Ministry in Christ's church was never easy even from the start. This morning as we open Paul's letter to Pastor Titus, missionary church-planter to Crete—we look at the description of the cultural background of the congregation Titus served two thousand years ago.

Titus 1:12-13 One of them, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith (NKJV)

Wow, just think of what a miracle it was to find group of believers saved out of such a godless society. They came from centuries of culture dominated by total ('always') untrustworthiness ('liars'), total out-of-control living ('evil beasts'), and the total undisciplined pursuit of personal lust-filled appetites ('lazy gluttons').

Again we see from these two verses that when the Gospel of Jesus Christ entered the Roman world of the New Testament the landscape was very bleak. Christ's church was born into a sin-warped, sin-darkened world of mixed-up marriages, sin-scarred lives, and confused families.

Paul here quoted a line from a poem by Epimenides, a poet and philosopher who had lived in Crete 600 years earlier. The quotation reveals basic character flaws in the Cretans, giving them a bad reputation for lying, violence, and laziness The reputation of the Cretans was so bad that the verb form of their name (kretizo) was used by the Greeks to indicate lying. Paul applied this familiar phrase to the false teachers.

But men and women who were gloriously saved did not automatically become great wives and mothers, or husbands and fathers. When they came to Christ and were forgiven, God graciously gave them everything they needed to become godly wives, mothers, husbands, and fathers. But, they needed something else. They need worship services that taught them to believe correctly, and then they needed small group discipleship times to learn how to behave correctly. Correct behavior is behavior energized by grace.

This article is available in print in the book The Joy of a Word-Filled Family. I really believe that this insight into the Cretan culture can stir our hearts to glorify the amazing grace and saving power of God.

• If the Gospel of Christ can reach into a culture of people who were the descendents of the wicked, pagan Old Testament Philistines (as in Goliath and David) and build them into grace-energized servants of Christ's church—He can work with anyone.

• If God can make saints out of people who had so descended in their personal character until Paul describes them with this trio of disparaging words "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons"—He can change anyone no matter how weak, how wicked, how undisciplined.

This letter to Titus should encourage every one of us that God is so wonderful, His grace is so powerful, and we are so in need of His work in our lives. The greatest truth is that He can change us no matter how bad we've been, and no matter how much baggage we brought into our new life with Him.

The Cretan church was saved, bought from the slave market of sin (redeemed), but still had clinging to their lives the garbage of their culture. They had generations of bad habits, false thinking, and warped lives.

What was the plan God had in mind to transform these very un-saintly people? The same plan He has for all of us this morning. Save them by His grace and sanctify them by His Word.

As I worked over this morning's passage for the past two weeks I kept thinking about what the church in Crete must have looked like. Can you imagine congregation after congregation around that island of Crete that Titus had to visit? Each one had some form of the unpleasant odors of un-disposed remnants of fleshly garbage. Each church had newly saved saints who were in varying degrees former totally untrustworthy liars, former totally out-of-control evil beats, and former totally undisciplined, lazy gluttons!