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!

 

Belief is not the death of intelligence

 

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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!

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“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.

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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.

“Your words can change the world”

It’s that time of year when the school year is drawing to a close. Programs are winding down, and schedules are changing.

Tomorrow is the end-of-year party for our homeschool co-op. It’s a bittersweet moment. Because of how school is shaping up for me, it’s looking like I’m not going back to co-op next year.

This is it. This is…the end.

It’s been an interesting year, junior year. It’s been really rough and has worn me down at times as I’ve learned how to balance work and school and other commitments. And I’ve grown so weary of the ever-present college debate. I’ve written much about that recently, but some things are still waiting to be finalized and I’m not sharing those words with the whole world just yet. But I will say this: What an opportunity it has been to learn how God works! In the moments I have needed it most, He has sent me overwhelming love and encouragement from others, including some who didn’t even know me.

One of the greatest things about co-op this year was the opportunity to teach a class. Last May, when the whole registration process began, I saw an opportunity to realize a dream I’d had for a while–to teach a class of young writers. How it all came about is a God story in and of itself, and that’ll be for another time. But in any case, September 11, day one of co-op, rolled around and I found myself starting last period with a table full of eager faces.

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It’s been a year full of laughter and head-banging and joy with these fourth and fifth graders. They never fail to make me smile. I’ve learned a lot about teaching and specifically working with a group from them. And I’ve been blessed to be a part of their writing journeys that are only just beginning.

Over the year, I read them lots of snippets from a wonderful book that was monumental in encouraging and teaching me as I started writing: Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter. And so, for the end of the year, I’m giving each of the remaining students a copy of the book. I had fun writing in them this afternoon.

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The best part, though, was turning to the last page of the book where I knew a special encouragement was printed, and adding my own.

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If there’s one thing I want my students to come away from the class having learned, it’s this:

Your words matter.

Your words are powerful.

Your words can change the world.

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May this be a reminder to all of us today: Our words matter. Our words are powerful. Our words can change the world.

Let’s make sure we choose wisely.

 

 

 

The power of discussion

The power of discussion

One problem with society today is that for all the clamor of talking people do, they fail to have discussions.

What do I mean by a discussion? Simply put, a discussion is communication between two or more people. But I would venture to qualify that some more. Discussion requires a topic. Discussion involves giving everyone a chance to speak. Discussion requires thought, and forming a verbal explanation of those thoughts. Discussion is a team activity–you build off each other’s ideas. Discussion demands truly listening and actively thinking. It is more than just conversation–it is conversation with a purpose. A good discussion leaves participants with a new perspective or insight.

In my own observation, these discussions are a rarity today. Why? A variety of reasons could be behind this social trend. I would suggest that our culture is increasingly fast-paced; jam-packed schedules are the norm. Discussions take time and intention. They also require careful, critical thought, which is becoming quite unpopular today. Lastly, I think people are afraid of stepping on toes by expressing disagreement of any kind.

But this is unfortunate! The lost tool of discussion has numerous benefits and effects.

First, discussion provides the opportunity to develop an opinion on a topic. Sometimes a topic may come up for discussion that you hadn’t thought about before, but because it has come up, you have reason to think it through and formulate a position on the topic. You might even be prompted to research it and learn more about it, so you can understand it more. This is a good thing! It expands your horizons.

While you are forming your opinion on a topic, you will have the opportunity to employ logic and reasoning. You can check your own argument for holes and other problems, and the people you are talking with will do so as well. Which brings me to another benefit: You gain experience communicating your position. This is an incredibly important skill to possess. Having convictions and opinions doesn’t do you much good if you are unable to clearly explain them.

Discussions are also useful for brainstorming or working through an issue as a group. Oftentimes, when someone starts a discussion about a certain issue, it’s because they want to have the benefit of others’ viewpoints in the situation. Discussion is a great way to gain input in tricky situations or advice for a decision. It’s also useful for brainstorming ideas.

Now, this all sounds very corporate-office-job to you, doesn’t it? But let’s go back to my statement at the beginning of this post. I said that the lack of discussion in our society is detrimental. What if you don’t have an office job? Are discussions still applicable to you?

Let’s switch gears here and describe a different situation: The modern church. Many of us who have grown up in church have been told the same things over and over since we were toddlers about Bible stories, God, and what’s right and wrong. Most of us haven’t seriously questioned most of what we’ve been told. We just accepted it. Am I saying that’s wrong? No, of course not. But do you know why we have those statistics saying up to 80% of high school graduates leave the church? It’s because teenagers are encountering opposition in the world to the ideas they’ve been taught as children. They’re facing tough questions about what they believe and why. And they don’t know how to answer those questions. Why? Because there’s been a lack of discussion.

I think as teenagers especially, we’re often scared to ask critical questions about things we hear in church. Maybe we don’t want to be seen as doubters. Maybe we want to look like we have it all together. Maybe we just don’t know how to ask. But I think we as the church have failed to create a culture that promotes discussion. And it goes further than just opinions on political events or even doctrinal questions. It goes deeper. I think we’ve failed to create an open community where all members feel like they can ask tough questions about struggles in their lives and be lovingly received and supported. And as a result, people are struggling alone, never feeling like they can open up and get real help.

This is beyond serious. This is critical.

But what can we do about it?

I don’t have all the answers. (And in fact, that’s definitely the attitude we need to have going into discussions of any kind!) But here’s what I can tell you: It starts with us. It has to start with us. Waiting for someone else to change things isn’t going to help anything. And I think change starts with a simple step: Starting discussions. Be the one to ask a question that requires thought, then listen to the answers people give. Encourage interaction between members of the conversation. Build off what other people are saying. And then the next time you are around those people, or a different group of people, do it again. Eventually, people will start to expect those questions, and they will begin to bring questions of their own. And then hopefully, someday soon, discussion will be normal enough that they will feel comfortably bringing their life’s struggles and questions.

It’s a dream, yes, and it may be a while before I am able to see this brought to reality. But it starts with discussion. And I am committing to being the one to start discussion around me.

It’s time to speak.

In the interest of this topic, let’s have a discussion! Here’s the question, taken from my history curriculum: What do you believe is the proper relationship between a leader’s public role and his personal life? How much should a leader’s personal choices affect how we view their public role?

Post your thoughts on this topic below, and respond to someone else’s comment if you can!