When you cannot see

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“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

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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?

Beauty in every moment

beauty-in-every-moment

The funny thing about moments is they don’t often stick around.

Half the time, by the time we notice something is a moment, it’s gone. The other half the time, it seems, we’re caught up wishing we could make it last forever.

What would it look like to live recognizing each moment for what it is, and treasure it while it exists, rather than wishing for its passing or for it to stay? 

It’s an absolutely beautiful day here in Florida. Mid 70s, sunny but not too bright, and windy. My day hasn’t gone quite as expected so far–my Dutch lesson was cancelled–but I am outside soaking up this moment.

Mondays at work are notoriously slow. A 7-hour shift often seems to drag by slower than a turtle on a hot day. But with the right attitude and a dash of good humor, those days can offer some of the best moments spent at Chick-fil-A. This week, one of my friends and I wondered just how much it would cost to buy one of everything on the menu. Eagerly, we approached one of the registers and began poking row after row of buttons, giggling like maniacs as we watched the total climb higher and higher. When we had finished, the “order” more than covered the entire screen at the station where orders are bagged. The receipt that printed when I cancelled the transaction was almost 3 feet long. We laughed until our stomachs hurt. (If you ever wondered this too, by the way, it’s $478.65.)

Sunday night a dear friend and I sat in our church’s coffee shop, sipping milkshakes and talking about the discussions on abortion we’d each had with a friend the week before. We kept getting interrupted and I lost my train of thought several times, and we laughed as we tried to chase that train down and get it back on the tracks. Our hearts ached over the topic and we longed that our friends would remember what we had shared with them.

Saturday at work I spent a moment on the floor, scrubbing baseboards, snatching my hand out of the way whenever another employee tromped by. It wasn’t the prettiest of jobs, but it needed doing, and I was the one available to do it. I found a nickel on the floor and washed it off, joking that it was my tip.

What does it mean to treasure a moment? I believe it means to be aware of what is going on around you. To be present with all that you are.

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To live with purpose. Not wasting away the moments God has given you. (Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”)

To live with joy. Choosing to treat each moment as precious and worthy of your best attitude and effort, because God has chosen it for you.

I’m re-reading an old favorite book called Perfect Glass. There’s a line in there I read this morning, when an old woman with a huge heart who has hardened it through bitterness for years is dying, and wants to share her regrets and last plea with the main character, Meg.

“If you have someone to love, then love. If you have someone to forgive, then forgive. You think, when you’re seventeen, there’s time enough for that, but there’s not. There’s no time at all.” – Jo Russell, from Perfect Glass by Laura Anderson Kurk

I’m seventeen. I will be seventeen for exactly 9 more days. And it’s true. I do catch myself thinking “there’s time enough for that.” For doing the things that are important, but not exactly pleasant. For putting in the effort to invest in the things that matter.

But time is the most precious commodity, not only because we can never get it back, but because it is limited and we don’t know how much of it we will be given. It’s uncertain. The grains of sand in the hourglass may all pass to the other side much sooner than we expect.

I don’t want to enter eternity to face the God of the universe and be making excuses about how I treated the precious moments He gave me. I don’t want to remember with regret the moments I treated with disgust or annoyance, the ones I took for granted and the ones I wished wouldn’t have happened. Each day is a gift and a responsibility. If I’m here, it means He has something for me today. My time on earth isn’t finished because my job isn’t. 

I want to live intentionally this year. I want to live with purpose, on purpose. I want to cherish the moments I’ve been given and make my best effort to seek God’s will for them, and then do it.

Will you join me?

 

What are some moments you treasure?

What are some ways you live intentionally?


P.S. I’m kicking off fundraising for my missions internship in the Netherlands this summer! I’d appreciate it if you check out my website and consider giving or sharing this with others who can.

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.

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)

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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?

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