Category: 2 Timothy (page 1 of 2)

The Bible is Your Story

In 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul tells the old story of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness and they way they complained and rebelled and how God faithfully provided. Paul says they were all baptized when they passed through the waters, just like us (10:2). They ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink from Christ Jesus, just like us (10:3). These things are examples for us, Paul writes (10:6). He says these things were written down for us as warnings (10:11). What happened to them, he writes, is common to all people, it happens to all of us (10:13). And, he says, God is faithful in all of it (10:13).

You see what Paul’s doing. He’s telling our story. The Bible is our story.

Story doesn’t just tell us something and leave it there, it invites us to participate. A good story drags us in. We feel the emotions, we get caught up in the drama, we identify with the characters, doors and windows get flung open, and we the nooks and crannies of our lives and our world we had missed.

The Bible as our story brings us into the vast wonderful world God creates and saves and blesses and offers us a place in that world. It shows us where we are. Good stories show more than they tell. And the Bible is the greatest story of all time.

“From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the child of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” ~2 Timothy 3:15-17.

The Bible is a story. If we read it and interpret it like a book of rules and regulations or like some kind of constitution, we won’t get it. We’ll respond to it in the wrong way. If you mistake a recipe for chicken enchiladas for a manual on putting a vacuum cleaner together, you’re going to wind up hungry in a very dirty house. If you misread a highway sign that says “Speed Limit 65” for a randomly posted bit of information and not the stern law of the land it is, a police officer is going to pull you over and give you a brief, but expensive, lesson in hermeneutics.

The Bible is not a moral code that says, “Live up to this.” It’s not a system of doctrines that says, “Think like this.” The Bible tells a story and invites us in. “Live into this.” This is what it looks like to be a human being in righteous relationship with God and others. This is what God wants. This is what God is doing. And here’s where you are. Now live into it.

“You accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” ~1 Thessalonians 2:13

Sometimes I am blind Bartimaeus on the side of the road near Jericho. Calling out to Jesus in my pain. Surrendering my life to the Lord. Yielding to his will. And he mercifully heals me.

Sometimes I am Naaman, covered with sores, dying of disease, and wanting to be saved, but on my terms. I try to dictate just how God needs to deal with me. He needs to do it my way. So arrogant. And he heals me anyway.

Always, I am Peter. Always shooting my mouth off, always wanting to be up front, always wanting to be the leader. One minute I pledge my allegiance to the Lord — Even if I have to die with you, I will never leave you! — and the next minute I’m a shrinking coward, warming myself at the world’s fire and denying that I even know who Jesus is. And then Jesus comes to me and asks, “Do you still love me? Then, come on, let’s keep going.”

Is that you? Where are you right now in the Bible’s beautiful story?

Are you Martha? So busy. Way too busy. Running around like a chicken with your head cut off, taking care of all the urgent stuff that needs to be done. Family. House. Chores. Neglecting your most important relationships. Maybe avoiding your relationship with Christ. And Jesus knows it. He’s sitting right there in the next room, waiting for you to slow down and pay attention to him. Even though you haven’t talked to him in months or even years, he keeps coming over. Have you noticed that about Jesus? He keeps coming over.

Are you Zacchaeus? You’ve got a great job, lots of money, wonderful benefits, more than enough security. But you’re alone. You’re not close to anybody. You’re just watching all the church people do all their church things and you don’t understand it at all. But here he comes. Here comes Jesus, walking right up to you. He pulls you down out of your tree and says, “I’m coming over. I’m coming to your house right now.”

Maybe you’re being torn apart by a terrible storm. The flood waters are rising, the things you love and the people you know are being destroyed. It’s dark and people are dying. It’s scary, this flood. And you know that God uses these times to cleanse and renew and recreate and make things right. But you don’t know if you’re in the ark with Noah or out in the water drowning. Listen as God’s Church reminds you, “You’re with us. You’re safe. You’re saved.”

Are you David? The King of Israel, the man after God’s own heart. What did God see when he looked at David that day and chose him and blessed him? David was just a kid, kind of an afterthought, just a boy hanging out with the sheep. Remember the story? What did God see in him that day? Did he see David’s fierce violence or his fierce loyalty? Did he see David as the great psalmist or as the notorious outlaw? Did he see David’s prayers and humility or the adultery and lying and murder and all the sin? God saw all of it. Every bit of it. And God still picked David. He chose David. And he chose you in Jesus Christ before the foundations of the earth.

The Bible is our story. It’s got our God on every page. It reveals our God who loves us intensely and saves us faithfully and who will not be stopped or even slowed down in his determination to live with us eternally. The story’s got all that.

You’re in there, too. It’s got you, too.

Peace,

Allan

Belong To God

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

This short, jam-packed phrase come in the context of our adoption by God as his sons and daughters. We are children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. We are one in Christ Jesus. We are Abraham’s seed, we’re heirs according to the promise, we have rights as God’s children, we have the gift of God’s Spirit, we have an intimate relationship with God as our ‘Abba’ Father. To be known by God is to belong to God.

“God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his.'” ~2 Timothy 2:19

Paul is quoting from the Old Testament here, from somewhere in Numbers, I think. The foundation of who we are in Christ is solid, it’s rock, it’s forever. The seal is about ownership, who owns us, who we belong to. The seal and the foundation mean that God is enough to sustain us no matter how bad things get. No matter the destructive forces attacking us, no matter the evil that threatens to overwhelm us, God knows you and you belong to him.

Jesus says the same thing in the fourth Gospel:

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them… I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” ~John 10:27-29

During World War I, the British were trying to figure out how to designate the remains of soldiers they couldn’t identify. Rudyard Kipling suggested that every grave of an unidentified British soldier be marked with the words “Known Unto God.” For those of us in Christ, for all who are connected to Jesus by baptism, that is a message of hope and assurance that we are known by God and given a value and a security that not even death can take away.

Peace,

Allan

Rest and Obey

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We’ve been discussing this week that day in between, the Saturday between the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection; the long, silent, absent Saturday our Lord spent in the grave. We’ve all experienced those Saturdays. You might be in the middle of a Saturday right now. So, what’s the point of the Saturday? Why is there that awful day in between? And how are we supposed to respond?

Well, you could choose despair. Some people do that. Paul writes about this to the church in Corinth:

“How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” ~1 Corinthians 15:12

Some people will tell you there’s never going to be a Sunday. It’s Saturday. Get used to it. This is just the way things are. Nothing’s going to change. Take some disappointment management classes because this is as good as it gets. Some people live in that. Maybe that’s where you are. If so, I’m sorry. That’s not a good place to be.

You could choose denial. Some people will tell you Friday and Saturday never happened. They just excuse everything away with easy clichés and bumper sticker explanations. Whatever happens, it must be God’s will. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Some people just bulldoze right through everything it means to be a real human being and almost deny that there’s a problem. Maybe that’s where you are. If so, I’m sorry. That’s not going to work.

You could pray harder or live better or increase your faith. Paul wrote to Timothy about people like this:

“They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.” ~2 Timothy 2:18

They say it’s already Sunday. The resurrection’s already happened for all Christians. We’re already living the abundant life, eternal life, in Jesus. If you’re having problems, if you’re still sick, if you’re prayers aren’t being answered, then you clearly don’t have enough faith. If you had a stronger faith, if you prayed harder, God would heal you. If anybody ever says anything like that to you, you have my permission to hang up on them. Or unfriend them.

We all have Saturday experiences in our lives. Sometimes they last for a few weeks, sometimes it lasts for decades. Sometimes we feel very, very, very far away from God. I think it means something that our Lord endured a Saturday in the grave. There’s a reason for that day in between the calamity and the rescue.

You might not like this. But I’m convinced this is the lesson. I truly believe the proper response to the Saturday is to wait on God. Wait on him. Work with God even when he feels far away. Talk to God even when it feels like he’s not listening. Rest in God.

I’ve written this week that the only information we have in the Bible about that Saturday is that a guard was posted at the tomb. That’s not true. We have one very short sentence at the end of Luke 23 that tells us exactly what the disciples did on that Saturday:

“They rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” ~Luke 23:56

They rested. And they obeyed. That’s a good place to be. When all is lost, we rest in God and we continue to obey. We pray. We ask. We whine. We complain. And we trust. We trust even on the darkest Saturday that God is right there beside you. Loving and working and saving.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me? O my God, I cry out but you do not answer. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.

You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” ~Psalm 22

God never turned his back on Jesus. He didn’t. Not while Jesus was dying on the cross. Not when he lay dead and still in the grave. God never turned his face away from his Son. It felt like it to our Lord. Jesus felt like the Father had abandoned him. But the words of Jesus’ prayer from Psalm 22 are clear. Even when it feels like you’ve been forsaken by God, he’s right there. Right there! Loving and working and saving.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the place of the dead, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you.” ~Psalm 139

If Jesus went to the tomb, if he went to the place of the dead, if maybe he even went to hell, the good news is that this means there’s no place Jesus won’t go in order to save you. There’s nothing you can suffer that our Lord hasn’t already endured himself. There’s no dark corner of despair or suffering or evil or sin where he won’t go to get you. Wherever you are, Christ Jesus has already been there, and is there still. With you. Right beside you. Loving. Working. Saving.

Rest and obey.

Peace,

Allan

Light of Life

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“In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not conquered it.. The true light that gives life to every person was coming into the world.”  ~John 1:4-9

Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus over and over refers to himself as the light, the true light of life.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~John 8:12

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” ~John 12:46

When Jesus was betrayed by his friends and then crucified on the cross, the gospel says it was dark. When Mary went to the tomb early on that first Easter Sunday morning, the Scripture is clear that it was dark. It’s also certain that Mary was not looking for a resurrected Jesus that morning; she was looking for a dead body. Maybe that’s why she didn’t recognize Jesus when she saw him — she wasn’t expecting it. But when he said her name, when she heard his familiar and powerful and loving voice, she knew it was Jesus her Lord, she knew he was alive, and she knew it wasn’t dark anymore.

2 Timothy says Christ Jesus has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light. 1 Peter tells us Jesus has brought all of us out of darkness and into his wonderful light.

I don’t know what kind of darkness maybe you’re living in. Maybe you feel trapped by sin or by some really bad decisions that you’re still paying for years later. Maybe there’s strife in your marriage or in your family. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with something and your future’s unclear. Maybe you’ve just got this dark cloud hanging over you that follows you everywhere you go and you can’t really describe it or explain it, but it’s just there. It’s just dark.

“You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light… Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!” ~ Ephesians 5:8, 14

Listen, that darkness is real. I don’t want any of us to pretend that it’s not. You and I are broken. We are fallen. We are sinners. And this world we live in is broken and sinful. There is starvation and disease and violence and injustice all around us. Every day. We can’t get away from it. And we are not called to deny it or ignore it. The darkness is real. The darkness in your life is real. Your sin is real. Your desperation is real. Your sickness, your depression, your lack of faith is real.

It’s OK to feel it. It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to feel hurt and disappointed. It’s OK to get angry. As a Christian, though, it is not OK to live without hope. It’s not OK to live without courage and confidence. It’s not OK to live like the darkness has any power. Jesus is risen, he is alive, and the darkness, whatever it is, is no match for the light of life.

“The truth is seen in Christ Jesus and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” ~1 John 2:8

Peace,

Allan

Delight in the Law of the Lord

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night…
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.”
~Psalm 1

The first psalm asserts that how one responds to Scripture, how a person responds to the revelation of God in Torah, will determine that person’s ultimate destiny. When it comes to the Law of the Lord there are two choices, two paths. Moses gives us two paths in his farewell sermon on the mountain and says, “Choose life.” Jesus gives us two paths in his sermon on the mountain and says, “Choose the straight and narrow.” And the psalmist does a similar thing.

By using both positive and negative examples, the psalm encourages us to adopt the fruitful and satisfying life that’s characterized by complete immersion in God and his Word. So immersed in the Word of God, so focuses on the Law of the Lord, that it shapes and dominates your worldview. This is the way of the righteous. And God watches those who walk in that way. By contrast, the one who does not delight in the Law of the Lord is shaped by the counsel of the wicked. He is formed in the way of sinners. Those who walk in this way will perish.

It’s a choice.

God speaks. God reveals. He calls. God makes his holy character and perfect will known through Torah, and what we do with that word is everything. It’s the difference between growing as a fruitful tree and fading away as useless chaff. It’s the difference between well-watered and well-nourished stability and dry, dusty, windblown impermanence. Two choices: the way of the righteous that God oversees and the way of wickedness that leads to destruction. It’s the wise man and the foolish man building their houses in Matthew 7. The only difference between the two men is attention to and obedience to the teachings of Jesus, hearing the Word of the Lord and putting it into practice.

Our God does not reveal himself to be catalogued and studied; he reveals himself to be followed. Our God does not speak to be heard; he speaks to be obeyed.

You ask your daughter to fold the clean towels and put them away in the cabinet (this is purely a hypothetical situation). You come back in twenty minutes and the towels are still in a wad on the couch and the same daughter is sitting in the same spot watching the same TV, only now she’s eating a Pop Tart. And you say to your daughter, “Did you hear me?!?” By that, you don’t mean, “Did the sound waves caused by the vibrations in my tongue and throat penetrate your ear canals to be carried to your brain where they are deciphered into understandable language?” When you say, “Did you hear me?” you’re actually saying, “Why didn’t you obey me?”

To delight in the Law of the Lord, to meditate on it day and night, is to do it. Hearing is doing. Faith is acting.

The Word of God is powerful. It changes lives. It alters destinies. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul acknowledges the Word of God that “is at work in you.” In 2 Timothy, he claims that Scripture equips a man for every good work. Not doctrinal perfection. Not knowledge about facts and patterns. Paul says it leads to action. Hearing is doing. The righteous one delights in the Law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night not to know more. To become more. We don’t learn or study Scripture as much as we ingest it. We assimilate it. We take it into our lives in such a way that it becomes a part of us and it metabolizes into this fruit: acts of love, cups of cold water, prison and hospital visits, cakes baked, groceries delivered, comfort and encouragement, evangelism and justice.

When Samuel was confronted with God’s voice, he replied, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” James says to not just hear the Word, but to do it.

“I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” ~Psalm 40:8

Peace,

Allan

Life Together

For most of us, if not every single one of us, we live in a “Christian-friendly” place. In most of our towns and cities, there is some kind of a Christian gathering or activity happening somewhere every day and night of the week. There is some kind of Christian work or service being done in the name of Jesus somewhere in our cities every day. There are Christian churches on every corner. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a dozen Christians. The people you work with, your neighbors, your waiter, the lady in front of you at the post office — they’re all Christians. Or, at least, most of them would claim to be Christian. Now, without getting into the specifics of their connections to Christ or their discipleship to Jesus, the truth is that most of us can go for days at a time and never see anybody or talk to anybody who wouldn’t say they’re a Christian.

And I wonder if we take that for granted.

Because, I promise you, the apostle Paul and John and Peter and Luke and the other early disciples of Jesus could never have imagined in their wildest dreams a world in which most people claim to be Christian. That concept of open and public worship and devotion to Jesus and open fellowship with a huge community of believers would have been unthinkable. Our group of 750 that meets together at Central on Sunday mornings and all the things we do together and all the ways we come together would have blown those first century Christians out of the water! Our meetings together and our fellowship with one another is so… matter-of-fact. So ordinary. So expected.

The very first Christians could never relate to what we enjoy on a regular basis. To those great men and women of the faith, the physical presence of other Christians — being in the same room with a bunch of other disciples! — was not normal. It was, instead, an uncommon source of great joy and strength.

Paul’s in prison and he calls Timothy to come to him in the last days of his life. He remembers Timothy’s tears when they departed and he longs to see his beloved son in the faith “that I may be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4). He writes to his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica: “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again” (1 Thessalonians 3:10). The great apostle John, in his second letter writes to his brothers and sisters in Asia: “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12).

There were times in their lives when these great men of God did not have the physical, visible fellowship with other believers that we enjoy on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. And they longed for it. They treasured it. They cherished it. They looked forward to it and savored it with great delight.

Good or bad, I don’t think we can relate.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about Christian fellowship in his wonderful little book, Life Together. When he wrote this in 1938, he was running an illegal underground seminary in Nazi Germany. This was five years before he was arrested by Hitler’s Gestapo police, seven years before he was executed by special order of Heinrich Himmler:

“What is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us. Therefore, let him who has the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”

Our Christian friendships should be treasured, never assumed. Our time together should be cherished, never avoided. Opportunities to be together should be seized, never scorned.

May we rededicate ourselves from this day forward to living more closely together in Christian community. May we place the proper perspective and value on the time we get to spend together in the holy presence of our loving and saving Father. And may we better understand how our life together not only serves to transform all of us more into the image of Christ, but serves to redeem this broken world in the name and manner of Jesus.

Peace,

Allan

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