Finish the race (2 Timothy study week 4)

finish-the-race

Welcome back to the blog Bible study! It’s hard to believe it’s been a month already. If you’re just now joining or you’d like a review…

Here’s a quick review of last week’s main points:

  1. Paul warns Timothy about the perilous times and ungodly individuals within the church he (and we!) will encounter.
  2. Paul urges Timothy to continue in what he has learned and to carry on in faithfulness.
  3. The Scriptures are inspired by God, and equip us to take action.

Today we’ll be going through 2 Timothy 4. Take a moment to read it before you continue.

Here are the main themes I gathered from this chapter.

1. In spite of all that is going wrong, preach the Word

This chapter begins by diving right into an application of chapter three’s closing point that Scripture is critically important. In light of the omniscient, omnipresent God, Paul charges Timothy to preach the Word. He urges Timothy to be instant (at hand, ready) both in season and out of season—when it is convenient and when it is not. Are you ready at all times? Are you available to serve others, even when it is inconvenient?

In verses 3 and 4, Paul once again describes the fate of some church members that Timothy would have to deal with in the very near future. “A time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (v.3), but would instead seek for themselves teachers who would tell them what they wanted to hear. Verse 4 says “they shall turn their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” Isn’t it funny that usually others call Christianity a fable? Yet here Paul turns that on its head and points to other teachings as the nonsense they are.

I find it interesting and encouraging how throughout this letter, Paul doesn’t shy away from the hard things that are going on in the world of the early church. Instead, he faces them head-on and tells Timothy, “They’re going to do this, but you focus on what you’re doing. You make sure you remain faithful, even when others do not.”

Here is his instruction from this chapter:

But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

There are those afflictions again…and he combines watchfulness and perseverance through trials with active evangelism and this “making full proof” of Timothy’s ministry. The word translated into “make full proof” means to completely assure, to be fully persuaded, and to entirely accomplish. It gives the idea to finish what is started. This same word is used later in verse 17 as “fully known,” when Paul explains why the Lord delivered him (“…that by me the preaching might be fully known”).

2. Last words of a life well-lived

In verses 6-8, Paul gives his “last words,” of a sort.

For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness…

“Ready to be offered” means, based on the Greek word, to be poured out as a drink offering. And the word behind “departure” is laced with beautiful layers of meaning. The word is familiar to us, actually—analysis. How does analysis turn into departure? Well, think about what analysis is. It’s picking something apart into smaller pieces. This word means unloosing, dissolving ties with, and is used as a metaphor for loosing the moorings of a sailing vessel preparing to begin its journey. Paul is eloquently saying the time is at hand for him to dissolve his ties with earth and begin his journey into eternity. Wow.

He continues with a powerful statement of finishing well, which we have to aspire to. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” And because he has done this, he will attain the crown of righteousness (becoming fully righteous in heaven) God has in store for all who follow Him until their deaths.

I absolutely love this passage. I love how Paul is in no way bragging, but he is confident in his position in Christ. He is ready to go home, but while he is on earth, he is making a point to encourage Timothy to carry on when he is left behind. He is saying:

I have fought a good fight – You fight it, too, Timothy. Preach the Word. Be ready at all times. Stand firm when everything around you is shaken.

I have finished my course – Timothy, finish the race. I know it will be hard, and you’ll feel like you’re alone. But don’t give up. With God’s strength, you can make it.

I have kept the faith – I’m entrusting you with the foundation of this faith, Timothy. Keep it close and help others do so as well. There is a crown of righteousness waiting.

3. People will hurt you, but God will deliver

In the remainder of the chapter, Paul describes a few people who are obviously mutual acquaintances. He mentions a couple who have abandoned him and deserted the faith, and tells Timothy where a few fellow workers are currently stationed. He asks Timothy to come visit him and bring a coat, Paul’s books, and the scriptures. It is Paul’s last days. He’s cold and lonely, and misses his friends. He is still strong in the faith, however. In verse 16, he asks God to forgive those who forsook him, much like Stephen and Jesus did.

In verse 17, he lays out a contrast: though “no man stood with [him]” (v.16), “the Lord stood with [him]” (v.17) and strengthened him. And why? Here’s the part I mentioned earlier.

That by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.

That “fully known” is the “entirely accomplished.” Paul is saying God delivered him because He wasn’t finished with Paul yet. Paul did what he did “that all the Gentiles might hear.” He boldly affirms that God will deliver him from “every evil work” (v.18) and preserve him unto God’s heavenly kingdom.

People are going to hurt you. That’s a fact of life, because people are fallible. People are infected with sin. But that doesn’t change God’s perfect plan and how you fit into it. If He’s not finished with you yet, He will continue to deliver you out of every circumstance that seems impossible or hurts like nothing you’ve ever been through before. When you think it can’t possibly ever get better, God still stands with you. He will preserve you until he takes you into His heavenly kingdom.

To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I hope and pray this study has been a blessing to you as it has to me.

Let’s recap:

  1. A major theme of this book has been the fact that circumstances and situations are going to continue growing worse and worse, but we are still called to be faithful. Paul urges Timothy to preach God’s Word and entirely accomplish his ministry. What have you given up on that you need to bring to completion?
  2. Paul is ready to go home to be with God, but he still takes the time to encourage Timothy and challenge him to finish the race. Who are you challenging to finish the race of godliness?
  3. Being hurt by people is a part of life, but Paul didn’t let it stop him from preaching “that all the Gentiles might hear.” He knew God would deliver him. Are you trusting God’s perfect plan, or are you letting yourself be held back by hurts and fears?

Share your answers to these questions and what you learn from 2 Timothy 4 and any thoughts from this study overall in the comments below! Also, I’d love to hear what you thought of the blog Bible study. Would you like to see another one in the future? What can I improve or do differently?

Equipped for action (2 Timothy study week 3)

equipped-for-action

Welcome back to the blog Bible study! If you need to catch up, here is the introduction post and here’s chapter 2 from last week.

Here’s a quick review of last week’s main points:

  1. The word of God goes forth through teaching, and will not be bound.
  2. Truth dynamically impacts the Christian’s life by calling him to pursue righteousness.
  3. Zealously study the truth and handle it with grace, avoiding foolish arguments.

Today we’ll be studying 2 Timothy 3. Take a moment right now to read it before you continue.

Here are the main points I observed in today’s chapter.

1. Perilous times and ungodly individuals

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” So begins Paul’s warning to Timothy in this third chapter. He’s not only talking about the future, but also the present. In verses 2 through 5, Paul describes the kind of people who will infiltrate the church. Here’s a rundown.

  • Lovers of their own selves (selfish)
  • Covetous
  • Boasters
  • Proud
  • Blasphemers
  • Disobedient to parents
  • Unthankful
  • Unholy
  • Without natural affection (not caring about others)
  • Trucebreakers (breaking promises and not honoring agreements)
  • False accusers (slanderers)
  • Incontinent (without self control)
  • Fierce (lovers of violence)
  • Despisers of those that are good
  • Traitors
  • Heady (headstrong and rash)
  • Highminded (arrogant)
  • Lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God
  • Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof

Yikes. What a list. Let’s take a step back and look at these for a minute. Some of the characteristics on this list are a little surprising. Disobedient to parents? Unthankful? We don’t usually think of these are grievous sins. And yet, here they are listed among traitors and despisers of those that are good. And take a look at that last one–“having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” That means going through the motions of religion without allowing the truth to change your heart. Following that last characteristic, Paul instructs, “from such turn away.”

These aren’t people from the world Paul is talking about. He’s referring to people in the church, people who call themselves believers. People who know all the right answers and put on a good Christian smile, but don’t allow the truth to change their lives.

“From such turn away.” In a way, these people are more dangerous than those outside the church’s circle. Why? Because they look like believers. They seem trustworthy and admirable. And they lure true believers away from the truth (see verse 6).

I want to point out one more chilling characteristic, described in verse 7. “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Throughout the book of 2 Timothy (and, indeed, many of Paul’s letters), the phrase “knowledge of the truth” refers to the believing and accepting the truth of salvation. What Paul is saying here is there are people who are constantly learning about the world, and yet never come to recognize the truth of His salvation. It seems to perfectly describe the plight of scholars, scientists, and students who are always learning, but do not accept God’s truth.

As he closes out this section, Paul mentions Jannes and Jambres, the names given to two Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses. Paul compares false teachers to the magicians, and says they are “reprobate concerning the faith” (v.8). However, he offers a word of consolation: “…Their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs [Jannes and Jambres’] also was” (v.9).

Upon examining your own heart, do you see any of the characteristics listed here? Are you careful not to be lead away by anyone and everyone who claims to be a follower of God? Who do you know that always seems to be learning, yet not arriving at a knowledge of the most important truth of all?

2. Continue in what you have learned

After that sober description of people to beware of, Paul begins to paint a dynamic contrast. “But thou”–he begins verse 10. He reminds Timothy of how he has “fully known” Paul’s doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity (love), and patience. All things that should be an example to Timothy. But then he takes a bit of a turn, and mentions how Timothy also fully knows the persecutions and afflictions Paul has suffered. Continuing a theme from chapter 1, Paul states that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (v.12). However, he reminds Timothy that the Lord delivered him out of them all.

In verses 13 and 14, Paul portrays one more contrast: evil men will grow worse and worse; deceiving and being deceived (v.13). But Timothy he urges to continue in what he has learned and has been what? Has been assured of. This assurance is the same used back in chapter 1 verse 12, where Paul declares “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able…”

Paul is reiterating to Timothy that these aren’t just things someone has taught him, and he believes because “why not.” The gospel is something he is assured of, something he has examined the evidence for and knows to be true.

There are always going to be people who say they’re Christians but don’t act like it. The world is going to grow worse and worse. But you. But us. We will continue in what we have learned, what we know to be true. We will continue to be faithful. And that’s what matters.

Are you prepared to suffer persecution? Are you continuing in what you have learned and been assured of?

3. God’s inspired word equips us

Paul reminds Timothy that he has known the scriptures from the time he was a child, and that these scriptures are able to make a person “wise unto salvation” through faith in Christ Jesus (v.15). There’s that “knowledge of the truth,” again. Clearly, we receive the knowledge of the truth we need through the scripture.

Paul continues to defend the scriptures, saying that all scripture is given by inspiration of God. This is a very good place to point someone who claims that only parts of the Bible are true. Not only does Paul affirm the truth of the scriptures here, he also explains the purpose of them. Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” and for what purpose?

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Those words “thoroughly furnished” come from the Greek word for accomplished, completed. Obviously, we are not going to become perfect in the sense of without sin here on earth, but God’s word has the power to grow us and complete us–to prepare us and equip us for life in this world. 

Are you studying the scriptures God has given you? Are you not just reading the words, but letting their power work in your life? Are you using the Bible like the tool it is?

Let’s recap:

  1. We’re living in dangerous times, and ungodly individuals infiltrate the church. How’s your character looking? What kind of protections do you have in place so that you aren’t carried away by something that “sounds good”?
  2. After detailing the characteristics of those who are false believers, Paul encourages Timothy to continue in the way he has been walking, remembering what he has learned and been assured of. How can you encourage others to keep following God, even when persecution strikes?
  3. Paul clearly states that all of the scriptures are God’s inspired word, and explains how it can be used. Do you treasure God’s word? How has God’s word equipped you to take action?

Share your answers to these questions and what you learn from 2 Timothy 3 in the comments below! See you next week as we wrap up this study!

Truth’s dynamic impact (2 Timothy study week 2)

truths-dynamic-impact

Welcome back to the blog Bible study! If you missed last week’s introduction, you can catch up here.

Here’s a quick review of last week’s main points:

  1. Paul praises Timothy for his sincere, wholehearted faith.
  2. Paul explains our calling and the Spirit God has equipped us with, so that we need not be ashamed.
  3. Paul emphasizes the crucial importance of having sound doctrine.

Today we’ll be going through 2 Timothy 2. Take a moment to read it before you continue.

Here are the main themes I gathered from this chapter.

1. The word of God goes forth through teaching

After continuing to encourage Timothy in the call to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (v.1), Paul instructs Timothy to commit the teachings of the faith to “faithful men,” so they could in turn teach others (v.2). How did you learn about God? Someone had to teach you, obviously. But did you know that you don’t have to wait to be an adult or a Bible college graduate to teach others about God? You can start teaching what you’ve learned to others right now. Start a conversation about what you’ve been learning from God’s word recently with a friend or two. Host a Bible study of your own. Be a student of God’s word so you can answer questions others have (more on that later).

I also want to point out verse 9, where Paul makes a powerful statement. He says that although he is in bonds, “the word of God is not bound.” Despite the great leader of the Christian faith spending his days locked up, the word of God continues to go forth. God will accomplish His purposes, no matter what kind of circumstances seem to be in the way.

2. How the truth impacts the Christian’s life

Paul uses some vivid illustrations to portray the need for holiness in the Christian’s life. In verses 3 and 4, he describes a soldier enduring hardness and not letting himself get caught up in trivialities of life. As the solider has a single-minded focus, Paul implies, so we should keep our focus on God and push away distractions that don’t have eternal value.

In verse 5, Paul talks about an athlete who must follow the rules in order to claim his prize. We cannot live as we wish and still expect God to be pleased at the end of the day. God takes holiness seriously.

In verse 6, Paul concludes by mentioning a farmer who receives the fruits (literally) of his labor. Paul reminds Timothy that living God’s way brings treasures in heaven.

Later on in the chapter, verses 20-22 offer another illustration, this time of a house containing many vessels. If you get rid of the evil, dishonoring vessels, you will be “a vessel of honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (v.21). Verse 22 continues this theme, as Paul instructs Timothy to “flee youthful lusts” and instead pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace—but not alone! Paul emphasizes that Timothy should take on this quest “with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

How does the truth of God’s word impact your life in visible, practical ways? Who are you joining with to pursue righteousness?

3. How to properly handle the truth

(or, a primer in Christian debate and apologetics)

This theme is one of my favorites in this letter. If you’ve hung around my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed by now that apologetics and reasoning are topics I’m particularly interested in. Well, in this chapter, Paul has several things to say about arguments, debate, and defense of the truth.

First, let’s cover his warnings. Verses 14, 16, and 23 all contain warnings about arguments. Paul tells Timothy to make sure his church members “strive not about words to no profit” (v.14), “shun profane and vain babblings” (v.16), and avoid “foolish and unlearned questions” (v.23). Clearly, some people were having trouble recognizing when to stop arguing! But let’s take a closer look at why Paul gives these warnings. The reason he gives for shunning vain babblings is that “they will increase unto more ungodliness,” and the reason to avoid foolish and unlearned questions is because they cause strife and division—not good things to have, especially in a church.

If we’d only read these verses, I think we’d be pretty well scared off from having any kind of verbal conflict. But that’s definitely not what Paul’s goal is here. He’s simply instructing us to avoid unprofitable and divisive squabbles.

Verse 15 tells us how we should handle the truth and the spreading of it.

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

We learn a few things from this verse. First of all, we need to put effort into the truth. The word “study” here does not only means actual studying; more literally it means “be zealous for.” We are not to have a halfhearted commitment to the truth—it’s the truth! It’s the foundation of all we think, believe, and are! Surely that merits our passion.

Secondly, if we study the truth, we will understand it and be able to explain it correctly. And if we explain it correctly, we will not need to be ashamed. In verses 17 and 18, Paul mentions two men who were apparently spreading false teachings. He says “concerning the truth [they] have erred” (v.18), and then mentions the devastating effects of this error: the faith of some has been overthrown.

These verses serve as both an encouragement and a sobering warning of the disastrous consequences of mixing the truth with error.

Lastly, in verses 24 and 25, Paul describes the characteristics of those who would teach the truth:

And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.

Did you catch that at the end? We are to share the truth with others who oppose us patiently, with meekness, so that they may acknowledge the truth and repent. Our goal isn’t to “win,” to be right, and to make ourselves look good. It’s to urge people towards repentance, towards restoration with God.

Whew! That’s a lot we covered. To summarize, we must be careful to avoid pointless arguments, we must study the truth passionately, and we must keep a proper heart motive for sharing the truth with others. How are you making studying the truth a priority in your life? Are you being careful to keep your confrontations tempered with patience, gentleness, and meekness?

Let’s recap:

  1. Despite obstacles or opposition, the word of God will continue to go forth through faithful teachers. Who are you teaching about God? What could you do to create or make use of opportunities to share the truth you’ve learned with others?
  2. Truth isn’t just relegated to philosophy—it dramatically impacts our lives. How is your life different after exposure to God’s truth? Who are you partnering with on your journey to righteousness?
  3. There’s a right and a wrong way to handle the truth. Are you careful to avoid useless arguments? Are you constantly studying the truth?

Share your answers to these questions and what you learn from 2 Timothy 2 in the comments below!

 

Be not ashamed (2 Timothy study week 1)

Be not ashamed.png

Hey, y’all! Welcome to the first day of my first blog series. I’m borrowing an idea from my friend Amanda Beguerie and hosting a blog Bible study for the next several weeks. The way it works is simple: I’ll be posting my study of the week’s passage on Tuesdays (hopefully) with a list of questions for discussion and further study. Then you do a little digging of your own and answer them in the comments or in your own study post (leave a link in the comments!), and we all learn from God’s Word together! Fun, right?

I’d like to start off with a little introduction of 2 Timothy, the book we’ll be studying. This book is the last published letter Paul wrote before he was executed in Rome, with a generally accepted date of 66 A.D. Unlike most of Paul’s letters, 2 Timothy is written to an individual, in this case, a young pastor—kind of Paul’s protégé in the faith. The letter takes on an exhortative tone, but is unique in that it is incredibly personal. In it we read Paul’s sorrow for those who have forsaken the faith, and his tiredness and readiness to go home to be with God.

Before I begin with lessons from chapter 1, take a moment to read it through. See if you detect Paul’s emotions and focus as he writes to Timothy.

I’d like to highlight three main lessons from 2 Timothy 1:

1. Paul praises Timothy’s unfeigned faith

Even a glance at this passage makes it obvious Paul greatly cares for Timothy. In verse 2, he calls Timothy his “dearly beloved son.” In verse 3, Paul tells Timothy he prays for him “night and day.” And in verse 4, Paul expresses a desire to see his young friend.

In verse 5, Paul goes beyond expressions of love and friendship, and mentions Timothy’s “unfeigned faith.” What does unfeigned mean? It means sincere, genuine, honest, and wholehearted. Paul is saying Timothy isn’t putting on a “good Christian” show—his heart is right.

It’s all too easy to slip into going through the motions, isn’t it? Are you careful to check the motivations in your heart for your actions?

2. Paul explains our calling and the Spirit God has given us to accomplish it

Paul reminds Timothy that God has “saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace” (verse 9). What is our calling? To spread the gospel and bring glory to God. It sounds simple, perhaps even easy, but we know in reality such is not the case.

Paul is writing this letter from a Roman jail cell. It’s near the very end of his life, and he has suffered countless abuses for the sake of the gospel. He knows it’s not easy to take a stand and speak up. That’s why he encourages Timothy that God has equipped us for the trials we will face by sending the Holy Spirit. I love verse 7:

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

He continues, saying, because of this Spirit God has given us, we are not to be ashamed of “the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner” but instead be a partaker of the afflictions of the gospel. The Greek phrase for “be a partaker of the afflictions” means to suffer hardship as one with. It carries the idea of joining in unity with others who are also partakers. Paul is reminding Timothy, “You’re not in this alone.”

In verse 12, after beautifully describing the gospel, Paul powerfully states why he is not ashamed of it:

For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

I recently learned that the word “believed” here is so much more than just a “blind faith.” It is closely related to the word “persuaded” following it here; it has the meaning of being convinced of the truth of something, of placing confidence in something. It’s not just a hopeful guess. It’s a certainty. What Paul is saying here is that he is absolutely sure he can trust God to keep what he has committed (his soul—see Luke 23:46 and 1 Peter 4:19) until the end of time.

Wow. Talk about a firm foundation. Are you absolutely persuaded that God is trustworthy? If you’re going to fulfill your calling and be a partaker of the afflictions of the gospel, you’re going to have to have rock-solid certainty.

3. Paul emphasizes the importance of the gospel and sound doctrine

Paul concludes this chapter by urging Timothy to hold fast to “the form of sound words” (verse 13), which is doctrine, and to keep (hold secure, protect) “that good thing which was committed unto thee,” which is the gospel. As previously mentioned, in verses 9 and 10, Paul briefly but powerfully states the gospel, and how it is crucial to our life and calling.

The importance of steadfast faith and consistent preaching of sound doctrine is a theme that will continue to come up later in this letter. Paul really wanted to emphasize to Timothy the critical necessity of standing firm when others fall away, as he briefly notes in verse 15.

How careful are you to keep your doctrine straight and pure? Is it “sound”—would it hold up to being shaken or dragged hither and yon in the storm of competing ideas in the world today? Are you taking care to remember the importance of the gospel for which we sacrifice our lives?

Let’s recap:

  1. Paul praises Timothy for his sincere, wholehearted faith. Is your faith sincere, without hidden motives and masks?
  2. Paul explains our calling and the Spirit God has equipped us with, so that we need not be ashamed. Are you absolutely sure, heart and mind, that God is trustworthy? Are you living unashamed of the gospel?
  3. Paul emphasizes the crucial importance of having sound doctrine. Do you know the doctrines of the faith? Are you careful to keep those central values sound, unshakeable by the world?

Share your answers to these questions and what you learn from 2 Timothy 1 in the comments below!

Uncertainty is not the enemy

uncertainty-is-not-the-enemy

Here’s something I’m learning: uncertainty is not the enemy.

The past year has been a crazy mess of college stress as I try to figure out what I’m doing, where I’m going, and how I can afford to get there. It’s involved a lot of switching here, there, and everywhere and a lot of confusion and complicated puzzles to try to find the most efficient and least expensive way to get the college credits I need before I transfer to…some college somewhere. Yeah, that’s not even decided.

Honestly, I’m so fed up with all the college and financial uncertainty, and I’m just about wanting to throw the towel in and be a “normal” student who goes to the local community college and takes normal classes there before transferring somewhere, if anywhere. But I’m trying to take a deep breath and move past that to keep making progress. And to stop stressing so much about it all.

Because you know what? Uncertainty is a fact of life. And that’s okay.

Uncertainty means surprises later on when I see how something worked out for good. Uncertainty means I’m learning how to make smart choices now. Uncertainty means I have more freedom and opportunities to learn new things. And most of all, uncertainty means I can practice trust.

How do you live in the middle of uncertainty? I think most of us tend to want to shut down and sit down until we know where exactly it is we’re going and how we’re going to get there. We’re scared to take a single step if we can’t see where our foot will land, because what if it’s the wrong decision? Because what if I accidentally wreck my whole life and God is mad at me?

I’m serious! I know it sounds silly, but I have definitely thought things like that before. But you know what? God doesn’t show us the whole plan beforehand for a reason. And staging a sit-in until He changes His mind and spills the beans is a terrible idea for how to respond to the fog of the future. Instead of complaining because we can’t see where we’ll end up, we need to get on our feet and start walking, trusting that He will guide us as we take each step. God is not going to push you across the floor when you’re sitting on your behind, refusing to move. He works through willing, active people. I’m not saying “God helps those who help themselves,” but I am saying we need to take steps in faith that He will do as He has promised and guide us.

What do those steps look like, though? Obviously it’s different in every situation, but for me currently, it looks like carrying on with my CLEP test studies and my online general education classes so I can make the most of my time and save money. Is there some risk involved? Of course. Not all of the credits I earn may apply to my degree or transfer to the college I end up attending. However, the time and energy I put into studying those subjects won’t be a waste, even if it feels like it at the time. Even if I end up having to repeat the subject in college, it should be a breeze for me! And the important thing is, even if several classes don’t transfer, many more will. And that’ll be many more classes than if I’d sat in the corner too worried about messing up to make a move.

Does that mean I don’t need to pray about the many academic choices I’m making weekly, even daily? Of course not! I must seek God’s wisdom and leading every step of the way. But I do still need to keep moving forward. I must never let myself grow stagnant.

This applies in the spiritual aspect of our lives as well. If we spend our days hiding out in our homes, too scared to go into the world lest we be stained or corrupted, how will we be a light? As Christians we are not called to remove ourselves from the world; we are called to be in it—just not of it. If we choose not to share the gospel with others out of fear we’ll “mess up,” we’ve done a far worse job in the end.

What is it that keeps us back from taking action? It may be apathy in some cases, but a lot of times, I think it’s this fear of messing up. Friends, our adversary wants nothing more than to relegate us to a life of inaction. We have to realize that even our small, feeble, utterly human efforts are something that God can and will use. It’s not up to us to get everything perfect. We are not trusting in ourselves to work things out, but in Him.

So in the midst of uncertainty, let us remember: uncertainty is not the enemy. When we cannot see where the path ahead leads, we can lean on the one who will guide us, and carry onward. We don’t have to fear “messing up,” because our God is a God who turns our human mess into something beautiful and part of His grand design.

I press on

DSC02775.JPG

That little girl in the center of the picture is… (you guessed it!) me.

I was eight years old that summer. I attended my church’s track and field camp. Every day after morning stretches, we had to run a lap on that gravel track. Wasn’t a problem for most of us–we were little kids, after all. Kids can run.

The problem was, although it wasn’t a competition, they way they set up this lap made it the perfect opportunity for one. They sent out the kids one age group at a time, and it became a source of pride and honor to us kids to pass the age group that was older than us. For me that was the “purple shirts,” as seen in the picture–the nine-year-olds. Especially since I had a friend in that age group, I was determined to pump those little legs of mine and pass them.

Pass them I did, but as I glanced triumphantly over my shoulder, I tripped and found myself sprawled out on the gravelly ground as other kids streamed around me. I was more stunned than hurt at this point, so I didn’t cry. I just slowly picked myself up and hobbled off the track as a concerned worker approached me, asking me if I was okay and leading me to the first aid tent.

I had scraped up my hands and badly cut open one knee. They asked me if I wanted my mom to come take me home and I fiercely shook my head. I wanted to go right back out there with my group and do the long jump. And so I did.

I came back the next day with a slight limp, but I completed my stretches like everyone else, in a drizzle this time. When it was time to run, my friends gathered around me, asking me if I was sure I’d be okay, and making me promise to be careful. When the air horn sounded to start us off, the drizzle had picked up a bit, and we were warned not to go faster than a jog on the now-slippery gravel.

And I didn’t. I really didn’t. But I managed to slip anyway, this time cutting up my other knee and scraping my elbow. They had to help me up this time, and I could barely see through the rain and tear-blurred eyes. I thought for sure they were going to send me home and not let me come back the rest of the week–that’s why I was so upset. I didn’t want to let this beat me.

They didn’t really let me participate in much the rest of that day, and the rest of the week I had to be “extra careful.” But I kept coming back. I was determined to keep pressing on. And at the end of the week, Friday night, I competed in the eagerly anticipated track meet. I ran the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter hurdles, taking fourth place in the hurdles and fifth in the sprint. Not as well as I would’ve liked to have done, but I was proud for sticking it out. I ended that week with a green ribbon and a white ribbon, scrapes all over my face, hands, and elbows, and two messed-up knees. But besides those things, I left the field late that Friday night with something important: Perseverance. 

Perseverance–stick-to-it-ive-ness, as some call it. The dictionary definition says:

Perseverance: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

To have perseverance, then, you need to have a goal in mind, and idea of what constitutes success. There’s no point to persevering if there’s no end to achieve. But for us as believers, there is. Philippians 3:14 says, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Maybe the race is getting tough for you, and you’re wondering why you should bother keeping on. Life disappoints you, the world tears against you, and people fail you.

Can I be your encouragement today? Don’t give up, my friend. God has promised He will never leave you. He will give you His strength to run this race, and it’s worth it. Beyond what you could ever imagine, it’s worth it. At the end of your days, may you like Paul say…

Perseverance.png

 

 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 

— 2 Timothy 4:7-8

The life of the unexpected

Forest Glen Collage

{Forest Glen Bible Camp, Nova Scotia}

It’s a Saturday afternoon. I should be at work. I’m not because I’m quite sick. Instead, I’ve spent the day sitting weakly in this squishy brown chair, coughing my lungs out and trying not to move too much so my muscles won’t ache as badly.

I just reached the end of a crazy month. I spent a week and a half in the North Carolina mountains towards the middle of July, then worked like crazy for the week after I got home, then left again for a week in Nova Scotia on a mission trip.

Both trips were great experiences. I spent so much time outside, which is rare for me. The mountains were beautiful (although those roller-coaster roads were a little less than thrilling to me…), and Nova Scotia’s coast was absolutely breathtaking.

North Carolina

{Lake Toxaway/Brevard, North Carolina}

But these trips weren’t without their difficulties and complications.

I was supposed to get some studying done on the first trip, so I’d be ready to finish up and take the test the week I was home. But those crazy mountain roads didn’t pair too well with taking copious notes. And I returned home to a crazy work schedule and meetings for the mission trip and appointments galore. I had no time to even so much as touch my textbook.

Well, somehow I made it through that week, then it was time to head off for Canada. Our team had been warned we’d need to be prepared to be flexible, and boy, did we ever. We flexed so much we could’ve been Olympic gymnasts. Instead of just working with the kids at this family camp, we did everything from painting porches to rebuilding swing sets to hauling bags of winter clothes out of a basement to cleaning cabins to serving meals. It was quite the week and we had a blast, but it did involve some trying unexpected situations. The things you take for granted…we had no cell phone data up in Canada and couldn’t find a Walmart! We had to call home to get someone to Google it for us and read off the directions.

Also while in Nova Scotia, I faced some unexpecteds with people. From the two older ladies in our group who only met the day of our departure spending the whole week giggling together like kindergartners, to surprising conversations I had with other camp staff and “my” kids, I was forced to come to terms with my preconceived notions and then some. 

Peggy's Cove 2Peggy's Cove 3Peggy's Cove 1

{Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia}

But perhaps the most difficult unexpecteds were the ones that involved expectations and hopes being let down. I had to take several of those hard-to-swallow experiences this summer, and am facing a few more this week as a result of being sick. I think we all know these sort of things happen to everyone, but in reality we tend to forget they will happen to us as well. We forget how much confusion and hurt permeates the experiences until we’re in the thick of them.

When you’re hit with a huge disappointment or even a small letdown, how do you respond? Can you find a way to praise God even in the midst of pain? Can you trust Him with the outcome, even though you can’t see past the smoke?

Trusting God with your circumstances doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be any less painful. What it means is that you’re living surrendered to Him, knowing He knows best and letting Him lead rather than trying to snatch back control of your life. It means choosing to say, “God, I don’t know what You’re doing, but I’m trusting You in this moment. I know You are faithful. I will depend on You to get me through this and lead me to whatever You have for me.”

It’s not easy. But if it were easy to trust, would trust really mean so much? It’s through trusting God in the painful moments that we really show our devotion.

And so, despite these difficulties and letdowns, I will keep pressing on and trusting Him to work it out into a greater picture than I can imagine.

How have you been learning to trust God recently?

 

Living integrified

Living integrified.png

It’s interesting how God helps us grow. We ask Him to make us more patient, He gives us opportunities to be patient. Uncomfortable, annoying opportunities. We ask Him to make us solid through and through, a person of integrity, and He puts us in tough situations where we want to compromise.

I was supposed to work 4-9 the other day, with a break. Now, that’s an odd shift, because it doesn’t make much sense from a business standpoint, but I just shrugged and said to myself, “Hey, I’ll take an easy shift.” Well, I walked into work at 3:57 and checked the daily schedule sheet. Instead of 4-9 next to my name, there was a 4-8. With no break.

Did anyone call me and tell me about this? No. No notice whatsoever. And I hadn’t eaten anything since 12:30. I was a little annoyed. This wasn’t the first time this has happened. But I took a deep breath and tried to calmly talk to the manager on duty about it. She was understanding and apologized. And then she offered to let me eat something on the clock, in the back out of the way somewhere. Now, I had a choice to make.

Integrity–doing the right thing even when your manager is going to let you go ahead and do something you really want to do, but can’t in good conscience.

That’s how we grow.

So I thanked her for her thoughtfulness, but said, “I can’t do that.” She just shrugged and that was that. I worked hard through my shift and pressed on when my stomach started growling. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t feel great or righteous doing it. But that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Doing right no matter how you feel about it at the time.

What exactly is integrity? One of the definitions of having integrity is being whole, undivided. That’s the definition we use for a piece of pottery or a wall. “It was well made; it had integrity.” But it applies to people as well. Integrity is being undivided in your life. You walk what you talk. You do what’s right even when you won’t necessarily get in trouble for doing the wrong thing.

Why is integrity important? Because if I’m going to tell people to be honest, I have to be honest. That’s being whole. Without cracks. Undivided in my loyalties. Jesus said you cannot serve both God and money (or, really, yourself). You have to choose. And not just hypothetically, in your heart, saying “Yes, God, I’ll serve You.” He will test that decision through opportunities like the example I shared. He wants to refine us. And when we choose to do right even when it doesn’t seem to make sense, we stand out as stars in the blackness of the sky. Not every decision to act with integrity is going to be witnessed by others, but plenty will be. And that tells people around us that we are committed to doing right even when it seems crazy to do so. “But it’s just some food,” one coworker said to me in confusion. “What’s the big deal? She was going to let you do it.”

While eating food on the clock may not be a “big deal,” my response to the offer absolutely was in God’s eyes. There’s no such thing as a “little compromise” in God’s book. And the last time I checked, He made the rules. It’s God who gets to judge what’s a big deal.

The stories of Daniel and his three friends carry the theme of integrity pretty strongly. We admire and respect them for their refusal to compromise and bow down to the king’s idol. But sometimes we forget that in order to stand firm on the big things, we need to be in the habit of acting with integrity in the small things.

You may see only small opportunities to stand up and stand firm in your life, but that is how God grows us. Be faithful in the “little” things, and He will entrust you with far greater things. Realize that God doesn’t measure our devotion to Him in size or “greatness” of actions. He cares about our hearts.

What ways can you see God working in your life?

Ideas have consequences

Ideas have consequences

Before we get into what to do with ideas and viewpoints, we have to establish a foundation of what those are and how they affect the world around us.

First of all, let’s define worldview. If I were to ask one of you “What is a worldview?” chances are I’d get at least one smart-aleck who would answer, “It’s a view of the world.” And of course, they would be right. (Don’t you just hate when smart-alecks actually have the right answer?) But let’s get a little more specific.

According to John Stonestreet, a leader in apologetics and worldview, a worldview is “the framework of basic beliefs we have (whether we know it or not) that shapes our view of and for the world.”

The important thing to notice here is that worldview is twofold. It shapes two different aspects of our life: Our view of the world and our view for the world.

First, our worldview is descriptive of reality. It’s a mental image of what is real. It’s our perspective. When a small boy looks at his parent, the parent seems like a giant. From the child’s frame of reference–he had to tilt his head back really far to see the parent’s face–the parent is huge. However, the parent doesn’t feel like a giant. From the parent’s perspective, there are several other adults his size or even taller. Is the child wrong? Is the parent wrong? Well, there’s a dilemma called relativism. We’ll come back to that in an upcoming post, so keep an eye out!

Second, our worldview is our view for the world–it is prescriptive for how we live. If we perceive someone as easily angered, we will adjust our behavior to avoid setting them off. If we view people as out to get us, we will be suspicious of every action they take towards us, even if it seems good. If we consider people to be nothing more than the product of evolution, having come about by random processes, we have no reason to treat them well. See where this leads?

G.K. Chesterton once said, “A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon.” As the sun and moon affect the lives of every creature on the planet, religion–or, worldview–affects every aspect of a person’s life and others’ lives as well. It’s absolutely crucial to realize that people’s ideas about the world aren’t just harmless opinions. Ideas have consequences.

The 20th century was a huge example of just how big the consequences of ideas can be. At the beginning of the century, optimism was high. Humankind had been “enlightened” by science, and science was going to fix everything. It was clear that God had no place in either the beginning of the world or the sustenance of it. Evolution was king, and the best way to fix all the world’s problems was to help natural selection out by getting rid of the weak and others unfit for survival.

We all know how the rest of the story goes. The rise of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s communist Russia caused the fall of millions upon millions of human beings. At the end of both regimes, an estimated 120 million people had lost their lives as a direct result of the ideas of Hitler and Karl Marx (the creator of communism). Far from utopia, the 20th century was a bloodbath of devastating proportions. Clearly, it matters which ideas and which worldview you possess. It’s not a question of sincerity. Hitler was plenty sincere. He was an incredibly dedicated man. But he was whole-heartedly dedicated to the wrong thing.

Here’s a thought: You can tell a lot about what someone thinks is the problem by what they offer as the solution. Marx thought the problem with the world was the separation of classes in society, so he thought that eliminating the economic differences between people would solve all the conflict. Instead, it resulted in the great oppression and poverty of the masses, while the ruling elite lived like pigs. However, if the problem with the world is each individual’s sin, it makes sense that the problem can only be solved by the taking away of the sin of the world and changed lives.

A person’s worldview is made up of answers to five big questions about reality:

  1. Origin–Where did we all come from?
  2. Identity–What is a human being? What makes them who they are?
  3. Meaning–What is the purpose in our existence? What’s the point?
  4. Morality–What is right and wrong, and how do we know that? Or, what’s wrong with the world?
  5. Destiny–Where is history headed?

How you answer one question affects how you answer another. If, for instance, you answer the origin question by saying we all evolved from bacteria, our identity then lies in our random genetic makeup, our existence is meaningless, and there is no standard for right and wrong. Do you see how these follow each other? Ideas don’t exist by themselves. That’s why they have consequences. Ideas interlock and change how we view and explain the world and how we react to it. Everyone has a worldview, whether they realize it or not.

Society wants to say that each person is entitled to believe what he or she wants, but that those beliefs are private and have nothing to do with the “real world.” Religion has no place in the political sphere, they say. And yet, everyone has a worldview, and that worldview affects their decisions within the public realm. That is why it’s so important to analyze both your own worldview and others’–because ideas, manifesting themselves in actions, change the world.

 

What are some ideas you hold about the world? What are your answers to the five “big questions,” and can you see how they tie in with each other and influence actions in your life?

If all we give them is a ‘heart’ religion, it will not be strong enough to counter the lure of attractive but dangerous ideas. Young believers also need a ‘brain’ religion–training in worldview and apologetics–to equip them to analyze and critique the competing worldviews they will encounter when they leave home.” — Nancy Pearcey 

Belief is not the death of intelligence

 

Belief is not the death of intelligence.png

This is an essay I wrote during timed practice for the College Composition CLEP exam. I wrote many such essays, but this one was the one I had the most fun with because I got to take apart a claim and defend my own position quite neatly. Following the essay is my expansion of this topic and application, so hang in there with me!

***

“Belief is the death of intelligence,” Robert Anton Wilson claims. Since he is making this statement, Wilson presumably considers himself to be an intelligent person. In fact, the audience would quite likely agree that he seems to believe what he is saying. Although this quote sounds witty and clever to the casual ear, intelligent people quickly point out that Wilson himself has neatly contradicted his own statement. Beliefs are inescapable, but belief and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. Together, belief and intelligence provide the foundation of any argument. Using intelligent reasoning, a prepared person can defend his beliefs excellently. Belief is not the death of intelligence; rather, they benefit each other.

Beliefs surround us at every moment, but so does intelligence. From “personal” beliefs and opinions, such as which flavor of ice cream is best, to beliefs upon which we build our lives, beliefs are part of life. To escape belief would be to cease breathing. However, intelligent people also exist. Numerous scientists, mathematicians, and inventors fascinate the general population. Ask any person from the street if the world contains anyone more intelligent than him, and he will either quickly affirm the statement or proclaim himself to be the most intelligent of all humans. Either way, he has demonstrated belief in intelligence. Obviously, both belief and intelligence exist, and it is possible to possess intelligent, informed belief.

Since belief and intelligence are both present in the world, they can work hand in hand to allow a person to make a decision. Using his intelligence, one may seek out reasons to either believe or disbelieve something presented to him. During a politician’s speech, any listener may take note of claims the speaker makes and research them later on. Rather than taking the speaker at his word, this intelligent listener chooses to seek out the facts. When he has done this, the listener is better equipped to make an intelligent decision about what he will believe. Instead of intelligence and belief being opposites, when used properly, they compliment each other.

Actively using intelligence, a well-informed person can defend her beliefs. Belief cannot be defended with more belief, but logical reason provides excellent support for one’s belief. If someone claims that ereaders like the Kindle are forcing hard copy books into extinction, she must be able to defend her statement. If she merely states this belief without any intelligent argument to back it up, no one would have any reason to change their beliefs to align with hers. If, however, she cites scientific studies which provide graphs of sales figures from the ebook and physical book markets, she competently defends her belief and provides a reason for others to believe the same. Armed with intelligence, people are equipped to defend their beliefs.

Certainly, belief is not the death of intelligence. Instead, intelligence benefits belief. The world is full of fine examples of intelligent people who themselves hold myriad beliefs. Because belief and intelligence are both in existence, they can cooperate to form solid arguments. Putting intelligence into practice, well-prepared people can carefully defend and proclaim their beliefs. Without belief, the world would have no subjectivity. Without intelligence, there would be no reason to believe any one person over another. Indeed, belief and intelligence interlock in everyday life.

***

When you first read the quote I opened this essay with (the quote I was told to either support or defend), what did you think? If you’re like me, your first reaction was to think “Well, that’s a low-down thing to say” and get a little riled up, because you believe things and you consider yourself to be at least a semi-intelligent person. You probably didn’t actually see the self-defeating statement for what it was, though. I didn’t at first, either. However, within thirty seconds of my first thought, I saw the flaw in reasoning contained in this short sentence. Probably by the time you got a few sentences into reading my essay, you saw it too, and were smiling ruefully. How did I not see this before?

Don’t beat yourself up too hard. At the beginning of this year, I wouldn’t have seen it either.

So much of apologetics is learning how to think. It’s not just learning all the right arguments or being able to cite the most scientific sources. In fact, you could have every Answers in Genesis magazine memorized in its entirety, and you still wouldn’t be able to have a very good discussion of what you believe. Why? Because knowing a boatload of facts won’t teach you how to have a discussion with someone. Being able to point out the holes and assumptions that radiometric dating relies on won’t do you any good if you can’t see through to the core of what someone is saying and where they’re coming from.

How did I quickly spot the underlying error in the quote? The answer is simple: Practice. Throughout my entire course on worldviews/apologetics, I was given example after example of something someone might say that would sound good, but actually turned on itself. Ever heard the one about absolute truth? It goes something like this:

Person A: There’s no such thing as absolute truth. What’s true for me isn’t necessarily true for you.

Person B: Are you absolutely sure? I believe in absolute truth.

Did you see how that statement contradicted itself? If there was no such thing as absolute truth, how could Person A say with certainty that there was no such thing as absolute truth? It just doesn’t work.

In upcoming posts, I’m going to be working through with y’all more of how to do this sort of thinking. But as I close this introduction, let me drive this point home: Belief is not the death of intelligence. Don’t let anyone tell you that by believing the Bible, you’re “against science” or believing “a bunch of fairytales.” You are perfectly capable of having intelligent belief–of having intelligent faith.

Your faith is reasonable. Know it, believe it, defend it.