an angry person and you'll probably have to do it again. It's better to be long tempered than to be a warrior. There are several warnings about breaking confidences.
I guess peacemaking is about lots of small decisions.
I guess wisdom is about lots of small decisions.
It's about how I speak to the people I live with, how I am with my neighbours, what I do at work, how I treat those who are 'different' to me.
It's about giving good feedback and receiving bad feedback well.
It's about speaking directly but gently.
See if you can make some wise choices today. They may make more difference than you could imagine.