Joy of every longing heart

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Have you noticed how our hearts long for things?

We long for–or crave–certain kinds of food, certain possessions, and so on…but above all, we long for things intangible.

We long for peace. Hope. Satisfaction. Joy. Love.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

From the dawn of humanity, we have longed. Our story is one of yearning for something beyond ourselves.

cs-lewis-quote-desire
(via)

But our sin kept us from being able to experience this hope and peace and fulfillment. We were destined to spend our lives hurting and groaning with unrest. The story of the world would’ve been an unimaginable tragedy.

But God.

God heard our groanings. He felt the relentless pull of our yearning. His love was so great for us that He orchestrated a grand plan of redemption.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

He sent His Son to be our deliverer. Our perfect substitute.

He sent Jesus to die. A baby born to die, He has been called, and rightly so. Sometimes I wonder if and how He knew about that while growing up. How did He, fully human, bear the weight of knowing what His future held? 

The night He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane–He trembled at it all. Yet He proceeded onward to the cross of Calvary, bearing in heart and mind you and me.

I started a tradition last year of writing every single one of my coworkers a Christmas card, designed to share the message of hope and also a personal word of encouragement. The beautiful cards I picked this year contain this message:

His destiny was the cross…

His purpose was love…

His reason was you.

This, my friends, is the message of Christmas. It is not a cute manger scene. It’s not a sugar-sweet fairytale. It’s the sobering beginning of the end. But it’s not dark. Its seriousness does not at all take away from the joy and hope of that night in Bethlehem when the Savior of mankind entered the world as a tiny baby, wrapped in human flesh.

He came to set us free–free from our fears and sins. Free from our shame and guilt. Free from the darkness that surrounds us and would devour us whole.

He came to give us rest. To be our strength, our comfort in troubling times.

He came to be the hope of a world gone without hope for far too long.

He came to deliver us, and to reign in us forever. To be the life-changing leader of our existence.

And in His coming, he became the joy of every longing heart. This, this is the peace He brings to earth. Not the peace of a world at rest, devoid of harm. No, that peace is still to come. But He brought rest to our ever-yearning hearts. He brought us satisfaction and hope in Him. This is the beauty of Christmas. And it’s something I find myself awed over anew each year.

Merry Christmas! May your Christmas this year be a celebration of the Savior who brought us peace.

Be content

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Contentment.

It’s something I think we would all agree is lacking in the world today, especially in first-world countries, who, ironically, have so much.

Often, we equate being content with happiness. We chase happiness hoping to find contentment. How do I know we aren’t just looking for happiness, as everyone says? Because happiness is fleeting. And we know that. We experience moments of happiness, but we aren’t satisfied. We’re looking for a happiness that stays with us. We’re looking for satisfaction in the form of contentment.

Even if we are content in respect to our basic needs and material wants, we often struggle to be content with our current situation. We’re constantly wishing things would move a little faster, or smoother–wishing they would just go the way we want. And when they don’t…we are discontent.

What exactly is contentment? The Holman Bible Dictionary defines it as “internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances.” Contentment is an attitude, a state of the heart. It involves being satisfied–not demanding changes in external circumstances, but rather trusting and accepting God’s directing in your life.

Paul writes about contentment in Philippians, from his position chained 18 inches away from a guard, under house arrest. Wow. Talk about a guy who knew the true meaning of contentment. Paul understood that even though his external circumstances were less than thrilling, God had a plan and a purpose for them. In Philippians 1:12-14, Paul explains how his chains have actually served to further the gospel: the guards he has been chained to day and night have witnessed his contentment and peace and hope and gentleness. The gospel has spread throughout the palace as a result. Even the other Christians in churches Paul ministered to have become emboldened to speak the gospel.

Later on in his letter, Paul explains that he had learned to be content. This is an important concept to note. We aren’t born content, and we don’t suddenly become content later on in our lives. We don’t reach some point of attainment. It’s something you have to learn. And how do you learn to be content? Through life’s trials and hardships. In the ups and downs. In the times you have, and the times you have not (Philippians 4:10). You won’t “get it right” every time. It takes practice to develop an attitude and heart of contentment.

But what about happiness? Remember at the beginning when I said we chase happiness to find contentment? Well, you might ask, how could Paul be happy in these circumstances, even if he knew they were having some positive results? Here’s the thing: Contentment isn’t actually about being happy with your circumstances. It’s about being focused on the God who doesn’t change. 

My youth pastor gave a wonderful illustration of this. In a fun house he visited, one of the illusion rooms was set up to look like the entire room was doing barrel rolls, with only a small walkway through. If you let yourself look at the walls, you were constantly feeling the urge to duck and turn and stumble (and possibly lose your lunch). But the key to getting out was to fix your eyes on the light of the doorway, and walk straight ahead.

Friend, when all the world is spinning about you, fix your eyes on the God who doesn’t change. James 1:17 refers to God as the Father of lights, “with whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning.” He is the Creator of the sun, moon, and stars…but He does not change as they do. He is the Author of the seasons…but He does not shift as they do.

Can I ask you something? Are you content with the plans God has for you? Not just His plans for the future, but your future. Not just His plans for your future, but for your present. Are you content with where He has you right now–with the circumstances He has you in today? Are you content with the things He is teaching you?

To be honest with you, lately I have not been content with my todays. I’ve gotten caught up in stress and frustration, and have asked God why it’s so hard for me to stay focused and make it through school and life in general. I’ve been discontent with the interruptions to my day and the facets of my life that prevent me from making things go the way I prefer. Sometimes, I even look at others’ lives and wish this aspect or that aspect of my life was more like theirs. I tend to wish my life was easier.

But God didn’t call me to live an easy life. He’s not interested in making my life smooth and painless. He’s interested in making me like Jesus.

We often quote Romans 8:28…but we forget verse 29.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. – Romans 8:28-29

What was God’s predestined plan for us? What was the purpose for which we were called? That we “be conformed to the image of his Son.” The circumstances in our lives are there to teach us to be content. 

Instead of fighting my circumstances the whole way, and complaining about them to anyone who will listen, I need to recognize that this is God’s plan for me. I must believe that He is using this for my good. And trusting Him allows me to be content, no matter what the circumstances may be.

I want to point out one last thing. Philippians 4:13 is another verse we often quote out of context. You know the one. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The context is contentment. It is given as Paul’s secret of being content.

We can’t do this on our own. But the good news is, God never asked us to.

Trust Him. Really trust His plan. And you will find yourself able to be content, no matter the situations you find yourself in.


Partially inspired by my youth pastor’s incredible message on contentment, which you can listen to here.

Confident failure

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So much comes down to confidence.

No, this is not a lecture on self-esteem, or a proposition that you should dig deep within yourself and find self-confidence, or anything like that. Bear with me, here.

Something my Bible Quiz coach said a couple years ago that stuck with me was to stand up and give your answer clear and proud. “Be confident, even if you’re confidently wrong,” she said. Not that being wrong was a good thing, but that you shouldn’t let fear of being wrong get in the way of being confident.

Other things I’ve picked up throughout the years– “What’s the point of making a point if you’re going to hedge your bets on a ‘safe’ one?” “Sell me on it.” “Use strong words when you write. Not wish-washy, politically and socially correct words.” And of course, the old adage “fake it ’til you make it.”

Last Saturday at work, one of my coworkers asked me to pour the lemonade he’d brought up into the lemonade fountain. “To be honest, I just can’t do it,” he admitted sheepishly. I told him it was all right and poured it promptly. Watching, he asked, “How do you just do it?” “Confidence,” I replied. “Confidence and practice.”

I’ve never placed much stock in the “believe and you can achieve” idea, but it’s partially true. While learning how to do something, you need to consciously decide to get over your shaky hands and your fear of inadequacy. Of course you’re going to be inadequate. Of course you’re going to fail. You’re learning! You need the boldness and confidence to keep trying. To be confidently wrong. Not full of pride or being obstinate when someone tells you you have done it wrong. But not being afraid to try and to make mistakes, either.

Confidence and practice go hand-in-hand. The more confident you are, the more you will practice. And the more you practice, the more confident you will become.

Going back to the lemonade, the first couple times I tried, I knew I was going to spill it. The mouth of the machine was way over my head, and the bucket of lemonade was very full and weighed almost 25 pounds. My hands shook as I lifted the sloshing container of liquid above my head, and sure enough, I spilled a ton of lemonade everywhere. It was quite a mess. But you know what? I cleaned it up and went on with life. Another day, someone showed me a different way I could try to pour the lemonade, and I tried again.

That was the key–I wasn’t confident in my abilities yet, because I didn’t have any. I recognized that, but chose not to let fear of failure keep me from learning. Instead of confidence in my ability to pour lemonade, I had confidence in my ability to learn, given enough practice. And eventually, I did it right for the first time. The practice had paid off and given me a huge boost in confidence, which encouraged me to keep practicing and perfecting my technique until I could do it every time. As a result of that, on Saturdays when I’m on stock now, and have to pour lemonade twice an hour, I have the confidence of experience–the confidence that enables me to just pick up the bucket and go every time.

I think we all know confidence is important. We just don’t always know where to find it. A lot of times we think of confidence as only naive arrogance–“I know I can do this perfectly on the first try”–or the confidence that comes through experience–“I know I can do this because I’ve done it before.” But this provides nothing to start from. How do we find confidence in the face of a seemingly insurmountable task? Where do we get the confidence to simply begin?

This is what I’d like to offer you today. I actually already mentioned it in passing earlier. Rather than trying to scrounge up confidence in abilities you don’t yet have, be confident that you can learn them if you will just start. Have confidence that failures will not keep you from your goal. Find confidence in your past experience of starting things with no skill whatsoever, yet seeing them through to fruitful completion. Look to others who have successfully accomplished what it is you’re setting out to do and be encouraged. Seek out their wisdom if you can. Gather tips and information and formulate a game plan.

Lastly, recognize that although failure is at some point inevitable, it doesn’t have to keep you from your goal. Give yourself the freedom to be confident enough to take action, even if it results in confident failure.

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

 

Hopes and dreams

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It’s beautiful tonight. All the doors to the house are open so the cool breeze can blow through, and the inside is melded with the outside. It’s quiet out here, the only sounds are palm fronds rustling in the air and crickets chirping.

I’ve been thinking. My friends laugh when I start a sentence with that, and say “Oh no, not again. She’s been thinking.” They know something big is about to follow.

I’ve been thinking about peace and rest. Peace is something we all long for, and rest is something we all find ourselves too busy for.

“A holy quiet grips the night, the morning of the last sunrise.”

Peace…though everything about me is shaken, though chaos threatens and worries crop up, though I’m tempted to rush rush rush, I can rest. Because God has said, it is finished.

I’ve been scared to let myself have any dreams or hopes for the future, out of fear of disappointment. But right now, I do have dreams. I have a vision for the far future, quite a few years from now, but I’m not going to get into that right now. I also have a dream for the foreseeable future, with dates attached to it.

I have a dream to go to the Netherlands. There’s a lot of backstory to this particular dream, but suffice to say several years ago, I made a friend who lived in the Netherlands and began learning the Dutch language and culture and along the way fell in love with the people. When God lit the flame for missions in my heart, the Netherlands just went along with it.

This year, I had the opportunity to apply for a missions internship in the Netherlands. It’d be next year, from the last week of June through the end of July. My application is nearly complete, and I’m excited. Before I began the process, I knew there were four main obstacles that would have to be overcome for this to come to pass.

  1. My parents and my pastor would have to approve. This has already been passed! My parents were supportive of this opportunity and my pastor checked out the missionary family I’d be working with and was impressed with their ministry.
  2. I’d have to be chosen by the missions board. This particular internship opportunity is only available to two people, and the application mentions that they usually accept people with at least two years of Bible college experience. I have none.
  3. I’d have to be able to get those five weeks off work. That’s a pretty serious amount of time for my employers to let me off work and still have a job waiting for me when I get back.
  4. I’d have to be able to raise the funds–about $2,500. And since notification of acceptance isn’t until April, that would only leave me just over two months to do the task.

From the looks of things, there’s a lot stacked against me. In the not-so-distant past, that would’ve been enough to make me shut down any hope and try to quell every hint of excitement. But you know what? Something is different this time.

“Broken slumber, blinding light; nations tremble at the sight. The Son of Man just split the sky…”

I’m not constantly wondering whether or not I’ll get to go on this trip. I’m not worried that my excitement and preparation will be for nothing. I have this peace about it. I am oddly confident that despite the obstacles in between me and this dream, God will clear them. And I am oddly content to wait. And I have this rest in my heart that even if God shuts the door somewhere along this path, it will be because He has something different for me next summer, something better, something part of His perfect plan.

“My life, Your grace
Here I exchange

Your life, my gain
Here I exchange

All of me for all You are”

I’ve finally started to experience what it’s like to trust God and move forward in that trust. Do I know what the outcome will be? No. I may not be going to the Netherlands next summer. But meanwhile, I am going to do all the missions preparation I can. I’m diving back into improving my Dutch, and I’m going to do all I can to learn from veteran missionaries and to know God better. And even if I don’t end up walking the streets of the low country next summer, all that preparation will benefit me elsewhere.

And my hopes and dreams? I don’t have to fear for them. After all, my heart is the Lord’s, and He will do with it what He wills. He will not let me be shaken.

Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. – Psalm 55:22


*Lyrics taken from Casting Crowns’ new album, The Very Next Thing. The first two quotes are from Hallelujah, and the last is from For All You Are.

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)

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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)

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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

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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

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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…

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 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