Year End Thoughts (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.

2 Timothy 3:1-5

This past weekend, I sat down and mulled over these verses as a form of self-evaluation. Then, on Sunday morning, the pastor asked the congregation to take a moment and reflect on what needed to be put in order in our lives. It was sobering for God to deal with me personally and reinforce that generally. It might be said, and not without merit, that the end of the year is a time for reflection and resolving to do and be better in the year to come. Be that as it may, these verses have stuck with me and I felt I should look more intently at those that troubled me; the descriptors that made me pause and ask, “God, does this describe me?”

The first is lover of self. Looking up the word, it basically renders to selfish. And I can be. I am not always, but I do catch myself being selfish. Let me then mark this is as a growth area.

The second is arrogant. The word renders poorly, but basically means “with an overweening estimate of one’s means or merits, despising others or even treating them with contempt.” As I think on it, it seems that I have a mostly realistic view of my means and merits, though I do hold some individuals in contempt. Growth area.

The third is ungrateful. Coming out of the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is easy to feel that I am ungrateful. I also catch myself not feeling very grateful for things from time-to-time. This is an area that merits further inspection.

The fourth is without self-control. I find myself struggling to keep from having one more coffee drink or one more snack or hit the snooze bar one more time or … that gives a fair sampling. There are more serious areas where self-control is lacking. My mouth sometimes runs of its own accord. My temper is sometimes a struggle to keep in check, despite years of God working on it with me. And there are more areas. This is the place where I must stop and confess to God that I have fallen short. I do not consistently bear the fruit of self-control and this is a thing which should not be.

The fifth is lovers of pleasure. This causes me to pause before I even get moving on it. Who doesn’t love pleasure? It’s pleasurable. It’s pleasant. But the phrase is not lovers of pleasure by itself, rather it is lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. The problem, it would seem, is not in loving pleasure but in loving pleasure above loving God. Does my desire for pleasurable things conflict with my love for God? If so, which one wins out in the conflict? Yet again I must stop and confess that I have fallen short. There are pleasures that interfere with my devotion to God and these hold sway in a way that they should not.

The last one that troubles me in these verses is holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. Almost every person that calls him- or her-self a Christian holds to some form of godliness. The word used for hold is “echo.” For those familiar with Greek mythology, this will ring a bell, as in Echo and Narcissus. Echo is an excellent example of the idea of the word. She holds to Narcissus, despite his morbid self-love. She holds to him so much that her own physical form wastes away. But that is not the part that gave me pause. We all cling to some form of godliness and, like Echo, we will waste away holding to it if nothing renews us. And that is where the power comes in. The power spoken of is dynamos; dynamic power – the power to change. My wife and I discussed this and concluded that the key word in this phrase is denied. The word used could mean to deny in the sense of refusing to believe in or admit something. But it also carries the — in my opinion, sadder — meaning of rejecting. The power is there for the taking, but these people reject it; they want no part of it.

And, I confess, that I am somewhat frightened of God’s power to change. I fully admit that He can make all things new — Jesus tells John to write that exact phrase down when John has his Patmos visions that we call the book of Revelation. It is not the existence of the power that I fear I have denied. I fear that I have rejected the power and have therefore not changed. Over and over in The Bible, God states His goal as my sanctification. He wants to make me holy as He is holy. And that is frightening. To be utterly self-controlled means that I have no excuses for my behavior any longer. It is habit or knee-jerk reflex no more. To love God more than anything else? I can mentally admit the desirability of the goal, but it troubles my mind to wonder what that would mean in a practical sense.

I think that this phrase is the pivot on which the rest of this turns. If I reject the power that God offers, then I will not change or will change so slowly as to be imperceptible. If I accept the power to change, then I will change and this list will, one item at a time, cease to apply to me.

Father, as the new year looms, thank You for causing me to pause and reflect. Not to condemn myself, but to examine myself and see where I fall short. It is a non-destructive testing of the self You asked of me and there are indications; areas of concern. Though I admit to fearing what it might mean, please apply Your power to me and make me like You: holy. Nothing less will satisfy either of us.

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SOAP Journal – 21 December 2018 (Nehemiah 9)

However, You are just in all that has come upon us;
For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly.

Nehemiah 9:33

The thrust of chapter 9 is that God is faithful even though the Israelites have not been. It is quite the psalm, alternating between confessions of wrongdoing and expressions of God’s goodness in spite of the willfulness and rebellion of the Israelites.

While the particulars vary, the confessions could easily be my own. I have also often ignored God and seen the consequences of that. I have grown complacent and lost sight of God and His goodness and His Law.

It is good to have times when we reflect on both God’s goodness and faithfulness and our own sins and transgressions. This is not meant to be a time of self-flagellation, as the Puritans made it, but a time to recognize my wrongs and my shortcomings and to mourn for them and the effects of them. They create distance between God and me as well as between other people and me. They grieve God’s heart and that should grieve my heart. I should reflect, not to see what a terrible individual I am, but to see the more clearly how awesome and praiseworthy and faithful and loving God has been. My own inadequacy shines a brighter light on His sufficiency.

Father, thank You for Your faithfulness. I have done nothing to deserve it. Thank You for Your goodness toward me and Your long suffering with me and all of Your benefits. As the psalmist wrote, let me not forget Your benefits. Please cause my times of reflection not to drive me to a place where I am focused on my own sins and transgressions and insufficiency, but homed in with laser-like intensity on Your righteousness and sufficiency.

SOAP Journal – 19 December 2018 (Nehemiah 6)

For all of them were [trying] to frighten us, thinking, “They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.” But now, [O God,] strengthen my hands.

Nehemiah 6:9

Chapter 6 of Nehemiah is the account of Sanballat and Tobiah and the rest of their circle trying to entrap Nehemiah in something that would smack of rebellion or to discourage the workers who were building the wall or both. Nehemiah flatly refused to leave the work he was doing no matter the message that was sent or the veiled threat to spread a rumor to the king. Nehemiah trusted God and his integrity to be enough.

There are three things that seem noteworthy to me.

One, Nehemiah refused to leave the work. Nehemiah refused to leave because he could see through the scheme and understood that it was all a ploy to stop the work.

Two, Nehemiah trusted God to preserve him and his reputation. Nehemiah had been sent to rebuild the wall with the king’s full knowledge and trust. So Nehemiah put his trust in God that nothing said to the king would undermine that trust.

Three, Nehemiah trusted his integrity. A person of integrity, who has lived their life consistently before God and men can often weather the storms of rumor and come out none the worse for wear.

I have experienced the flip side of this chapter. When I was a much younger man, I was given oversight of a junior high youth group. I was mid-twenties and single, but loved those kids as if they were my younger siblings. Generally, there was no problem. It happened that there was an event in which I would be going with the youth and some young women about my age on a camping trip. Some saw no problem — there would be plenty of accountability and I had, at the time, a good reputation — while others worried about what-ifs. The event happened, but not until an older, married overseer accompanied the group with his wife. This whole experience was just the most obvious of the resistance to that younger me being given oversight of the junior high youth. The event and all of the other regular times the youth group spent together seemed to be a blessing to the youth in the group and I allowed that work that God was doing to be sabotaged by the parents who opposed me being the one to do the work. I stepped down.

I am no Nehemiah, to be able to rely on my integrity. My life has plenty of dark corners where things I would rather not remember are leaning against the walls. But I can absolutely rely on God, because His integrity is beyond question.

Father God, thank You for workers like Nehemiah who remind me to stand and continue to do what You have called me to do until the work is complete or You call me to something else. Please make my regrets into instructive things that do not hinder, but spur. Please give me eyes to see the path You would have me walk, ears that hear Your voice directing me, and feet that are swift to follow in Your ways.

SOAP Journal – 18 December 2018 (Nehemiah 5)

I consulted with myself and contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, “You are exacting usury, each from his brother!” Therefore, I held a great assembly against them.

Nehemiah 5:7

In chapter 5, Nehemiah becomes aware that the nobles among the Israelites are lending to the poor among the people and charging interest on the loan. While this is common business practice today, the Israelites were forbidden to charge one another interest (Exodus 22:25). It was acceptable to charge interest to others, but not their fellow Israelites. Nehemiah confronts the nobles with their sin and instructs them to repent. The nobles do so and take an oath before the LORD not to go back to their sin.

Nehemiah ends the chapter with a recounting of his own actions. These actions put him in a place to be able to confront the nobles. His own actions were in line with the actions he was demanding from them. He was a man of integrity.

And that is the application for me this morning. My words and my life should align.

Lord God, thank You for examples like Nehemiah – men and women of integrity, whose lives and words align. Please work in me to make me such a man.

SOAP Journal – 17 December 2018 (Nehemiah 4)

Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took [their] load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. As for the builders, each [wore] his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter [stood] near me.

Nehemiah 4:17-18

The rebuilding of the wall was a work that God had put on Nehemiah’s heart. God had given Nehemiah an opening with the king and Nehemiah had prayed and pursued that opening. God had given Nehemiah favor with the king so that Nehemiah was allowed to lay aside his duties and rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. God even stirred the hearts of the Israelites in and around Jerusalem to come help with the work of rebuilding the walls. Everything started out great.

Then Nehemiah ran into what every person of God doing any work of God encounters: opposition. Moses encountered opposition both from Pharaoh and from the stiff-necked Israelites. Joshua encountered military opposition. The rebuilding of the temple in Ezra was put on hold while the people sorted out political opposition. Nehemiah is dealing with threats of violence. Jesus Himself was opposed and challenged by the religious elites of His time.

Any person who desires to do a work of God will face opposition. Every one of the people above handled the opposition differently, but the opposition must be addressed in some fashion. When God calls me to work, let me follow Him with the full knowledge that I will face opposition — if not from outside myself, then inside myself.

Father God, please forgive me for the times I have not addressed the opposition, but have walked away from the work. Thank You for having called at all. Thank You that there are still more chances to answer Your call and to do the work correctly. Please help me to do that: to face the opposition and continue the work until You tell me that I have finished my part in it.