Tag Archives: Paul

Same Story, Different Age

Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
Jonah 3:4 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve experienced in my continued and repeated reading through God’s Message is that every time I read through a section it is layered with new meaning simply because I am at a different place in my life journey than I was before. I’d like to think that there is some increased depth of wisdom, knowledge, and maturity to account for it. There are times, however, that simply being in a different place on life’s road experiencing different circumstances and challenges offers the opportunity to see things from a different perspective.

I am once again struck this morning by the foreshadowing in the story of Jonah of the experiences of Paul as recorded in the book of Acts.

Reading the ancient prophets can always feel like a long slog in this chapter-a-day journey. They repeat their messages of warning, judgment, instruction, and encouragement over and over again to God’s people. They perform shocking acts of public performance art as metaphorical word pictures. On and on and on they preach and proclaim, and the people rarely responded. While there were periods of repentance and spiritual renewal, most of the story is about God’s people hard-heartedly refusing to listen to God’s Message.

In Jonah’s story, we have a single prophet who proclaims a simple message of eight words. It doesn’t even name God, provide instruction, or offer encouragement. The entire city of Nineveh, from the least to the greatest, repents and seeks God’s forgiveness. An entire city of non-Jewish, Gentile people who are the key enemy of Israel, respond to one minor prophet who proclaims eight words from God.

In the book of Acts, we read of Paul going from city to city proclaiming Jesus’ message. He always began at the Jewish synagogue. More often than not, his message fell on deaf ears and hard hearts while those who were not “God’s chosen people” received it heartily, just like the Ninevites who heard Jonah’s eight-word sermon.

This morning I find myself reminded of the message we heard this past Sunday. It reminded me that life can often be like a new movie that tells an old story with different players. The Lion King is simply the story of Hamlet in the jungle with animals. In the same way, life often repeats itself. How often today are Jesus’ followers like God’s people in ancient times? Do we sit isolated in our holy huddles choosing to hate, condemn, and cast off any concern for those outside the walls of our church building as we ritualistically repeat God’s message of Jesus dying and returning to Life for all people?

Love God,” Jesus basically said as he boiled down God’s commands, adding, “Love people; All people.” God’s Message in six words. Jonah had eight. Pretty simple, if my ears and heart are open to hearing it, believing it, and living it out.

 

The Fateful Knocking

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:6-7 (NIV)

He knew he was going to die. I don’t know how he knew. He had been struggling with his health for some time. Nevertheless, he knew. He heard fate knocking like the opening measure of Beethoven’s fifth. He asked his caregivers to call me, and I went to his bedside. He was restless, agitated, and there was fear in his eyes.

I had pleasant conversations with him and his wife before. They were very sweet people who lived in a little house on top of a hill with a gorgeous view. They were both humble individuals with gentle spirits. He loved to tell stories. They had no desire to talk about spiritual matters. So, we didn’t. I visited and we swapped stories. We talked about many other things and enjoyed the view together. It really was spectacular.

Now, things were different. He needed to get some things out. He needed to take care of some matters of Spirit. He’d always avoided this conversation so he had no idea how to have it. I took his hand and began to ask him questions. He wept. He talked. I listened. I gently asked more questions. At his request, I helped him pray. I believe it may well have been his first and only time.

When I left he was quiet and resting peacefully. He died a few hours later.

It was what many people call a “deathbed confession.” My experience is that when that phrase is used in conversation it has typically been uttered cynically or sarcastically as if a dying person is trying to rig the system. I liken it to taking on the mantel of the prodigal’s older brother who gets pissed that little brother squandered his life and partied like it’s 1999, and then dad just welcomes him home with feasting and homecoming gifts. Where’s the justice in that? Perhaps I should have told the man, “Too bad, old man. You had your chances and now it’s too late. Good luck. You might want to take a fan with you.”

Everyone has their own journey. Everyone has their own story. Who’s to say that his story wasn’t a great story? Who am I to judge? The fear in his eyes was genuine. The words, the tears, and the prayer were humble and sincere. I am honored to have played a bit part in his final chapter.

Speaking of chapters, today’s is the last surviving words that Paul wrote. He, too, hears fate knocking. His story is very different. He welcomes the journey’s end. He looks forward to what lies beyond. His earthly journey is a sojourn. He is the prodigal heading home and looking forward to being welcomed.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about life and death and resurrection. I’ve recently been walking with a friend whose father has heard the fateful knocking and, along with his family, is making preparations. It’s a strange time when it comes – however it comes.

Everyone has their own stories in both life and death. Paul’s journey had prepared him in mind and spirit for the journey’s end. My friend, who asked his caregivers to call me, had never allowed himself to think much about it. I certainly identify with Paul as we share a common faith and a common hope. I find myself saying a quiet prayer for those who, like my friend who made his deathbed confession, have not thought much about it – and have no one to call.

Continue

…always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned….
2 Timothy 3:7, 14a (NIV)

When I am studying a particular passage I will, on occasion, go back and read these chapter-a-day posts to see what I wrote about the different times I posted something about that chapter. Inevitably, I can hardly stand to read some of my earliest posts. I’ve progressed through the years in life, in spirit, in thought, and in my writing. Going back an reading an early post can be like looking at pictures of myself in Middle School. Ugh.

At the same time, I realize that this is the point. Immediate perfection was never the expectation, no matter what a parent, pastor, or teacher may have seemed to communicate. “Pressing on,” “pursuing,” and “continuing” are the types of words used again and again in God’s Message. By the end of Jesus’ three years on Earth, His closest and best followers were still blowing it on a regular basis and they still didn’t get all that He was trying to say or accomplish. Eventually, after pressing on and continuing to progress in their understanding of what they’d been taught, they would “turn the world upside down.”

In this morning’s chapter, there is an interesting contrast that Paul gives to Timothy. He first speaks critically of those who are “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” They are running in place, going through the motions, repeating the rituals, but there is never any progress, growth, or maturity. Later in the chapter, Paul urges Timothy to “continue in what you have learned.” Timothy, in contrast to his earlier example, had been growing and maturing and Paul urged him to never stop.

In the quiet this morning I am thinking about my teenage self, my young adult self, and the person I was when I started writing these posts thirteen years ago. I’m glad I’m not in those places of life’s road anymore. I’m grateful for where I’ve come in life, and I’m determined to keep going. As Paul once wrote, Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

Continue on, my fellow sojourners.

Have a great day.

Life Investment, and Reinvestment

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV)

Along my life journey, I have been blessed with a number of people who have invested in me. This morning as I sip my first cup of coffee and mentally travel all the way back to childhood I am recalling them with a smile on my face, and a heart of gratitude. There were family members, teachers, directors, employers, mentors, and pastors. Some were just doing their job, yet in doing so made a significant impact by simply spending some one-on-one time of instruction, encouragement, and wisdom. A few were intentional in going above and beyond to pour themselves into my life.

I was reminded this past week of the most significant spiritual mentor in my life. It wasn’t just me. I was one of many young men whom he poured himself spiritually for decades. At his funeral, the gentleman leading the service (who was, himself, another protégé) asked everyone who had been discipled by our mentor to stand. A small army of men, from their late teens to their early sixties, stood with me.

What reminded me of my mentor this past week was a pint I shared with a young man from our local gathering of Jesus followers. He just returned from a two-week spiritual intensive. He shared with me how the program had been life-changing for him. That program is the legacy of my old mentor, led and run by others who had, like me, been impacted through his mentoring.

In today’s chapter, Paul continues his letter to the young protégé in whom he had poured more of himself than perhaps any other. He starts the chapter by calling Timothy “son,” then tells Timothy to take all that Paul has poured into him and invest himself in passing it on to others who can, in turn, teach it to others.

Individuals taking the Life that’s been invested in them, and investing it in individuals who, in turn, reinvest what they’ve been given into other individuals.

In the quiet of my office, I am once again seeing the faces and names of those who loved me by investing themselves in me and giving me knowledge, wisdom, time, companionship, encouragement, and occasional admonishment. This begs a few questions:

How am I doing at reinvesting what others have invested in me?

In whom am I intentionally investing anything of real value?

Exaggerating My Exaggeration

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.
2 Timothy 1:15 (NIV)

People always seem surprised when I tell them that I am, by nature, a pessimist. I think I hide it fairly well under my typically extroverted person. You can ask Wendy, and she can tell you about the annoying bookends of my temperament: pessimism and exaggeration. Not only do I regularly see the glass as half-empty, but I see it as the most half-empty glass that has ever been half-empty, and it’s destined to stay that way forever because fate itself has conspired against me since the beginning of time and always will!

You see? I’ve just exaggerated how much I exaggerate!

Hopeless.

Arrrrghh. I can’t help myself.

This morning I begin 2 Timothy which is the last surviving letter that Paul wrote. As he sits down with his stylus, ink well, and papyrus to write his faithful, young protégé, Paul had been in Roman custody for years.  Using his right as a Roman citizen, Paul appealed his case to Caesar. Not only do the wheels of Romany bureaucracy move slowly, but Paul had caused riots and pesky controversies that disturbed Roman peace and order wherever he went. Keeping him languishing in chains was likely to have been an easy decision for the Emporer to make. Having been taken to Rome to await his audience with the leader of the Roman Empire, Paul waited, and waited, and waited.

Reading the opening chapter in the quiet this morning, I can feel the melancholy and emotion. Memories, tears, constant prayers, and exhortation are present. As Paul writes about his own faith I can almost feel him reminding himself and affirming himself. He then tells Timothy that everyone in the province of Asia had deserted him, which he then immediately contradicts by describing how the runaway slave, Onesiphorus, sought Paul out and “refreshed him.”

I can totally forgive Paul a bit of gloom and exaggeration. Paul has spent years in Roman custody. He’s got legit reasons to be a little downcast and dramatic. I can go there when the Cubs lose.

Perspective.

And, that’s where I find my mind and spirit in the quiet this morning.  I’d like to believe that one of the reasons people are surprised to find out I’m a pessimist is that I’ve actually gotten better about recognizing it, catching myself, and consciously, in-the-moment, doing the inner work of choosing a different mental and emotional path. Doing so usually requires mentally reciting and embracing a few key passages of God’s Message that I’ve memorized, saying a few quick popcorn prayers, and going through a few positive mantras.

Looking back, I know I’m not as bad as I used to be. I’m pretty sure Wendy would affirm that, as well. That is, once again, why this is a journey. Slow and steady wins the race.

Pressin’ on into a new week.

All the best to you wherever you find yourself in your own journey, my friend. Cheers!

The Path to Contentment

But godliness with contentment is great gain.
1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV)

Our friend Tony Harris published a book this past year entitled FADS Marketing. Tony is an expert marketer and his book is a fascinating insider’s view of the world of big marketing. The book opened my eyes to the way I am being sold a bill of goods every day with regard to food, alcohol, drugs, and sex (F.A.D.S. Get it?). If I’m blind to it and if I’m not paying attention, then I will fall for it over and over and over again. What big marketing does is take the field of my basic human appetites and then sows discontent.

Contentment is a recurring theme in Paul’s later writing. I find it interesting that it seems to have become a more important topic the further he got in his own spiritual journey. He takes a rather balanced approach. “I know what it is to have plenty,” he writes, “and I know what it’s like to be in need.” In either circumstance, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves (because it can change rapidly in ways we don’t control), we should seek to be content.

That’s hard to do if I’m blind to the fact that every advertisement and marketing ploy (and they’re all over the place) is trying to stir my appetites’ discontent until I have what they tell me I want and need.

The further I get in my life journey the more I find myself pursuing contentment. I’m not perfect at it by a long shot. I confess that. Like most paths to growth and maturity, the road to contentment often finds me repeatedly taking one step forward before falling two steps back. Looking back, however, I can see the progress. More and more the things of real value to me are relationships, conversations, laughter, time, quiet, a shared meal, life together.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again honestly taking inventory of my wants and also taking inventory of my haves. Along the path to contentment, I’ve discovered that if I focus myself on gratitude for, and enjoyment of, the latter then the former takes up less room in my heart and mind.

And so, I contentedly enter another day of the journey.

Responsibility and Need

If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.
1 Timothy 5:16 (NIV)

Early in my life journey I worked at a number of different churches and different denominations. One of the common struggles I observed was how each church handled those who would regularly come to the church asking for a handout. In every church I served there was a sincere and loving motivation to help those in need, but there was also the realization that responsible generosity also required  wisdom and discernment. While some individuals were people truly in need, others were not. There were individuals who were perfectly capable of getting a job and supporting themselves, but they were more than happy to avoid the work and simply make the rounds of every church in town seeing how much money they could talk the churches into giving them.

Along the way I’ve observed a simple reality of human nature. If you create a system of welfare there will be those who will try to take personal advantage of the system. Even Jesus encountered this when He fed the multitudes by turning a few loaves and fish into to a  miraculous Filet o’ Fish fest. He quickly recognized that many were following Him simply for the free lunch. John 6 describes Jesus confronting the crowd and questioning their motivation. He appears, at that point, to have shut down his miraculous fish sandwich program on the spot.

It’s so easy for me to get stuck thinking about “church” in context of what I have known and experienced “the church” to be in my lifetime. I default to thinking of buildings and denominational institutions with varying takes on theological issues.  It’s critical as a reader of Paul’s letter to Timothy for me to understand how different the circumstances were then. There was no institution, no denomination, and no church buildings. Small groups of Jesus’ followers were “the church.” It was a flesh and blood organism. Followers of Jesus gathered in homes where they ate together, worshipped together, and shared life together. They were loosely structured and yet they quickly gained a reputation for collectively caring for those in need who were marginalized and outcast by society of that day: widows, orphans, the sick, the diseased, and the disabled.

And, true to human nature, there were those more than willing to take personal advantage of the corporate generosity.

There is a theme woven throughout Paul’s life and letters that I rarely hear discussed today. It’s threaded through the entire chapter today. Until late in his life Paul always worked for his living and supported himself. His family were tentmakers by trade and no matter where he went he could pull out his tools and ply that trade. He expected Jesus’ followers to take personal responsibility for the needs of one’s self and one’s family so that generosity could be given to those “truly in need.”

In the quiet this morning I’m whispering a prayer of gratitude, as I recognize that I am blessed to have been raised in a culture and a family system that taught and modeled personal responsibility, hard work, and generosity. My gratitude extends to giving thanks for my job, my clients, and my colleagues. Finally, I’m thankful for the reality that, thus far in my entire life journey, I have never known what truly means to be what Paul described as “really in need.”

featured photo courtesy of IIP Photo Archive via Flickr