When you cannot see

When you cannot see.png

“Trust the God you cannot see to faithfully accomplish what only He can see.” — Andy Gleiser

Sometimes, this life just doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it?

When we’re in the middle of the muck, we can’t see anything except all the mire that surrounds us. We have no perspective save that which looks out at the chaos or within at the confusion. So what do we do? We cry out to God and demand to know why He’s failed us, leaving us to wallow in this mud pit. Can you believe our audacity? Marvel at it with me for a moment. We, the finite beings, because we cannot see, assume God has left us.

***

My silence on this blog for the past nearly six weeks has not been for want of noteworthy things going on. There were numerous times I considered things at hand and contemplated trying to write them into a post. Some of what prevented it was general busyness, but some of it was lack of words.

It has been a difficult couple of months, and a lot of the situations are laden with emotional turmoil and are otherwise not conducive to the nature of this blog. I am still in the thick of some of it, and still processing all that has happened. But as I’ve wrestled with these situations in my life affecting so many more than just me, God is working. God is there, and He is faithful.

***

You know, sometimes you just don’t feel like God is there. Or if He’s there, that He’s doing anything at this present moment. Sometimes you are so frustrated with yourself for the hundredth time today, and you’re just tired of fighting. You don’t feel like it’s doing any good. You get discouraged, and you just want to lay down your sword and shield and go with the flow for a while.

Sometimes, that kind of surrender can be a very good thing, when it’s God you’ve been fighting. That kind of surrender can be letting go of your death-grip on your plans and your desires, and letting Him take the throne in your heart again.

But sometimes, that kind of surrender is plain-old giving up, steeped in the bitter taste of discouragement. You’ve said yes to God at last, and now it’s time for some life change to happen. But it’s not instantaneous. And it’s not easy. It’s war. Spiritual battles are no less exhausting than physical ones. And as a matter of fact, they can be combined with physical ones sometimes, making for an even more grueling slog!

I’ve been there. I am there. I am in the place where so much in my life is changing at once, inside and out. Things are changing around me and within me and between me and others. And it hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been what I would’ve chosen. Right now it feels like there’s an angry gray mountain of clouds billowing over the choppy sea and swirling closer and closer to me with every moment, the wind bringing them forward also whipping around me, threatening to push me off my course. Right now uncertainty makes my step hesitate, and fear presents blockages in the path ahead. My sword arm is battle weary, and my heart, body, and mind are tired. I’ve finally reached the peaks of accomplishment I had worked so hard for–high school graduation has finally happened, and it’s a mere 30 more days until I leave for the trip I had hardly dared to dream for and then worked so hard to prepare for. And yet…it doesn’t satisfy. When the accomplishments are complete, and there is no longer something material to work towards, and I am left drifting listless…what then?

Perhaps it is in these moments that people finally grasp the realization of what He has been speaking all along–He is the only one who satisfies. When all else is uncertain, He is certain. When all else is in disarray, He is the one who is orderly and unchanging. When everything is said and done, He patiently waits as the one who has been there the whole time. He has just been waiting for me to come home, ever so much like Peter from the time Jesus walked on the earth. He has been waiting for me to see that He is the only one who will ever be worth living for…that He is the only one who can change my life. He is the only one who can give me purpose and direction. He is the only one who can give me strength to fight these battles through to the completion.

***

The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God and the Church is famishing for want of His Presence. – A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Why is it that we who have found the truth are often those who seem so starved of it? Famished, and dying of thirst while surrounded by the Living Water.

Why is it that I, who have grown up surrounded by the truth of the Living Water, still seem to lack enough of its power in my life?

Why do some persons ‘find’ God in a way that others do not? Why does God manifest His Presence to some and let multitudes of others struggle along in the half-light of imperfect Christian experience? Of course the will of God is the same for all. He has no favorites within His household. All He has ever done for any of His children He will do for all of His children. The difference lies not with God but with us. – A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

The difference lies with us. It has always been our choice, from the beginning of creation. Are we going to come to Him at all? And once we have done so, are we going to continue to seek Him? Are we going to come closer?

It won’t be easy. It won’t be painless, to break our fallen hearts of their selfish desires and loves. But He is gentle. He is love. And He is worth it.

Do we really believe that?

Do I really believe that?

i want to say it’s done. to fling aside these grave trappings and run into the sweet air, gasping and dancing. or maybe it’s more of throwing aside things i thought would satisfy. i want to give up the truths buried deep within, but how can i? you remind me of your faithfulness. but i don’t hear your voice. it doesn’t matter, though. it doesn’t matter. because emotion does not dictate faith. i don’t have to feel to know. and i know. i know and i will stay. (do you really know? you’re just tricking yourself into knowing, into believing the truth.) i know. – Melody

I know. 

When I cannot see, I don’t need to panic. I have no cause for fear. He cradles me in His hands. I can trust Him with every fiber of my being because He made it, after all. And when I find myself restless and unsatisfied…may I be reminded of who and what I was created for. I was created to know the heart of very God.

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. – A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Intentional rest

Intentional rest.png

A lot’s been going on in my life as of late. (Since that last post, I’ve become a shift leader at Chick-fil-A as well…as you can probably imagine, this adds a fair amount of craziness.) But is that really anything new? Often there’s so much going on that I forget all about resting. Or at least, I forget that it’s important and necessary. Rest? Isn’t that just laziness? I’m too busy to rest anyway. I’ll rest later.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I tell myself I’m going to do something “later”…it’s a long time before it happens, if it even happens at all. But a funny thing happens when I don’t rest: I hit a point in the day or week where I’m just not being productive anymore. I’ve told myself I don’t have time to rest, so I go go go until I burn out. Then instead of doing actual restful things, I crash and end up scrolling endlessly (and mindlessly) through Facebook or following link trails through the internet, meanwhile feeling like I should be doing this, that, or the other thing. And an hour or two later when I emerge from this mind-numbing state, I feel like I’ve wasted time. And you know what? I have. Because I don’t actually feel rested. Therefore, my brain equates “things that are not to-dos” as bad/not helpful, which includes rest.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Several things.

First, I need to realize that I need rest. Rest isn’t for the weak or the lazy. Rest is actually commanded by God (Exodus 34:21). During Jesus’ ministry, while His disciples were busy coming and going everywhere, He told them to come and rest a while (Mark 6:31). Jesus Himself promised to give rest to weary souls who come to Him (Matthew 11:28-30).

Rest is important because we have limits on our bodies. Rest is the way of restoring ourselves. Just as sleep is important for physical rest, we need to rest ourselves emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. There is no such thing as too busy to rest. If you absolutely cannot set aside time to rest and recharge, you are too busy. This is something I’ve had to learn time and time again because my natural tendency is to fill up every second of every day, to be non-stop full speed ahead. Certainly, it’s good to not be sitting around bored or useless. But as soon as all of those things become immovable and unable to be paused, there is too much on my plate and some things have to go.

After realizing I need rest–really letting that sink in and change my schedule–I need to recognize what counts as rest. Remember earlier when I said scrolling through Facebook doesn’t count as rest? It may have been giving my brain a mental break, but it wasn’t beneficial to me in any way. Now, I’m not saying reading your social media newsfeeds are all bad. But using it as your go-to form of “rest and relaxation” isn’t helpful to you.

Activities that help you rest vary from person to person, but the principle is the same. Resting activities should help you change gears, relax, and refresh. They should build you up, restore your energy, and leave you calm. For example, if you’ve been straining your brain at some math problems for the past hour and a half and you’re so frustrated you are getting worse instead of better at solving the problems, you need a mental rest. Time to check out and watch a TV show, right? Um…no. Use the principle of changing gears and do something physical. Take a walk, ride your bike, shoot some hoops. Whatever it is should be something you enjoy that uses your body rather than your brain. Doesn’t this use energy? Absolutely, but it uses a different kind. This helps you rest by refocusing, by taking a break from what was taxing you and doing something else that helps you.

Maybe you’ve had a long hard day at work, on your feet hauling boxes around, climbing ladders, and contorting into strange positions to try to reach things (heh…me on Saturdays at work, stocking, because I’m short). When you get home, the last thing you’re going to want to do is anything involving muscle movement. That big squishy chair is calling your name. Surely now is the time to catch up on your favorite comic, right? Not so fast! When your body is tired, try using your brain. I’m not saying you have to tackle that chemistry homework the second you walk through the door. You’re resting, remember? But now might be a good time to read a chapter or two of a good book. I’m slowly working through G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. It’s a non-fiction book, best read a little at a time. It makes me think, but it’s still relaxing to read.

Getting the picture? Rest is something you do intentionally. It doesn’t happen accidentally. You have to deliberately choose to do it. It’s not something huge and complicated, and it’s not supposed to be exhausting. You just have to pick an activity that is beneficial to restoring whatever “tank” is running on empty at that moment. Also, not all your free time has to be resting time. You can still watch that TV show or read that novel. Just don’t confuse it with rest.

Finally, consider when to rest. God gave His people one whole day a week to rest. Obviously that’s a pretty big amount of time. Our world doesn’t always work that way now, unfortunately, but we can still use this as a guideline. I try not to deal with school stuff on the weekends, since those are filled with work and church events. During the weekdays, I try to give myself time to rest on days I work, and get school and most of the to-do list items done on the other days. But sometimes rest doesn’t always work out to be planned. Sometimes you need to listen to your body and do a check-up on your mind and see what it is you need at that point. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re stressed and frustrated and aren’t making any more progress on whatever the project is, you need a break. Aren’t sure? Ask God. He knows you better than you know yourself. And if rest isn’t convenient for you at that moment, or you feel like you’re too busy? Trust Him. If He commands us to rest, it’s for good reason, and we need to trust that He will work things out.

I’m speaking to myself, here. Resting at the right times and resting well is something I struggle with. Realizing that it needs to be done intentionally or it won’t get done at all is one of the most important things I’ve learned about rest in the past year. The other most important thing I’m learning is that my rest ultimately comes from God, and all the other methods are secondary to the rest from His Word. Neglecting my daily time with Him in the Bible is a sure-fire way to ensure resting is going to be a struggle for the rest of that day and week.

This week, I am working on recognizing when I need rest and trying to make wise choices about what that rest should look like.

What about you? Why is rest important to you, and how do you do it?

The close of a season

The close of a season.png

For the past year and two months, I have been fighting my way through college mess and college stress. Trying to get a head start on a degree, I quickly realized I had no idea what that degree would be… Cue a year-long journey to discover who I am and who I want to be and how college fits into all that. It has been a year full of frustration with the system, frustration over money and scholarships and policies and unfair government assessments of my family’s situation and countless people telling me what they thought I should do but never truly understanding.

So many times I thought I had come to a decision, only to be second-guessing it within the hour or week, and to have changed my mind within a month. It overwhelmed me. The lack of control threatened to drive me crazy. I found myself longing to be normal, loving yet hating the way I had been flying through credits with as much flexibility as I needed. School had always been something I could control and now it was most definitely not. Everything felt upended constantly, and majorly complicated despite my many attempts to simplify it enough to settle on something.

In short, this year was a huge test of faith. 

I’m a high school senior now. I graduate in less than two months. My last courses of high school finish in a month. I’ve had all the colleges bugging me to send in my reservation deposits and schedule my visit and register to attend orientation. I have felt the pressure of time ticking away since January. And I was stressed and annoyed that I was being “pushed into” a decision I didn’t feel ready to make.

But a friend said something to me last week that really helped reset my thoughts. “God’s timing is perfect. He isn’t forcing you to make this decision too early. He’s closed some doors and opened others. Now you are ready to make this choice, even if you don’t feel like it.”

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was right. I identified a few more steps I could take to gather information about my options, and then…there was nothing left to do that would actually help me move towards picking a college. Waiting endlessly wasn’t going to help anything. So I prayed through my options some more, and talked the situation through with several people, and then with the help of my parents, I made my decision.

I’m not going to a private Christian college, like I originally thought.

I’m not going to earn more credit in hopes of someday later transferring to a private Christian college like I planned at the beginning of last year.

I’m not going to do the rest of my degree entirely online like I considered for a while last fall.

No, instead I’m doing perhaps the most unfamiliar and unexpected thing of all.

I’m going to attend the University of South Florida, which is a local public university. It’s close enough to home that I’ll be commuting there. The tuition will be almost entirely paid by the scholarship they have awarded me and two substantial other potential ones.

It’ll be different, it’ll be terrifying and exciting all in one. So. many. people there but maybe that will be a good thing. I’m expecting to feel lost and overwhelmed at first but also I’m also excited at the prospects of being somewhere while still being here. 

I feel like I can really do it–be the introverted homeschooler who has become more outgoing this year and enjoyed having friends here, who goes to tackle a huge public university and actually thrives.

Who knows what that Amanda will look like? All I know is what this Amanda looks like and who she has become, and I know it’s not the same as thirteen year old Amanda who would’ve been horrified and probably fainted at the thought of even setting foot in such a place.

And I know she will be okay. She will not faint. She will not be blown away into some wacky beliefs. She will stand on the Rock, on her true foundation. And she will shine like the stars. And she will love people there, as she has grown to dearly love her unsaved coworkers. She will hurt for their hurt, and be grieved over the life they are walking through in darkness. But she will hold forth the light and hope of truth. And she will make a difference.

I don’t know what all it’s going to look like yet. And it’s not what I would have chosen at first. But I know this: God’s plan isn’t second rate. It isn’t a last resort. And if this is what He has for me, it will be glorious. He will mold me into the person I need to be for this life. I don’t need to go to college to find myself–I know God knows me, and He will be with me. And that is enough.

2016, the year of peace

2016, the year of peace.png

I’m one of those people who enjoys looking back. I like remembering, and tracing the pieces and how they connect. I remember how I felt and what I was crying out to God about at various points in time. And most of all, I love seeing how He grew and changed me, how His hand was working in all the unknowns and uncertainties in my life.

This year, like every year, has been challenging. In many ways, I had to become an adult this year. It was an adventure, all right. Everything from driving to finances to dealing with relationships to college happened, and a lot of it was very overwhelming and stressful. So, so much was uncertain. There was a lack of stability in the things I had always found to be stable before.

But in the midst of all the chaos and the decisions to be made, I found my security and stability in the One who is unchanging. And somehow, in spite of all swirling around me, I found this incredible peace.

I’ve talked about peace here before. But this time I want to go into more personal detail. I want to share some of the many things I’ve walked through this year and show how God has been present through it all.

In January, I began my college adventure through College Plus (now Lumerit Education). I had the opportunity to go through a life purpose program called Navigate, designed to help you determine a direction for your college path, career, and life as a whole. It also walks you through developing a life purpose statement based on who you believe God is calling you to serve and how. Here’s mine:

Realizing that the community of the church is crucial to growth, I strive to build an intentional ministry of encouragement to those around me who are struggling alone inwardly. I aim to challenge them to be more open with others and bear each other’s burdens so they may grow in faith and Christlikeness. By strengthening others’ knowledge of, familiarity with, and trust in God’s truth through authentic relationships and passionate writing, I endeavor to establish young people in the firm foundation of a Christian worldview and open eyes to the hope for restoration found in Christ. My ultimate desire is that through constantly growing in my trust of God and being a living example of Christ’s restoring work, my life will be instrumental in building up others and bringing them to restoration with their Creator.

2 Corinthians 4:10 “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be manifest in our body.”

The very first college class I took was Comparative Worldviews, and it has by far been my favorite. It is a philosophy course, and introduces you to various religions and worldviews, but it was so much more than that. It was a foundation for me. It taught me how to think and question things, especially things people say that reveal their worldview. It taught me how to use questions to learn about people and their opinions, and how to use questions to lead people to the solution. I can’t put into words how important this was to me, but I can say this: It changed my life.

Truth has become something I am passionate about. I always knew it was important, but this year I really learned and saw how it impacts everything. I saw how it changed lives and wanted to share it with others to change their lives as well. Over the entire year, I learned ways to do that–through questions, conversations, writing, speaking, and music. And it made it into my life purpose statement.

In fact, that’s why I began Confident Assurance–to be a home for passing on these things that I have learned. Because I love teaching others things I am passionate about. I’m excited to get that website off the ground this year. It’s only the beginning of a dream God has placed in my heart.

Speaking of dreams…that is one of the beautiful things that came out of 2016, in the midst of all the college/future chaos. I thought I would never know what I wanted to do with my degree or what I even wanted that degree to be. But over the months, God began giving me bits and pieces of these crazy huge dreams. Dreams that combined many of the great number of things I’m interested in. I was left in awe that it was even possible to combine missions, business, apologetics, creative arts, and languages.

At the end of November, I did something crazy. I ended my enrollment with College Plus, quit my dog walking job of two years, and switched to working more day shifts at Chick-fil-A, among other things. All in the course of a few days. It took a toll on me emotionally, but I knew this was what God wanted me to do. And several days later, things started rolling in. I received my first college acceptance and also learned that I had been accepted to my dream mission’s internship–on that very day I had cut all those ties.

So I head into 2017 with a pretty interesting year ahead of me. I have almost no clue how the college situation is going to work out. There is still a lot of details to work out with the Netherlands trip. But I am not worried about what the future will hold. God holds my life in the palm of His hand, and He has been with me through it all.

Here’s to 2016, when the world did not end, despite all the cries to the contrary. And here’s to 2017, which holds still more adventures with the Author of them all.


Sorry for the somewhat disjointed thoughts. Very few things had specific dates attached to them in my head. It was a disjointed kind of year. 

Be content

be-content

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.

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!