Wednesday, May 25, 2016


For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.
2 Timothy 1:6-8

"I don't really tell people I'm a Christian at school. If they know you are a Christian they just give you a really hard time. Especially the Buddhists. The Buddhists love tearing into Christians at my high school. They just won't leave you alone." 

I had been in full-time youth ministry for about seven years when a teen shared this during Wednesday night youth group. The teen's father was a deacon, his family were church members, and I couldn't believe my ears. In my flesh I can commiserate with this teen, and yet to this day I haven't heard a clearer or more succinct example of what it means to be ashamed of the testimony of Christ.

If I were to ask each of you whether or not you are ashamed of Christ, chances are you would say no. But what if I were to ask you this question: When was the last time you shared what Jesus has done for you with a lost person?

Honestly, this question stirs shame in my own heart because the answer isn't nearly as recent as it ought to be. I have my excuses, but these are only attempts to explain away evidence that points in an unflattering direction. Our answer to this question matters because in context being "ashamed" must mean remaining silent. Thus to be "unashamed" must mean to speak up. Look at the text with me. 

It says, "for the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid." Why does Paul take the time to tell Timothy that Christians are not fearful? At this time, Paul is a prisoner in Rome, in chains for proclaiming the gospel (v. 8). It's reasonable for Timothy (Paul's right-hand-man) to be concerned that persecution might find him as well. So Paul reminds him that Christians do not give in to fear. Rather, God's Spirit "gives us power, love and self-discipline." God gives us power that we may be confident in the gospel's ability to change people, love to fuel our passion for telling others the truth, and self-control so we can persevere in sharing the gospel even in the face of significant opposition. 

This is how the passage ends. "So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God." Think for a moment. What would Timothy have to do in order to share in suffering for the gospel? He would have to continue telling others about Jesus. Rome wouldn't persecute Timothy if he went silent and even if they did persecute him in some way after he fell silent it couldn't be considered suffering for the gospel if he had stopped preaching the gospel. So when Paul says "don't be ashamed of the gospel," he is urging Timothy not to be silent about Jesus. 

So don't remain silent anymore. Find opportunities to talk to others about Christ. Pray for opportunities. Make opportunities. Tell your story.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Cleanliness Comes Before Usefulness

But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
2 Timothy 2:19-21

When I was twenty-one and first starting out in youth ministry, I once had a group of teens play a game where they had to bob for candy bars that were floating in Mt. Dew inside a potty training toilet. Yeah, you read that correctly. Subtlety doesn't exactly win points in youth ministry.

Even as a twenty-one year old youth leader, I had enough sense to make sure that toilet was CLEAN. It was a vessel intended for dishonorable use, but once it was properly (and thoroughly) cleansed it was perfectly suitable for a wacky youth game. This formerly dirty vessel was not only used to eat out of but it was actually used to help further the kingdom of God!

That's kind of the point this passage is making. We are all like vessels that God has an intended use for. Some vessels are more useful and have more honorable purposes than others. The key to being used by God is simply this: one has to keep themselves clean. If we cleanse ourselves from the wickedness of this world, we will be ready to be used by God "for every good work."

Are you ready to be useful to God? Are you holy?

If this idea strikes you as strange, it shouldn't. We all apply the same logic in our churches almost instinctively. We expect a higher level of personal holiness from the Pastor than we do from the average choir member. If a pastor's life is characterized by too much sin then we consider him no longer worthy of the honorable ministry to which he was called. But this principle doesn't just apply to pastors; it has import for all believers. Verse 19 says, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”

Notice that holiness often requires separation from something. We are admonished to depart from sin. Holiness requires "fleeing youthful passions" as well as "pursuing righteousness" (2:22). What sin do you need to separate yourself from right now? What righteousness do you need to pursue? 

Father, help me to flee sin, to run away from wickedness. Make me holy so that I can be useful to You. Use me, Lord, to advance your kingdom. Use me to tell others about Jesus. Help me to accomplish all you have for me to do. May I be considered a "workman approved, one who has no reason to be ashamed but who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

God's Not Like Me

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9

I'm not very good at forgiveness. I haven't been deeply wronged by many people in my life, but the times I have felt mistreated I responded pretty poorly. Forgiveness, grace, and redemption are all easier to talk about than to live out. Thank goodness God is nothing like me! His ways and thoughts are infinitely higher and better than my ways and thoughts as He himself is infinitely higher and better than me.

This applies not just to God's personal holiness and perfection, but also in how He deals with wicked people like me. He not only beckons sinners to come to Him but He does so in incomparably beautiful terms.
"Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost! Why do you spend money on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods. Pay attention and come to Me; listen, so that you will live. (Isaiah 55:1-3a)

What a God we serve! The thirsty drink, the bankrupt eat, the "good stuff" (i.e. wine and milk) are given away for free, and all are satisfied. He offers compassion and free forgiveness, but what must one do to take advantage of this offer?
Seek the Lord while He may be found; call to Him while He is near. Let the wicked one abandon his way and the sinful one his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, so He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will freely forgive. (Isaiah 55:6-7)

God freely forgives any who will come. No restrictions or requirements are placed on His offer beyond the person simply turning from their sin toward God. For the person thinking, "Getting God's forgiveness can't be that easy." God says, "I'm not like you. I'm different. My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are not your thoughts."

Thank you, Heavenly Father for being different than me.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Death of a Loved One (W.o.W. Rewind)

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants. 
Psalm 116:15

(This was originally posted on 10/12/11. The suicide of a young teen in my community this week brought it back to my mind and I felt led to rerun it.)

JD Yopp (pictured above) passed away on Monday night around 9:30pm. That may not mean much to you, but JD was my grandfather. We called him Pop. With only an eighth grade education, he taught me more about life than almost anyone else. He taught me about hard work, family, how to drive a tractor (and a stick shift), how to split wood, and how to die gracefully. This brings me to the topic for today's post: death. How do we deal with the death of a loved one?

Scripture has quite a lot to say about death, yet the most basic truth that it conveys about the topic is also one of the least known. If we are to come to terms with death we must understand first that death is the result of sin. Romans 6:23 says "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." And Romans 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned." We are often told that death is a "natural" part of life. After all, every part of nature experiences death in some way or another. It's true that death is "natural" to the fallen nature we all experience, but that does not mean that it was "natural" before the Fall. Scripture teaches quite clearly that death came to humanity only after the Fall.* (A footnote for those who want to go deeper.)

But why does this matter? What difference does it make that death is the result of sin? Well, first of all, it helps us understand why the death of a loved one can be so hard for us to accept. We were not built to cope with death. We were not intended for death. Thus, we can expect death to be hard for us whether we are dying ourselves or mourning the loss of someone we loved. However there is good news. When God chose to do something about man's sin problem, He determined that He would undo not only the stain of sin but the effects of sin as well. This is why Jesus rose from the dead. Since death is the result of sin, by conquering death Jesus conquered the power of sin and the power of death in our lives (Hebrews 2:14-15 I Corinthians 15:54-56). More than that, the Bible calls Jesus the firstfruits of the resurrection (I Corinthians 15:20-23). He was the first one to be resurrected to eternal life but He will not be the last. He opened a door that those who believe in Him will also walk through. That is why Scripture says that we should not mourn as those who have no hope (I Thessalonians 4:13). For Christians, death is leaving this world and going home. Christians are called to live as foreigners and exiles in this world (I Peter 2:11-12). We are supposed to be looking forward to the home that Jesus has been preparing for us ever since He rose from the dead (John 14:1-4).

That does not mean, however, that we do not mourn. Sometimes, Christians lose sight of that. We still mourn, but we do not mourn for the believer who has gone on to be with His Lord, we mourn for ourselves. We mourn the loss that we experience because that person is no longer around. But we mourn in hope. Hope that our believing loved ones are in a better place, hope that they will receive their full resurrection bodies like Jesus at His second coming, and hope that we will one day be reunited with them. And those believers who die, die in hope. Our great hope is to go be with Christ now (II Corinthians 5:8) and then to be resurrected physically like Him at His return (I Corinthians 15 especially verse 19). It is much harder to cope with the death of a loved one who rejected Christ. Then we truly mourn without hope. For Scripture teaches that it is appointed to man once to die and then to face the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Those who die apart from Christ are also resurrected but not to eternal life (Revelation 20:13-15). They are resurrected to eternal judgment. It is a truly awful thing to consider their fate. The one hope in that situation is not for the deceased but for the living. We can only pray that their passing will serve as a warning to those who have yet to bow the knee to their Savior.

For further reading...

*You might be thinking though, "How could we have life without death?" Well, this weekend my uncle, who is a pastor, commented to me that he thinks Enoch gives us a glimpse of what God's original plan for mankind may have been (Genesis 5:23-24). We wouldn't have died, we would have simply been taken to be with the Lord. I cannot be certain that is true, but I must say that it sounds good to me.