Tuesday, August 1, 2017

We know we live in the “last days,” in the sense that we live in the time between Christ’s first and second comings.  When we read the disheartening list Paul gives to describe the “last days,” we also feel that we live in the last days.  Too much of the list fits us too well.

I noticed something I hadn’t before.  A form of the word “love” comes up quite often in the list.  Paul says that in the last days people will be “without love…not lovers of the good…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…”

“God is love,” wrote John (1 John 4:8).  Since we humans are made in God’s image, love is central to our being.  However, sin has corrupted the idea and practice of love, so that there is an incredible amount of confusion about love in our culture.

Last night I watched a television show in which a fictional Anglican priest in the 50’s agonized over his love for a married woman.  He equated the biblical truth that God is love with his feelings of love for this woman.  The priest reasoned that if God is love then God must condone these feelings of love he had for this woman.  Later in the same show the same line of argument was used to justify a same-sex relationship (involving another priest).

Paul says people “without love” are “not lovers of the good.”  This is important.  God is love.  Yes, that is true.  However, God is also good.  God is the standard of what is good and, as such, He defines what is good.  God’s love always runs along the lines of what is good, always choosing to do what is good for the other person, even if it is costly and painful.  In other words, what is good (and therefore loving) doesn’t always feel good.  In fact, it can be really hard and really hurt.  Consider: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  The ultimate example of love had nothing to do with immediate or momentary pleasure and everything to do with what is good (which, in its time, brings lasting joy).  When we are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” we redefine the good to match our own selfish desires.  We reduce God’s goodness to our momentary pleasures and call it love.  And then we try to justify our love of self-serving pleasure by saying “God is love.”  Talk about blasphemy!  How we love to remake God in our image.

When we remake God in our image we gut faith of all its real power.  That’s why Paul talked about these people as “having a form of godliness but denying its power.”

The two priests in the television show chose to redefine God, and therefore what is good, to line up with their desires.  They continued in a form of godliness but had gutted it of what is truly, really, lastingly good.

It’s easy to point fingers, though.  I am constantly tempted to pursue my pleasures rather than prioritize what God says is good, trusting his love over my feelings.  It is a battle.  We need each other in it.  Who can you pray for right now who needs strengthening in this tension?

July 31, 2017

For the past several years, I worked as a sports writer online, and in that job there were daily criticisms and opportunities for quarrel.  That led me to conclude that I was going to be very critical about what I was critical about; in other words, I was not going to engage in any and every controversy but only the big ones that were important, and in doing so I came to treat people more kindly than I otherwise would have.


While that was true of my job, it is also true of our lives as Christians!  We often like to quarrel or argue about things, but are they actually the things that matter?  And does it help us love people and be kind to them?


Paul addresses that in today’s passage, 2 Timothy 2:22-26.  In the verses prior to these, which we read last week, Paul encourages Timothy – and any other believer – to cleanse him or herself, thus becoming a vessel for honorable use.  So essentially what he is saying is to be an honorable vessel, which then means that you will have an honorable use/purpose and will be useful.


So how do we continue on as honorable vessels?


  • FLEE youthful passions (v.22) – Often in the Bible, talk of youthful passions relates to sexual immorality, and while I’m sure Paul would affirm that a believer needs to flee sexual immorality (because he says so in numerous other places), that doesn’t appear to be the connotation that the apostle has in mind in this passage. Rather, these youthful passions appear to be other things that often come about, like being harsh and being argumentative.
  • PURSUE righteousness, faith, love, and peace (v.22) – We are not only commanded to flee something, but we are also commanded to pursue something as well: we pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. And notice that we do this together!  This is something that happens within a community of believers who are all pursuing Jesus together.
  • Don’t engage in foolish controversies (v.23) – What truly matters? It is easy to engage in a quarrel or controversy about any number of things, but what actually matters?  I have learned over the years that there aren’t many things worth getting into an argument about.  In Timothy’s time (just like in ours) there were false teachers, and while Timothy (and us, too) are not to be passive about the things that truly matter (the Gospel, for instance), there are some things that don’t – and we shouldn’t spend all our time caught up in controversies or quarrels about those subjects.  One mark of maturity as a Christian is knowing when not to engage in controversies and quarrels.  Some fights just aren’t worth having and distract us from our main purpose.
  • Be kind (v.24) – The believer should be marked by kindness, not argumentativeness.
  • Be able to teach (v.24) – Timothy was apparently quite skilled at teaching, and he was commanded to keep doing so numerous times. The believer must be able to teach truth, even if there is opposition.
  • Patiently endure evil (v.24) – By nature we don’t tolerate evil very well: we want to retaliate or get upset or shy away from it; but the Christian is to patiently endure it.
  • Correct, but be gentle about it (v.25) – This command is key, because notice what it does not do: it doesn’t say to just ignore everything your opponent says, which might be the conclusion some make after reading about not engaging in foolish controversies. Rather, there are some controversies worth getting involved with, and we are to correct falsehoods that arise.  So we are not to stand by passive when the Gospel is mistreated or taught falsely, but we are to correct our opponents.  We stand firm for the truth.  In all of this, however, we do not get hot-headed or contentious but are gentle – because we realize that God may yet grant them repentance (since the ability to repent is itself a gift from God) and that they might turn away from Satan and turn to God.  We hold out hope for our opponents as we trust in the grace of God, so we are gentle with them while firm with the truth.


Are these things true of you?  Allow the Word of God to test you today: are you argumentative, contentious, and quarrelsome, or are you kind, patient, and gentle?  Are you getting caught up in foolish controversies that don’t matter, or are you taking a stand for what truly matters, correcting and teaching the life-changing truths of the Gospel with gentleness, hoping all the way that your opponent might experience those that Savior personally?  This section provides us the chance to evaluate ourselves and see whether we are living in youthful passions or whether we are pursuing Godliness (that is, righteousness, faith, love, and peace).  We have a Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who perfectly modeled these things: he didn’t get side-tracked from his true purpose and what truly mattered; he was firm with the truth but did so with gentleness; he was kind; and he was patient in enduring evil.  We follow Jesus in living this out in our relationships with other people, and in doing so we ensure that we are honorable vessels that God can use for His purposes.

Friday, July 28, 2017

For most of us in the modern western world, this may not seem to be much of an issue. For most of us who attend church regularly, this may not seem to be much of an issue. Sound redundant? Actually, we’re talking about two different issues. But they’re related . . . and they’re not trivial.

An article in National Geographic (August 2017) reports that there is a grim health crisis in many parts of the world: poor sanitation, lack of toilets, and open defecation. Shockingly, more people have cell phones to make personal calls than access to toilets to do their personal business!

Paul’s second letter to Timothy reveals that the early church was faced with a grim health crisis on the spiritual level: quarreling, godless chatter, false teachings, lusts, foolish arguments (for more, see 2 Tim 3:1-5). Shockingly, the church—only a few decades old—had already drifted far from the personal standard of godliness!

Now I assume we would all agree that cleanliness is essential to good health. But how about godliness? Is godliness essential to true faith?

Imagine if Paul had been a health worker. He would probably have been saying something like Mahatma Gandhi said decades ago, “Sanitation is more important than independence [from Great Britain].” Or as the campaign slogan of the current prime minister of India stated, “Toilets before temples.”

Paul’s focus, of course, was spiritual health, and he said: “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Tim 4:7). “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness” (2 Tim 2:19). And God said: “Be holy because I am holy!” (1 Pet 1:16; see also the book of Leviticus). So is godliness essential to faith?

To underscore the importance of holiness and wake up hearers to the seriousness of sin, the Bible uses the analogy of excrement. God said (through the prophet Malachi) that he would smear dung on the faces of the priests, because they were no longer honoring him with their sacrifices (Malachi 2:3).

In our passage today (2 Tim 2:20), Paul refers to chamber pots (= made of clay for “ignoble purposes”), which were used in some homes in the ancient world. His point is that we need to cleanse ourselves from such filth.

Is it possible that our sin could be as gross and offensive to God as human waste?

Paul sacrificed his life to see people become true disciples. I wonder if he would have been willing to do the work of a man like Exilien Cenat in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

In the absence of toilets and sewers, Exilien’s responsibility is to empty the shallow pit beneath a communal outhouse each night. He dips a bucket into the pit of human waste, empties bucket after bucket into bags, and then carries the bags to ditches or canals where he dumps the waste. It is lowly, stifling, even dangerous work. (For a picture of Exilien Cenat covered with the filth of his job, see page 110 in the National Geographic article.)

Is sin really that serious? Is it on par with open defecation, with bucket after bucket of excrement? What do you think?

So if cleanliness is next to godliness, what’s the solution for the sanitation problem in the body of Christ?

This is the fundamental issue behind Paul’s two letters to Timothy. He wants Timothy to speak the truth into situations where the church faced a spiritual health crisis. In today’s passage, note especially what Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:15 and 21 about proclaiming the truth and becoming holy.

Let’s do everything we can to promote godliness and spiritual health. The future of the body of Christ—and of our faith—depends on it!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead.” The word remember in Greek is “mnemoneuo” from which of course we get the English mnemonic. The Greek orators prided themselves on their memories and techniques (still taught and used today) to recall large blocks of subject matter. Consider these modern mnemonic devices and see how many you recognize:

  1. Every Good Boy Does Fine.
  2. Roy G. Biv
  3. Be Careful Driving Elephants Into Small Foreign Garages. Look Ma, No Hands!
  4. Please Do Not Throw Stale Pizza Away.
  5. I Before E Except After C.
  6. General Electric Power Company.
  7. SPRINT.
  8. ICTHUS.
  9. SCUBA.
  10. LASER.

If you know what any or all of these mean, post the answers as a Comment! I’ll post them as well after a few days if no one gets them all.

So you see some of the examples above are phrases where the first letter means something, some (ALL CAPS) are acronyms, others are jingles, choruses, limericks, acrostics, sound bites, or simply catchy sayings. Paul includes several of these memory devices for Timothy, and some are marked by, “the saying is trustworthy” (1 Tim 1:15, 3:1, 4:9, and 2 Tim 2:11 (here), and Titus 3:8. Sometimes they are doxologies such as 1 Tim 1:17, 6:16, and 2 Tim 4:18 marked by a formula of, “Now unto Him … be glory forever … Amen.” All of these were designed to help God’s people remember key points. Often they got distilled down into short creeds, often they were set to music (what we’d call choruses.) Modern high churches use them as part of their liturgy. Liturgy is a good thing if it helps you remember key points about the Gospel. For example: in v.11, Paul states four IF/THEN clauses in a memorable format:

  • IF we died …THEN… we live.
  • IF we endure …THEN… we reign.
  • IF we deny Him …THEN… He denies us.
  • IF we are faithless …THEN… He is faithful.

They may illustrate phases of the Christian life:

  • We must die to self and be born again.
  • After salvation will come trials. And (perhaps long) after that comes reward.
  • With trials will come failures. Think Peter at Jesus’ trial.
  • Even in our failures He is faithful. Think Peter after the resurrection (John 21:17). See also Philippians 1:6 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23-25.

Keep your eyes and ears out for catchy scripture memory phrases such as these that you can incorporate into worship or study so that His Word can be hidden in your hearts for ready recall.



Wednesday, July 26, 2017
I compare prices when I shop for groceries. When it comes to discipleship or disciplemaking, which one costs more? There is a difference between the two. Once a disciple is made in that one glorious moment of becoming a Christian, then spiritual formation in the supportive training of discipleship must ensue. There is a risk in keeping so busy in a variety of teaching programs and ministries that a mentor may never get around to making disciples (evangelism). How much might that cost?
This won’t be an exhaustive list of disciplemaking costs, but from today’s Bible text we learn about a number of them.
Verse 3 doesn’t appeal much to Christians who only value fine, comfortable friendships, because hardship is usually part of letting friends who are skeptics know about Jesus. Many unbelievers don’t want anything to do with being proselytized and aren’t bashful in saying so (I know this from first-hand experience).
Paul went on to use three kinds of occupations to reveal more costs to disciplemaking in verses 4 through 6. Soldiers who go AWOL aren’t focusing on pleasing their superior. Who are we wanting to please most? Pause for a moment and answer that honestly. Is it possible that as soldiers of the cross we get distracted with what appear to be good initiatives but that end up supplanting the making of disciples rather than supplementing it?
Great athletes don’t do too much coasting; especially not in competitions. They push themselves through strained muscles and many other unpleasant conditions. On what do we expend our energy? In a letter to the Corinthian church Paul wrote, “I will gladly spend and be spent for you.”
How many famous farmers do you know? They tend to embrace obscurity and understand the need for great patience knowing, weather permitting, a harvest is a long way off from the spring planting. When we’re “Out Plantin’ “ it’s unusual when someone who hears the gospel for the first time is immediately ready to accept it. It may take years for a person to make the decision, as our Global Teammates tell us.
Is it worth the cost of trying to ignore the distractions of what entertains us, of being inconvenienced and/or rejected, of giving and giving without any guaranteed results, so that we can make disciples? Both disciplemaking and discipleship require selflessness, but being kingdom builders brings a depth of joy that cannot compare to being couch potatoes. As the old hymn says, “I gave My life for thee; What hast thou given for Me?” Thinking about what took place on the cross motivates us to be ready at a moment’s notice to give testimony of our great salvation.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Ministry can be lonely…even when one isn’t incarcerated in a Roman dungeon awaiting execution, as Paul was.  I’m not sure that everyone had deserted Paul emotionally, but only very few were willing to search him out and care for his needs.  In fact, it seems at this point that only one person–Onesiphorus–was willing to go through the trouble of seeking out and aiding Paul. You can’t help but notice Paul’s deep appreciation for this one man’s concern.  Twice in one paragraph Paul asks God to show him special mercy.

I’m currently in Fremont, Ohio, at the annual conference of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches.  Somewhere between 600 and 800 people, mostly pastors and ministry leaders, are attending.  Undoubtedly, there are some who feel, in one way or another, lonely.

As I read today’s passage, I was convicted.  What kind of a person will I choose to be at this conference?  It is easy for me to do small talk and never really get to a person’s heart.  Do I really want to search out someone in their loneliness and encourage them?  If I am unwilling to go through the effort of asking and listening, then I’m being a bit like those whom Paul said “deserted” him.  There’s more than one way to abandon people.

Or will I choose to be like Onesiphorus, who sought out Paul and encouraged him?  Will I take the effort to engage and listen?  I like to brag on WLGBC.  I think God has blessed us with a great church family.  However, I’m trying to remember to listen better.  Maybe God will allow me to be an Onesiphorus to someone this week.

Who can you encourage this week?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Put yourselves in Paul’s shoes for a minute: at the time he was writing 2 Timothy he sat in a Roman prison, awaiting an execution that he knew was imminent (and would indeed soon come), and most of his friends had abandoned him – all because he preached the Gospel.  What would you say in that situation?  What would your letter be about?

For Paul, the letter was an encouragement to Timothy to keep on persevering and preaching the Gospel.  That’s amazing!  Paul was in prison for preaching the Gospel, yet not only did he hold fast to that truth but he also wanted Timothy and others to do the same!  That is boldness and confidence, and where did it come from?  He gives his answer in 2 Timothy 1:8-14.

Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed “of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner” (v.8), urging him instead to remain steadfast in this commitment to teaching about Jesus and the Gospel, the same Gospel that Paul had been teaching.  Timothy was not to fear Rome or to fear association with Paul or the Gospel.  Rather, Paul encouraged Timothy to “share in the suffering for the Gospel by the power of God” (v.8).  This seems crazy and counter-cultural to us, but Paul was telling Timothy to join him in suffering for the sake of the Gospel!  For Paul, the early church, and millions of Christians throughout history (including many today), Christianity has never been easy or culturally acceptable, but believers throughout the years have deemed Jesus worth it.  That was Paul’s charge to Timothy: don’t give up this faith and don’t be ashamed of it, even though you very well might suffer because of it – because Jesus is worth it!

Look at what Paul goes on to say about who Jesus is and what he has done for us:

  • He saved us and called us to a holy calling (v.9) – We have been saved and rescued by the work of Christ and given a new calling!
  • He saved us not because of our works but because of His purpose and grace (v.9) – it wasn’t because we are good or worth saving but because God is good and a great Savior!
  • He gave us this grace before the ages began, and it was manifested through Jesus Christ, our Savior (v.9-10) – Before time even began, God loved us in His infinite mercy and grace, and that became realized and manifested through the work of Jesus!
  • He abolished death (v.10) – Sure, there is still physical death for believers now, but it’s just a speed bump in our eternal lives because we need not fear eternal death any longer!
  • He brought life and immortality (v.10) – Not only will we, in Christ, avoid eternal death, we have received eternal life with Him, which we will enjoy forever and ever!

It is this Gospel that Paul was appointed a preacher and apostle of, as this is the good news of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who saved us not because of anything we have done but because of His mercy and grace and love, and who has given us eternal life with Him!  This is the Gospel that Paul preached, and that’s why he considered it his suffering worth it – his Savior, Jesus, and the truth of the Gospel was far more precious than his earthly life and wellbeing.

Paul had complete confidence in Jesus, writing that, “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (v.12).  Why wasn’t Paul ashamed of his suffering?  Why didn’t he regret his preaching?  Because he knew whom he had believed – that is, he knew Jesus!  Paul trusted in Jesus, and furthermore he trusted in Jesus’ ability to guard both his life and the message of the Gospel until the Day of His appearing and judgment.  Paul knew and trusted Jesus, and that’s why he wasn’t ashamed.

So his charge to Timothy was simply this: keep it up!  Pass it on!  Don’t give up!  Timothy knew that his mentor Paul was in prison and expecting execution, which could have easily prompted fear that would lead to backing away from the truth of the Gospel.  Instead, Paul reminds Timothy of the truth of the Gospel and why it’s more than worth it, telling Timothy to “follow the pattern” he had seen in Paul (v.13) and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, “guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (v.14).  Now, we have a chance to pick up the baton and follow in a long line of faithful witnesses, many of whom suffered for the sake of the Gospel but considered it worth it.  Remember Jesus, your Savior, and the life you have been given through Him, and don’t be ashamed or afraid but instead keep passing on the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!