Cut it Straight

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 NASB

Paul’s words to Timothy challenge us to be careful students of scripture. “Be diligent” (meticulous, thorough, attentive) as opposed to being sloppy. Be a “workman” (labor, toil) as opposed to being lazy. But have you ever noticed that the language of worship is used to describe study? To understand diligent study as a way to “present yourself” to God is both inspiring and convicting.

Careful study is an act of worship.

“Tadpole Christians,” as John Stott calls them, are all head. “Their heads are bulging with sound theology, but that is all there is to them.” On the other hand, “pinhead Christians” have a “small head” but can make you jump with the slightest stick. To some Christianity is merely an intellectual pursuit while to others it is defined  exclusively by emotions. Did we forget the greatest command is to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind?” Heart and mind. Intellect and emotions.

Some bound in tradition have no idea why they hold their beliefs. Their opinions are strong but they can’t tell you how they reached their convictions or what passages are crucial to the discussion. “It just doesn’t feel right” and “it makes me uncomfortable” has taken the place of diligent study to determine convictions.

Some bound by emotion have no idea why they hold their beliefs. Their opinions are strong but they can’t tell you how they reached their convictions or what passages are crucial to the discussion. “It feels right” and “it makes me comfortable” has taken the place of diligent study to determine convictions.

Some have studied scripture enough to see an emotional response was important to God’s people. Without emotion religion is dry, lifeless and void of joy. Some have learned through emotional experiences the mind is involved in seeking God. Without engagement of the mind religion is empty and often results in God being recreated in the image of the feeler.

Knowing there are matters of opinion is no excuse for sloppy handling of scripture. Even when a matter isn’t “of faith” we still need study to know why we hold the opinion we do. When discussing disputable matters, Paul urged the Romans to be “fully convinced” in their own minds (Romans 14:5).

Jesus wants our hearts and minds. Every loose thought and emotion should be fit into the structure of life shaped by Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5 MSG). Our minds need to be transformed (Romans 12:1-2). We need to think on the things God tells us (Philippians 4:8). When raised with Christ we set our hearts and minds on things above (Colossians 3:2). Our minds need to be Spirit-controlled (Romans 8:5-6).

So be diligent. Accurately handle scripture; in others words, “cut it straight.” In so doing you present yourself to God in worship.

Diligent study is an offering of worship to God.

Remember Jesus Christ

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel…” (2 Timothy 2:8).

This week as I was meditating on Paul’s declaration of Jesus as the gospel, I received the following quotation from John Stott.  Without a doubt, the gospel is a story of love.

May the gospel shape our lives and our churches.

Enjoy the words from Stott!

–Bob

“Jesus renounced the joys of heaven for the sorrows of earth, exchanging an eternal immunity to the approach of sin for painful contact with evil in this world.  He was born of a lowly Hebrew mother in a dirty stable in the insignificant village of Bethlehem.  He became a refugee baby in Egypt.  He was brought up in the obscure hamlet of Nazareth, and toiled at a carpenter’s bench to support his mother and the other children in their home.  In due time he became an itinerant preacher, with few possessions, small comforts and no home.  He made friends with simple fishermen and publicans.  He touched lepers and allowed harlots to touch him.  He gave himself away in a ministry of healing, helping, teaching and preaching.   He was misunderstood and misrepresented, and became the victim of men’s prejudices and vested interests.  He was despised and rejected by his own people, and deserted by his own friends.  He gave his back to be flogged, his face to be spat upon, his head to be crowned with thorns, his hands and feet to be nailed to a common Roman gallows.  And as the cruel spikes were driven home, he kept praying for his tormentors, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’   Such a man is altogether beyond our reach.  He succeeded just where we invariably fail.  He had complete self-mastery.  He never retaliated.  He never grew resentful or irritable.  He had such control of himself that, whatever men might think or say or do, he would deny himself and abandon himself to the will of God and the welfare of mankind.  ‘I seek not my own will’, he said, and ‘I do not seek my own glory’.  As Paul wrote, ‘For Christ did not please himself.’ This utter disregard of self in the service of God and man is what the Bible calls love.”

–From “Basic Christianity”  by John Stott (rev. edn. London: IVP, 1971), p. 44.

Grace Before Time

“For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:9 NLT).

Before there was sin, there was grace.

Before there was time, there was grace.

Grace before time.

For years I have pondered God’s relationship with time. I have wrestled with the idea that God, as an eternal being, exists outside the realm of time. The result of trying to get my mind around God and time has been praise. As God is revealed, I am moved to praise God for what I can know and understand.

But on the outer edges of revelation — some smooth edges and some rough edges — there are hints of a God beyond our capacity to fully comprehend. As we understand the revelation of God I am moved to praise. But as I consider what is out there beyond those edges of revelation, I stand in awe of God’s mystery before falling on my knees in adoration. Paul’s description of grace before time both reveals God and hints at more than we are able to fully comprehend.

So why does Paul tell us there was grace before time? Because grace is in the nature of God. Grace is in the character of God. Grace is at the center of God’s heart. So gracious is God that before time began, God planned to show grace through Jesus.

I want to know the grace of God. I don’t mean know that I am saved by grace or that I live by grace — I have come to understand that intellectually and emotionally. But I want to know the grace of God in the sense that I want my nature to be grace. I want my character to be grace. I want my very heart to be grace. And I want to show that grace to people no matter how they behave themselves or how they treat me.

Often that is not the case.

When I am relating to others and thinking about what they might do or say I often plan my response in advance. “If she says this, here’s what I will do. If he does that, this is how I will respond.” My relationship strategy often flows from my fleshly nature rather than from grace. I automatically respond with indignation, self-righteousness, criticism, even judgment. I want my heart to be filled with godly grace rather than harsh judgment. I want my automatic response, no matter what she says or he does, to flow from a heart of grace.

I want to be like God — a God of grace before time.

Gracious Father God,

As Your nature is revealed, I respond with praise.
As I encounter the outer edges of revelation, I respond with praise.
For what I know about You makes me adore You.
And what I don’t know brings me to my knees in worship.

You are a gracious God.
You are a God of grace.
Grace before sin.
Grace before time.
And I want to be like You, gracious Father.

Fill my heart with grace.
Take away the judgmental spirit.
Reform my critical nature.
Ease my desire for revenge.
Relieve any anger or bitterness in my heart.

Pour out Your grace.
Until my heart is full.
Then keep pouring out Your grace.
Until my heart is overflowing.
And I am gracious, like You.

In Jesus’ name,
AMEN.

Dancing in the Foyer

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

We all have different ideas of what is appropriate personal space. Have you ever been talking with someone who keeps moving away from you? Now it could be a problem easily solved by a breath mint, but not necessarily. It just could be the person with whom you are conversing has a personal space boundary bigger than yours.

On the other hand, have you ever experienced someone getting closer and closer as they talk with you (or, as my daughter would say, “all up in your grill.”)? The air you breathe in is warm because it has just been exhaled by your close-up companion. You feel as though if you don’t back away from them you very well may blackout from the lack of oxygen provided by your shared breathing space.

Well, not too long ago I found myself dancing with a woman in the church foyer. This was no tango, no two-step dance. Rather it was a creative dance step I invented to try to create a little personal space. The sister just kept getting closer and closer to me. Don’t get me wrong; what she was saying was important to her, and to me. She apparently felt as if it were so important she needed to be nose to nose for the most effective communication to take place. I quickly realized I needed air, and fast, before I blacked out.

And so I danced. I moved to the left. She followed my lead. I moved back to the right. She was right there. I pivoted and made a complete turn but she got to where I was going before I did. Before I made another complete rotation I determined to take a step back as I was spinning so that I could leave my leg fully extended and my foot firmly planted and thereby create some space.

It was difficult to contain my satisfied smile and still listen to the woman as I realized that last dance move was successful. She couldn’t get up in my face even though she tried. I don’t know what she thought as she repeatedly bumped up against my leg. At one point I thought she was going down as she almost tripped stepping on my foot. Thankfully she regained her balance and righted herself before she sprawled out on the floor.

At one point the thought raced through my mind – “what in the world does this look like to others who may see me standing like this? I must look like an idiot with my leg all sticking out.” But my desire for appropriate personal space and fresh air more than overrode my desire to strike a sophisticated pose there in the foyer.

Later, as I reflected on this oddball dance in the foyer, my mind kept turning to God. Does this desire for appropriate personal space extend to my relationship with God? Do I keep Him at arms length? Have I ever pulled the double spin, leg extension, foot plant with the Almighty? Or am I willing to let God be “all up in my grill?” Am I willing to breathe the air He has just exhaled?

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your Holy presence living in me
 
This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word spoken to me
 
And I I’m desperate for you
And I I’m lost without you