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!

How dirty is your towel?

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On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus took on the role of a servant–the lowest servant, at that–and washed the grime from his disciples’ feet.

The King of kings humbled himself enough to do the job none of the disciples would step in to do. The dirty job. He knelt down with a towel and washed each one’s feet.

Wow.

Washing feet may not have the same cultural relevance today, but it still sounds like a pretty dirty job to me.

“How dirty is your towel?” This question refers to Jesus’ willingness to get dirty and do the job relegated to the lowliest servant in the house. It’s a question meant to cause us to consider our own lives and our own willingness–or, more often, unwillingness–to serve those around us.

Working at Chick-fil-A has been teaching me a lot about having a dirty towel.

Servant leadership is a huge part of the company’s model. But more than leadership, the “how we give” page on the company website states the principle they teach each employee: “We firmly believe in treating every person who comes through our doors with honor, dignity, and respect.”

Sounds great, right? Sounds like it shouldn’t be so hard. And it isn’t, most of the time.

But you know what?

One thing that hit me several months ago was it’s not so much that we’re unwilling to serve anyone, at any time. It’s that we put these exceptions on a list in our mind. We get this attitude of feeling “above” certain tasks, or certain people, whether we’re consciously aware of the attitude or not. 

Sometimes, I have to serve customers who are snippy with me when I make a mistake. Sometimes, I have to serve customers who are talking on their phone the whole time I’m trying to take their order. Sometimes, I have to serve customers who are interrupting and demanding things unreasonably. And sometimes, I even have to serve people with profane t-shirts. And it is hard, so hard, to treat them with honor, dignity, and respect.

But looking back at the example of Jesus…He served the people who deserved it the least. He consistently served the ones who were the “untouchables” of society.

At the beginning of the year, I was praying about 2016. I asked God to make me a servant. I said, “I’m not going to qualify that with ‘leader’ on the end, though that would be nice. Just a servant, God. Humble and meek.” And sometime not too long afterward, I had a day at work with several rude customers and one with a repulsive shirt. And as I complained silently to God, I felt Him gently remind me: Honor, dignity, and respect.

I called that young man “sir” several times as I took his order.

Respect.

Usually, I reserve “sir” and “ma’am” for the older crowd. But that day, something changed. And I began to see those “untouchable” people in a different way. I now make it a point to address customers who irk me in extra patient tones and with “sir” or “ma’am.” To keep me humble. To keep growing me as a servant.

That day I also remembered a time my pastor preached on a servant’s heart. He asked this question–a more blunt and direct version of “how dirty is your towel”: Whose feet are you unwilling to wash? That really hit me. I went home and thought about it. And by the end of the day, I had to ashamedly admit that there were very few people in my life whose feet I would even consider washing.

I remembered that question when I returned home from work that night I called the young man sir. And I again asked God to change me. To take away my list of infinite exceptions and give me a humble spirit, loving each person He put in my path in a self-sacrificing way.

I’ve been able to watch Him answer that prayer, little by little. I’m seeing opportunities to be a servant more and more often, especially as I begin taking them. And slowly but surely, God has been doing a work in my heart. I don’t say this to boast, for as He knows, I have much room for improvement. But I say this as a testimony of God’s grace, and as an encouragement that He does change hearts and lives.

How dirty is your towel? — I’m asking myself this question today as a check-up, this Passion Week. If my Lord would suffer the scorn of His creations, and not only bear it, but also serve them…how could I refuse to do the same?

But besides reminding myself today, I challenge you with these questions: Whose feet are you refusing to wash?

How dirty is your towel?

 Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8

“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28

Ruthless with ideas, gentle with people

Ruthless with ideas quote

Over the past month, I’ve been going through a course on worldviews and religions, and I’ve been learning a lot. But not just about religions themselves and the descriptions of different worldviews. No, I’ve been learning about people.

What is a worldview? Simply put, it’s the framework through which a person views the world. It is the set of ideas that guides their actions, attitudes, and opinions. Everyone has a worldview that shapes those things in their life, and so through studying worldviews, I’ve learned what’s behind people’s actions and beliefs. It’s helped me to better understand why the world is the way it is, and to understand the hearts of those around me.

Another thing this course has brought to my attention is how important it is that we can understand not only others’ worldviews, but also our own, and that we can defend our positions. As I touched on in my post on discussion, I believe one of the major reasons so many are leaving the church is because they do not truly know what they believe or how to defend it. This is why striving to understand worldviews is so important.

I’m not going to reteach Comparative Worldviews to y’all…at least not right now. For now, I’m going to focus on the quote at the beginning of the post, from Robert Sirico.

We must be ruthless with ideas, but gentle with people.

This simple quote has two parts instructing us on how to relate to two things prevalent in our lives. The first deals with ideas.

“We must be ruthless with ideas” is Sirico’s instruction. What does it mean to be ruthless with ideas? I believe it means to examine them critically. Pick them apart, find what they’re made of. Test them to see if they work logically and in the real world. Don’t just blindly accept things you hear! Be ruthless in scrutinizing an idea before you accept it.

The second part of this instruction is “[Be] gentle with people.” Wow. Completely the opposite of “ruthless,” right? Why so great a contrast? Simple. Ideas don’t have feelings. Humans do.

Oftentimes, we can get so caught up in the ruthlessly refuting part, brandishing our verbal swords, that we end up injuring a human being made in the image of God just as we ourselves were. We forget that it’s the ideas we’re to fight, not the people. It may seem difficult to ruthlessly attack an idea that someone holds to be true without attacking the person himself, and indeed, it may well be difficult. But you can firmly refute an idea without hurting a human being.

First, listen to them. Ask them what they believe, either in general or about the topic that has already been brought up, then really listen to what they have to say. And listen carefully, not waiting impatiently for your turn to jump in and argue. This helps in two ways: Primarily, it shows them you respect what they have to say, and secondly, it helps so you know what you’re up against. It won’t do you any good to fervently defend your belief in the existence of God if the person already believes in a God. Instead, it would be more helpful to know what they believe about God, and go from there.

Second, as you’re listening, get an idea of where they’re coming from. What is part of their life story that affected their beliefs? Listen with an open, compassionate heart. This will help you enormously when you finally open your mouth and begin to speak–it will help you keep in mind their humanity and tread carefully.

Finally, ask gentle but pointed questions to reveal fallacies and other problems with their beliefs. Calmly explain what you believe about the topic and why. Be willing to listen to questions or concerns they have with your position. Keep an attitude of humility and respect, and be willing to admit when you don’t have the answers–then go find them! It’s not a bad day when you are unable to answer a question, because now you know you have something to learn, and you’ll be better prepared next time.

It is possible to be ruthless with ideas while being gentle with people. It all comes down to your heart attitude and your willingness to listen. Don’t be afraid to contradict someone’s statements, but do so carefully and with meekness (1 Peter 3:15-16). Above all, remember to treat each person with honor, dignity, and respect, remembering you are both made in the image of God and imperfect creations.

What’s one way you try to have a “gentle, uplifting conflict” with others?

The power of discussion

The power of discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is beyond serious. This is critical.

But what can we do about it?

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

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

It’s time to speak.

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

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

The paradox of love and truth

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We’re living in a world today where Christians largely fall to two extremes. The first: those who focus on loving others and accepting them for who they are so much that they lose the holiness and consideration of the truth that, as Christians, they should have. The second: those who focus so much on the truth and keeping themselves separate from the world that they become hypercritical of others and sacrifice their witness of love to a world in desperate need of it.

It’s a paradox–the paradox of love and truth. Neither extreme is correct, or what Christ intended. Both love and holiness are necessary to a Christian.

…One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:35-40

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” – John 17:14-17

Do you see the paradox here? Jesus’ two greatest commandments were to love God and love others. But in His prayer for the disciples on the night He was betrayed, He says the world will hate the disciples because they are not of the world, and asks the Father to sanctify them (make them holy) by truth. Obviously both are pretty important.

But how do we win a world to Christ with truth that sometimes hurts and love that sometimes is scared to say something hard?

First of all, we must realize there’s a balance. Extremes are dangerous, and sadly, we are often too quick to rush headlong into one side of an idea without considering the other. Those who focus completely on love forget that love that omits truth is not love at all, while those who get caught up in preaching the truth constantly can forget that no one will be won to Christ by arguments. We need to have love and truth in our witness to truly be a light to the world. But what does this look like?

A witness characterized by love realizes that Christ loved us while we were sinners. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If we are to love like Christ did, we have to love those around us like He did–sacrificially, realizing that they are sinners in need of a savior, and doing all we can to point them to that savior, even when it’s not easy. Even when it’s “messy.” To do this, we need to spend more time listening than speaking, and show people we truly care. They need to be able to trust us and feel safe with us, and respect us enough to want to listen to what we say.

A witness characterized by truth realizes that the very foundation of trust in Christ is knowing and believing the truth that God is holy and just and we are sinners who have failed to meet the mark (Romans 3:23). During His ministry, Jesus said some pretty controversial things and a lot of people were upset with Him because of that. But that didn’t change the fact that they were true and needed to be said. If we are to share the truth like Christ did, we must be bold and speak out even when the world doesn’t want to hear. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world today that is flat-out wrong, and we must trust God enough to speak up and “say things like they are.”

However, a witness characterized by love and truth realizes that a life well lived is often the best witness of all. A quote I read once that really stuck with me says, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” A witness characterized by love and truth realizes that there are times to speak truth boldly, and times to be quiet. She realizes that actions speak louder than words, and will spend more time modeling the truth by her actions than speaking it with her words, that way when she does speak, her words will carry the weight of matching her actions. She realizes that loving someone means telling them the truth about themselves and God, but doing it in a gentle way, as instructed in 1 Peter 3:15-16:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

 

A great failure of the church today that comes as a result of these two extremes is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy destroys the church’s witness to the world faster than anything else. If you preach love and mercy but condemn or mistreat sinners, making no attempt to listen to their stories and understand, the world will scorn you, and rightly so. If you accept everyone “as they are” and say that everyone should do what’s best for them, even though you have said you believe in Jesus (who said He’s the only way to heaven!), they will shake their heads at you and call you spineless or a “milksop.” And rightly so!

In a world where so many are going to the extremes, will you be the one to love people by listening to them, caring about them, serving them, praying for them, and sharing the truth with them? If you would be a good witness, make sure your life lines up with your words, and never forget where you came from. Look at each person as someone made in the image of God, loved enough by Him that He sent Jesus to die for them; as someone with an eternal soul headed for either heaven or hell. And then do your best to show love to them, speaking the truth in gentleness and respect when the time is right.

What do you think the balance between love and truth looks like? When have you had to walk the line in a situation with someone? How do you help yourself see each person as made in the image of God?