Keep Your Head

Today’s Passage: 2 Timothy 4:3-5

One of the exciting advantages of media today is that you can tailor your feeds, your favorite lists, and your subscriptions to follow sources that relay subjects and topics that interest you. Growing up as an analog kid on the cusp of a digital world, I can appreciate this aspect of media. I remember being “stuck” with just three or four channels that had a good picture. Or missing the one show I wanted to watch because Grandma took forever at the grocery store. Of course I appreciate those analog moments more now that the TV never goes off, but I never cease to marvel at all the options we have now and my ability to find out what I want to know or see at pretty much any time.

Pretty unusual, though, these days for folks to praise media! We are getting a bit run down by media. especially the news. And many of us know the downside of personalized media—selective perception. If I choose to see the world from only one angle, one perspective, it distorts my view of reality, dulls my ability to think critically, and leaves me with some huge blindspots. A social media feed full of filtered images can change a woman’s body image. A constant diet of political news from one perspective can make our community seem more polarized than it actually is. A child fed a stream of images that only show people who don’t look like him can cause him to grow up feeling undervalued and invisible in the world. The list of potential harms goes on and on.

When we have poor media habits, we feed into a culture of itching ears, surrounding ourselves with what we want to hear. And it is not surprising then that we want “have it my way” gospels. We see the signs of this all the time.

Someone leaves a church because the pastor talked about sin or less than happy topics.

Someone de-friends a fellow church member on Facebook, because she talked about the need for the church to be at the forefront of racial reconciliation.

Someone else loses a lifetime worth of savings buying into a ministry that talks about God some but self and comfort more.

We have gotten to a point of following our own desires and feelings rather than measuring what we hear against the truth of the Word.

Keep Your Head

So Paul’s advice to us in this culture, as it was to Timothy, is simple: keep your head in all situations.

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Tim. 4:3-5)

Now truth be told, when I hear “keep your head,” I immediately add “up” and think 2Pac. Probably not appropriate (sorry Paul). So I found myself back in Blue Letter Bible to learn more out the phrase “keep your head.” According to the sources there, this phrase is often translated sober-minded and defined as “to be calm and collected in spirit; to be temperate, dispassionate, circumspect” (nepho).

Do people consider you sober-minded?

I have to admit, I fall on the calm side of the personality spectrum. In fact, my new boss is “working to see if they can get me fired up” or get behind my “poker face.” I would love to say that I am always well-balanced because of my constant focus on God, but I’m not there yet. Things do get me riled up, and sometimes I do lose my head. So as I wrote through this verse, four practical ways to keep my head came to mind that I think are important in life and in faith:

  1. Keep calm—don’t panic.
    Since faith is being sure of what we hoped for and certain of what we can not see (Heb. 11:1), we should have no need to panic. Faith is a gift that gives us an anchor (Heb. 6:19), so enduring in the faith means that we are able to remain calm in the storms and the winds because we are secure in Him.
    What keeps you from pushing the panic button?
  2. Eliminate distractions and stay focused.
    Being calm, collected, and circumspect are not just personality traits. They are actions. We have to make choices to intentionally remove the things (and sometimes people) that take our head out of the game. Have an annoying string of emails at work about to make you lose your testimony? Delete them! (Or at least save them for a time of day when you have prayed and intentionally sought wisdom about them). Having a hard time figuring out to do with your rebellious child but you only have enough energy to lift the remote after a 16 hour day? Turn it off and put the first things first. Keeping our head means we must actively set aside the things that keep us from acting on the truth God has given to us.
    What distractions do you need to get rid of to keep your head in all situations?

  3. Respond rather than react.
    Paul talked at length in this book about dealing with problem people in our culture and in our sphere of influence. Part of keeping our head around challenging friends (and foes) is holding our tongue and not spouting off or feeling like we have to break down all the reasons why someone is listening to “the wrong preacher” on TV. Everything around us that pricks us and prods us does not require a loud announcement—OUCH! Many times we need to silently pause and investigate why we are so bothered and deal with our own issues first in prayer. Then we need more prayer and wisdom in reaching out to meet the needs of the offender. When we react, we rely on our impulses and instincts—our flesh. When we respond, we rely on our mind and heart as moved by the Spirit. That is keeping our head.
    How can you grow as a responder?

  4. Replace distress with determination.
    I love the word “keep” in the ESV translation. To keep is to hold on to, to retain, to control, to possess. You can not keep something with half-hearted effort. Ever tried to take away a toy from a toddler who has declared “MINE!”? Not an easy or pleasant job is it? When we want to keep something that is being threatened, we instinctively replace feelings of distress with actions of determination. If our lives and our very faith are being challenged by hardship, persecution, workload, etc., we must be determined to not give up but to increase our efforts to get closer to God in those moments, to seek Him aggressively, to cling and not let go.
    What acts of determination do you need to commit to today?

I am so grateful that in the midst of a world that wants to distract us and fill us with myths and psuedo-truths, we have the Word and the power of the Spirit to help us live out our faith, to endure, and to keep our head in all situations!

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Preach

Today’s Passage: 2 Timothy 4:1-2

The end of Chapter 3 reminds us that the Word is inspired by God and is our equipment for our journey in the faith. Chapter 4 then begins with a clear charge. Preach the word.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Tim. 4:1-2)

Now for some of us, once we hear the word “preach,” we check out. “That is someone else’s job.” “That’s not my calling.” “Sorry, but this chapter must not be for me. After all, Timothy was in a position of church leadership. I am not in charge of anything at church.” And on and on, the list of responses may go.

But let’s think this through for a moment. Indeed, we do learn from 1 Timothy that Paul appointed Timothy to stand in for him and make sure the duties of the church were followed through in a way that was right. So yes, Timothy did have an official appointment that many of us will never have in the church—to stand in as the leader, head teacher, administrator, etc.

However, what is included in the Bible is for all of us in some way. I think further insight is revealed when we think about the Greek word used here, kerysso. According to the Strong’s entry cited on Blue Letter Bible (a really accessible source if you want to look at word origins in the text), this verb for preach does refer to leading in the Word in an official capacity. It is also, “specifically used of the public proclamation of the gospel and matters pertaining to it, made by John the Baptist, by Jesus, by the apostles and other Christian teachers.”Preach

As I have tried to do with each of these short passages, I had to ask God what He had for me in these verses. I, too, do not see myself as a preacher or church leader. And for each angle I looked at this passage, I was brought back to one idea—”You don’t really know something until you teach it.”

Have you ever had the experience of learning through teaching?

As an academic teacher by day, I have seen countless times in my life that I do not really know my material until I can communicate it effectively to any student, no matter their background or experience with the subject. So hearing God say this to me over and over again in reflecting on these verses hit home.

But more recently, I had a chance to think about this idea after watching one of my son’s karate classes. Their lead instructor (who we LOVE for his “old school” ideas about manners, respect, and discipline) was reviewing some of the basic combinations that all students in the class should know regardless of their belt levels. And to make a long story short, the students were just messing it up. So he told the class that he was going to close his eyes, and they had to pretend that he had never taken karate. Their job was then to teach him how to do it. They immediately wanted to show him. “Do like this!” they would shout while demonstrating a move. He would then direct them again to use their words and tell him the steps. To teach. It quickly became clear who knew the combinations and who did not by their ability to communicate the process to him.

Sometimes we struggle in enduring in the faith because we are not sharing and proclaiming our faith to others. We need to teach it. Not because of our position but because of our process. We get rusty when we have not rehearsed out loud what this gift of faith is to us, what the beauty of grace in our lives looks like, or what it means to trust in Him on a daily basis. When we isolate ourselves and do not talk about our faith journey in every day contexts, we miss opportunities not only to bless the lives of others but to reinforce our knowledge and our faith “skills.” We breathe energy into our faith when we preach it. It holds us accountable—it keeps us honest. Specific conversations about God, scripture, and truth push us to examine what we know and send us back to Him for answers for what we do not know. I have told my students “I do not know” many times. And whenever we have those teaching moments, it motivates us to learn together and to dig deeper for answers.

When was the last time you proclaimed the gospel in your life?

One of the reasons I love Bible journaling, the community of creative worshipers I’ve met on Instagram, and the regular practice of sharing stories of faith on social media is because it keeps my faith engaged. It connects me to others who share similar struggles and similar victories. It forces me to honestly reflect on what I know and believe and seek to learn more. If you’ve been on the fence about blogging or sharing your faith online, let this be an encouragement to you to do it! If we want to endure in the faith, we must preach the Word!

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.