Equipped

Today’s Passage: 2 Timothy 3:16-17

One of the many reasons I admire my husband is that he is a dedicated gym member. That is not my gift. But for most of our marriage, he has made it to the gym just about every weekday. I am more of a seasonal gym member. Equipped

As a result, his standards for gym equipment are much higher than mine. And few things annoy him more than “raggy”

gym equipment. Treadmills with loose/saggy belts are probably at the top of his list. Not only are they difficult to run on, they are dangerous. You could slip and hurt yourself or twist an ankle easily when the belt is not moving with you as it should be. I don’t really work a machine hard enough to notice, but for someone as high intensity as my husband, he can feel it right away and has to change machines.

When it comes to your faith, what kind of equipment are you running on?

In this third chapter of his letter to Timothy, Paul spent a lot of time talking with Timothy about the conditions of the world and the people around him he would encounter on his faith journey. And in these final verses, he reminded Timothy to remember what he had already learned and to continue to hold on to his beliefs. Then he closed the chapter with these famous verses:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Here’s the deal—some of us are getting worn out in the faith, finding it hard to move, or even getting hurt, because we are trying to endure in the faith on the wrong equipment. Paul ended the chapter with this life-saving reminder that we have what we need to deal with the world around us and the storms within us—the Bible. Look at all the reasons why the Bible is the best equipment for this journey!

  • Scripture is inspired by God. His life giving Spirit is in every word. Every time we connect with the Word, we connect with Him. There is no greater source of energy.
  • Scripture is instructional. Whenever we do not know what to do, the steps have been laid out for us here! Don’t know where to go? Pull out this great map and spend time in Proverbs. Don’t know how to heal that broken relationship? Follow Paul’s guides for love in 1 Corinthians. Wondering how to deal with unexpected trials? Sit down with Joseph or Job or Jesus.
  • Scripture is an honest mirror. On your faith walk, friends and family are not always going to tell you that you are just making a mess. Sometimes people love us too much; sometimes they do not want to hold us accountable because that means they have to be accountable too. This is why we need an honest mirror. Looking in the mirror of the Word gives us the opportunity to assess we are weak and call out for even more of Him.
  • Scripture is our HGTV renovation show host. Wouldn’t it be discouraging if the Bible only exposed our weakness and did not give us a path back to a fuller life in Christ? Thanks be to God that the Word is here and alive and able to set us back on the right path of restoration. Just ask Nehemiah how God can rebuild!
  • Scripture is our coach. This journey is not a sprint; it is a life-long pursuit of looking more and more like Him. Of understanding more of His love and sharing that love with the world. We all need encouragement, we all need new exercises to help us work new spiritual muscles and gifts. The Word is our source to keep stretching and keep growing for the hills and valleys ahead.

What a blessing it is that we have the right equipment! Our job is to use it so that we can live the life we are meant to live and be ready for the good work He has for us.

How can you take better advantage of the Word to train for the journey ahead?

 

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Wise Words

Today’s Passage: 2 Timothy 3:14-15

“Don’t live here alone.”

When I arrived at graduate school, the first few days were a flurry of introductions. I had a fantastic advisor, and she shuttled me all around campus meeting people. One of the most memorable was a graduate faculty member in a different program at the farthest end of the campus. I quickly learned that we were from the same home state and that her family grew up in the same community as my paternal grandmother. In our first moments of connecting, she looked at me so sincerely and said simply, “Don’t live here alone.” I understood immediately, but it took a little time to experience what she meant and then I really knew.

You see, I went to a top-tier doctoral program at a Big 10 school. The culture was competitive and selfish and the environment was culturally homogeneous and often anti-God. I was confronted with all sorts of prejudiced racial, age, and gender based behaviors and had more than one moment of “what in the world” that I had to deal with in and out of the classroom. So I quickly had to get to work to build communities and networks of like-minded classmates/peers and allies if I was going to survive there. I went from understanding to knowing that being in that space alone meant certain death of some part of me. Community was life. Fuel. First aid.

“Don’t get ahead of God.”

Everything seemed to be on track with our second pregnancy until we went to our gender reveal ultrasound. A quick visit turned into hours and the tech would tell us nothing. When we finally talked to our radiologist and our OB about potential “concerns,” we were shocked and confused. I remember calling my mother and crying and just falling to my knees on the bathroom floor. “Don’t get ahead of God,” she said. And that begin the real journey of gathering myself, my village, and my faith.

It was probably the most encouraging command that could come from a parent in that moment. I understood and I moved, but I didn’t know the depth of what she meant at first. It took the many appointments and many days of waiting to see how God would move. It took the other stories to see how God would protect our marriage, our family, our finances, our health. It took a willingness to say, I won’t rush ahead and try to “fix this” for God to fill our days with grace, laughter, and joy in the midst of incomprehensible news.

Has your world ever been shaped dramatically by a few simple but wise words?

Paul delivered an abrupt reality check to Timothy throughout chapter 3. He reminded him there would be persecution and that the evil he saw around him was indeed the landscape. But Paul followed it with wise and memorable words. Today’s passage sets them up with a firm, action verb.

Wise Words

“Continue.”

Even when the landscape changes, even when we face unwanted news, the call is to continue. When it comes to enduring in the faith, we must continue to stand on and operate from the foundation that has been given to us in the Word of God. It is a clear and understandable direction, but sometimes we expect some complicated strategy to get us through the tough times. The truth is simple, direct, and cuts straight to the heart of the matter.

Paul tells us–If you want to endure in the faith in all times, you must continue in the truth of the Word and keep believing in God. Or if said like the women in my life, “Don’t forget what you know and Who you know.”

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

Continue on, friends. He is for us, and He has taught us what we need to grow in this faith journey.

Hills and Valleys

Today’s Passage: 2 Timothy 3:12-13

Enduring in the faith is not exactly a matter of living life on treadmill. Don’t get me wrong, you can exert a lot of energy on a treadmill. Anyone who has ever seen my husband workout can testify to this. He gets every ounce out any gym machine and in most cases, in the battle of man versus machine, man wins. But I digress!

Faith does not happen in controlled environments like a gym or on a path where we can turn up or turn down the speed or the incline. There is not even virtual reality when it comes to faith (do not let social media fool you!). Faith is given to us as a gift by a real God for the real world as a part of His mission to save real souls. And we nurture, grow, and live in that faith across many different landscapes in our lives.

Hills and Valleys

I was listening to the song “Hills and Valleys” recently. It is a beautiful worship song; it speaks to our God of Rescue and has many lessons of praise and worship tied into the lyrics. On this most recent listen, perhaps since I am thinking about enduring in the faith in everything these days, I thought about perspective. In many ways, how we endure in the faith—in the real world—is a matter of perspective.

After recalling all the persecution God has brought him through, Paul begins this verse with “indeed.” To me, that one little word is full of rich reflection and perspective. Paul had seen a lot. And maybe he had been asked many times, “Why do bad things happen to good people like you Paul?” or “Why would God allow such persecution in your life” by those he shared his experiences with. I do not have any textual proof of this at the moment, but this one “indeed” feels like a lacuna, a gap, where Paul could have filled in so much more. Instead, he finishes the verse in a matter of fact fashion, making two declarative statements:

“…all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:12-13)

There is no equivocation here. Declaration one–Any one, everybody, all people who want to live for Christ are going to deal with persecution. That means you, that means me, no exceptions. Declaration two—Bad guys and fake good guys are going to do what they want to do, taking advantage of others and continuing to live under their own rules and their own versions of truth and morality. What’s interesting is that rather than radicalizing these ideas, Paul’s straightforward presentation normalizes them. It is almost as if he says, “Look, Timothy, it just is what it is, this is the real world.” These words speak with certainty that this is the environment our faith will be grown and cultivated in.

For me, the question then—the challenge is this:

What is going to be my perspective when the landscape changes?

When I am going up a rocky hill, will I be looking around for other climbers or looking back with worry and fear? During those hilltop moments of rest and fresh air, will I look to myself and celebrate what I did, or dig deeper in His Word and ask God to refill me for the journey ahead? When I am down in the valleys, will I look for longing at the hills or plop down in the ground and cry and throw myself a pity party?

How we navigate this journey of endurance called faith requires us to keep a godly perspective on the world around us. We must be willing to accept that some parts of our journey, even when we do not like them or they are uncomfortable, are just parts of our journey. It is wasted energy to circle the same “why me” questions over again. Similarly those parts of our journey that we might enjoy or find peaceful still require the godly perspective to ask, “God, how can I find more of you in this moment?”

No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I’m standing in Your love
—Tauren Wells, “Hills and Valleys”

Who is God to you when the landscape changes? When everything gets “real” in your faith journey?

I pray that the Lord will give me eyes to see Him and to see my path clear in the days ahead.

God of Rescue

Today’s Passage: 2 Timothy 3:10-11

I knew exactly what I wanted to write about when I wrote these verses, but it has been hard to blog about for one reason.

I miss my church.

Of course I know a church cannot belong to me, and all over Paul’s writing we are reminded that the Church is more than a building. But that’s exactly what I’m missing. I miss my people.

God of Rescue

Before we moved, we were a part of an amazing fellowship that reflected so much of the good stuff Paul writes to Timothy about. One of the many ways that church family encouraged me in enduring in the faith was by continually teaching on who God is. When you learn who God is, He becomes not just the Author and Finisher of your faith, but also the Fortifier who strengthens your faith and steadies you in shaky times.

One of my favorite lessons from my pastors that has helped me so much this year was learning that God is the God of Rescue. I have been in church and the Word all my life, but had never heard anyone refer to God as the God of Rescue until this church. It has become one of my favorite phrases to use, and I love looking for rescue missions in the Bible.

What is your favorite story of rescue in the Word?

So, I immediately thought of our God of Rescue when I got to these two verses from Paul:

“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.” 2 Timothy 3:10-11

Paul recalled Timothy’s faithfulness as a student, mentee, and friend and sealed in words for us the depth of their relationship. He also mentioned again his experience of persecution, not to brag but to encourage Timothy that none of the opposition he prepared Timothy for in the previous verses was new to him. In a way, it was likely reassuring for Timothy to know that someone he deeply admired had gone through the roughest parts of the faith journey and could still minister and live full of faith and joy.

But it is the last words I love most. “Yet from them all the Lord rescued me.” These are the short little lines and phrases I love to mark in my Bible. Throughout all the Old Testament and New Testament stories, God not only comes to the rescue, but He becomes the rescue we need in all things through Christ. Understand–Paul is writing here from prison. He was not at that moment “acquitted” or “saved” or “freed” from a worldly sense. But he had God–he believed completely in the rescue of Christ–and therefore in all things he had the source of rescue.

I am so grateful for my church. I know the Lord will continue to work on the behalf of my family to plant us somewhere new. He has already been faithful in keeping us going and motivated to visit new churches and be patient in all the stalls and starts that come in the church-hunting process. I can see His hand rescuing us from the idleness, bitterness, frustration, and fear that could come with this part of the transition, this part of what is unknown.

I celebrate the Paul-like lessons of the church I miss so much. I praise the God of Rescue for who He has been, who He is, and who He will always be.

 

 

Enduring Opposition

Today’s Passage: 2 Timothy 3:6-9

In 2 Timothy, an underlying theme seems to be that enduring in the faith is complicated in part because of the people around us. Faith does not exist on an island. (There would still be struggles there if it did though because of the human factor)! God is working and growing the gift of faith in us in the midst of a world full of people on various missions and agendas.

This short book highlights how people can encourage us in the faith, give us a faithful inheritance, move us into deeper prayer for others, distract us with versions of the truth, influence us, and more. So it is not surprising that this passage continues with more types of people we encounter in faith and ministry.

In 2 Timothy 3:6-8, Paul describes people who actively pull others away from the fold and directly oppose truth.Enduring Opposition (1)

Have you ever encountered someone who seemed on mission to go against everything you did for God? 

Paul uses as an example two people who I did not know from my OT readings, so this became a fun passage for me to dig around and learn something new. A 1994 book, The Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres the Magicians, edited by Albert Pietersma, is one example of a number of works by scholars who translate ancient texts that reference Jannes and Jambres. Of the sources I reviewed, this one was useful because the introduction discusses and shows the strengths and weaknesses of various sources talking about the two men. To make a long academic debate short, Pietersma demonstrates that although Jannes and Jambres are not mentioned in the Old Testament, they are referenced in all sorts of Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, and other classical documents as two of the Egyptian magicians who challenged Moses before Pharaoh. The widespread nature of these tales makes it arguably that Paul had long heard these names and  by the Holy Spirit’s direction included them here as they would have been known to his audience at the time. Jannes and Jambres were quite possibly men who had once served as Moses’ teachers or as his contemporaries when he was raised in Pharoah’s household.

Knowing this gave me a clearer picture of the type of opposition Paul is talking about here. He is not just addressing “haters” or people who might “throw shade” at us. He is talking about direct, in your face, “pulling out all the stops” opposition.

How do we stand in the face of direct opposition?

Paul reminds Timothy that in the end, those who stand against him will be exposed and their efforts will be as folly (2 Tim. 3:9). The Bible gives us so much encouragement to keep pressing on when the world is standing against us. We must remember that God is our refuge, and He is with us in times of trouble (Psalms 46:1-7). That He will direct our steps and fight our battles (Joshua 6). We must continue to pray and trust God and know that He is for us and will frustrate the plans of our opposition in ways we cannot imagine (Nehemiah 4).

Yes, opposition will come. And sometimes it will be in our face, seeking to undermine everything we do in the faith. Our job is to stand firm, listen to God, and get ready to move with Him as He works on our behalf.

Everyday People

Today’s Passage: 2 Timothy 3:2-5

Have you ever been cut off in traffic by someone driving so recklessly that you wonder what emergency must be happening? Have you turned on the TV to watch people embarrass themselves for a chance to win a little money? Have you seen the name-calling by our country’s leaders in the news? Been tempted by advertising to do more, buy more, eat more, etc.?

I know the answers are yes because this is the world we live in today. These are the actions of everyday people.Everyday People

Paul outlines the many characteristics of people in the last days for Timothy with an important reminder and a strong director.

First, he reminds Timothy that people who have what would seem to be the most awful characteristics will have the “appearance of godliness” (2 Tim. 3:5). I don’t think we always remember this. Truth be told we tolerate and flirt with people we should not too much because they are not “so bad.” That negative coworker. The help-rejecting complainer. The person who can’t stop talking about themselves. Paul directs clearly–AVOID SUCH PEOPLE (2 Tim. 3:5).

Now as a minister of the gospel, Paul was someone who spoke to many people. Surely he is not telling us to give everyone in the world the silent treatment unless they already know Christ and leave like Christ. So we have to remember, this letter is advice for leadership and ministry–enduring in the faith. I think what God is communicating here through Paul is that we have to be on guard against potential influences that will take us off mission. A minister who surrounds himself with other ministers who are proud, may find himself tooting his own horn instead of God. A mother who surrounds herself with women who are heartless and impossible to please may find herself showing less grace and less empathy to her children. A community leader who is working with others who are impulsive and fast spenders, may find themselves tapping more and more into organizational resources in negative ways because, well “that’s just the way it is done.”

Who’s in your circle of influence?

In a culture that promotes networks and mentors and connections, we need to be careful and mindful of who is influencing us. If they are not on track with God’s mission, then we need to avoid them.

 

Difficult Days

Today’s Passage: 2 Timothy 3:1

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (2 Timothy 3:1)

Paul begins chapter 3 of 2 Timothy warning him that he will not only face potential opposition and challenges from those connected to his ministry, but that he also must stay on guard given the changing culture he is in. At his moment in history, Paul’s writings seem to indicate that he was aware of the ever shifting moral compass of the world and that he wanted Timothy to be ready to contend with the forces of evil he would have to confront.

Difficult DaysI think I will be ready to write about this more tomorrow, but for this passage, I have spent some time roday thinking about the difficult days we all encounter.

Right now, I am in the midst of my annual difficult season. Since 2013, it has come every October. Grief.

I want to be respectful of the context of these verses in my posts, but I also want to be honest. Sometimes the most difficult seasons in my faith are not what is happening outside in the world, but what is happening inside in my world.

In November 2013, we lost our second son shortly after his birth. He was our miracle baby, and the moments we shared with him were some of the most precious of our lives. But there was a physical side, an endurance challenge, a…heaviness…to the journey that I still carry in my joints and muscles. Right around the change in temperature in October I feel it the most. I don’t need a calendar; my body knows when it was that time. That time when we made the second emergency hospital stop, the last visit with the specialists, the contractions that went on for days, the gathering of family, the waiting, the weight. I feel it all, all over again. And while some days I can carry it with grace as I did then, other days are just downright difficult.

Who is He to you in the difficult days?

But God.

I press on. I endure. Not because I’m special. Not because I’ve “got this down.” I carry on because God carries me. Some days I crumble into His arms, into His Word, anticipating and eager for His living water to revive me. Some days I crankily stomp around the house first before I stop, refocus, and go back head bowed in submission to where I need to be in His presence. It is a journey and a process. Grief. Submission. Faith. Grace. And the blessing is, He is big enough for it all.

Do you trust God for the difficult times ahead?

I know the next week or so will be challenging, but I don’t know around which curve the wave is waiting for me overwhelm me. So I hold on to Him. I cling. And sometimes enduring in the faith is just clinging, and that is okay. Be encouraged–He is mighty, and He is able.