Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Leaving Early But Not Running Away

It was late. I was folding clothes, doing something to occupy my mind. I was restless. I had returned home from Guatemala the night before. My time up to this point had been filled with hugs and quick conversations, trying to fit a month into 20 minutes. My body was tired, brain confused. 

As I folded clothes I remembered the worn hands of a new friend, graciously instructing me as she squeezed out what seemed like gallons of water that I had failed to extract from my hand-washed clothes. I cleared my mind and went back to mindlessly cleaning. 

I thought about my "Partner in Christ," Emily, and the adventure that God had planned for the rest of her time in Guatemala. I stopped thinking and returned to my tasks.

I didn’t quite know how to process the days that had led to my returning home, and I just wanted some time of "not thinking." 
I knew that I had made the right decision. Although my heart desired to be in Guatemala, I knew that returning home early was what I had to do. I had prayed about the decision for many days, as well as every other decision. I had never prayed so much. Emily prayed with me as we tried to determine where God wanted us to be. I knew it was the right decision. I just felt so full of emotion. Everything happened so fast. I cleared my mind and continued cleaning. It was empty and silent.

"Second Timothy 4. Second Timothy 4. Second Timothy 4. Second Timothy 4. Second Timothy 4." 

Ummm... Well my mind was clear. "Second Timothy 4." "Second Timothy 4." It was like I was repeating song lyrics or had a children's rhyme stuck in my head. Except it was different because these words were nothing I had heard recently or would have any reason to think about. "Second Timothy 4." "Second Timothy 4." 

If you know me, you know that I am not one to "over spiritualize" a situation. I am going to assume everything else first and then narrow it down to maybe being from God. However, this moment was so clear and distinct to me that I picked up my Bible, said a quick prayer asking for guidance and discernment, and began to read Second Timothy 4.

This chapter has provided deep encouragement over the past few weeks as I have struggled through my definition of ministry, my materialism, my own fleshliness, and my duty as a Christian.

Here are some things that have jumped out to me from the chapter and have been significant:

Jesus is a Judge
In the very first verse Paul describes Christ Jesus as the “judge of the living and the dead.” 
If you are looking for love or acceptance or grace, the God of Christianity is the very source and definition and image of all of these things. His love surpasses anything we can even grasp. But do not forget that He is a judge. He is just, which is a part of what makes Him good. Therefore, He judges. To say He is only love and is not a judge is to segment His character and very nature.

When I seek to deny Him as judge, I am really seeking to eliminate my deserved judgement and accountability.

We Have to Step Up
Paul says, “I give you this charge:”
1.     Preach the Word
2.     Be Prepared
3.     Correct
4.     Rebuke
5.     Encourage

But why do we have to do this? Because...

“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” (3-4).

Woah. That is a big deal… Let’s think about what we do to “suit our own desires.”

Here are some typical comments from Christian and non-Christian friends that are worth discussing here:

·        You should not judge.
·        No one can say what is right and what is wrong.
·        If that is what they want to do, then that is their choice.
·        The Bible is just interpretation.
·        Doctrine is not important.
·        God is love. That’s all I know and that’s what’s important.

Read the verses above and then read the comments. See a problem? As believers, how can we say doctrine and truth are not important when we are called to preserve them?

I’m not convinced that we actually think these ideas are legitimate. Instead, I think we want to run away from the truth because it is in conflict with our own desires.  

My Confession
Let me admit that sometimes a part of me wishes all of these comments were true. If they were, I would be so comfortable.

I love to say what people want to hear. I love to make people happy and get their approval. I am a people-pleaser. Wouldn’t it be easier to never disagree with people, to celebrate with them, to never feel awkward or intolerant. How comfortable that would be?    

The truth is not comfortable. Real life is hard. When we have to deal with difficult reality, we build walls and create shiny distractions and hope that our self-constructed myth about “real life” will keep us pacified.  

I know that’s what I want to do. 
Before I left the States, I was feverish with excitement and zeal—knowing exactly what kind of living conditions I was willingly stepping into. However, when confronted with poverty that is visible, tangible, integral, it is not a fairy-tale adventure. It is scary. It is scary because it is real.
It is real to watch a fourteen year old have her adult teeth pulled because her family has no money to repair the rot that has overtaken them.

It is real to be a woman entrapped by entire days of nothing but washing clothes with your tired and aching hands.

It is real to wake up before sunrise to make tortillas to provide for your family— not to provide new Nikes and smartphone upgrades— but instead to provide food and a couple of outfits that your kids will wear until your worn hands have scrubbed holes into them hoping to rid them of the never-ending dirt and stains.

I found Christ in me wanting to be a part of this life. Knowing their struggle. Feeling their pain. Loving them through it. Experiencing it with them. But I found my flesh wanting to run. I wondered “what if this was real for me every day?”

It is real for me. As a Christian, I am without excuse. I cannot turn a blind eye. We cannot continually seek distractions from hardships. We have to face reality and endure it.  

As Christians we cannot run: “keep your head in all situations, endure hardships, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (5).

*Notice what Paul does here:
1. Identifies Jesus as a judge
2. Tells believers to be prepared, to preach, rebuke, correct, encourage 
3. Tells us what is at risk: Loss of sound doctrine and abandonment of the truth
4. Encourages us because he knows it will be hard

If we are called to preach the Word, then we have to crave the Word and come to know it.
If we are called to be prepared, then we have to know what is contradictory to the Word.
If we are called to rebuke, correct, and encourage, we have to know the truth and be able to identify it.

Luke 12:48 says, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

So what have we been entrusted with? The truth.

So why, even as believers, are we constantly exchanging “the truth for a myth?”

The truth is hard. The gospel is hard. But you have been entrusted with much. Know that you are not alone in “fighting the good fight.” Paul writes in verse 10 that his partner Demas left him because he “loved this world.” I confess that I love this world, too. My flesh runs toward things of the world. Thankfully we are not left to our own strength. 

We will face harsh reality. We will struggle to cling to the truth. Hopefully one day, with strength from God (17), we will get to repeat Paul's words: 

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (7).


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