Where Are You Weakest?

By Grant Vissers

Read: 6:11-16

This passage begins Paul’s final instructions to Timothy, where Paul once again speaks over Timothy’s life and straight to his identity in Jesus. I remember the first time someone spoke the word leader over my life. It was a powerful experience and I remember it to this day. That’s the influence an older leader can have over a younger leader. That is the influence you can have over someone in your life. You have the ability and influence to speak words of truth into someone’s life. Maybe it’s not the word “leadership” but maybe it’s; “child of God,” “beloved,” “daughter,” “son,” or even simply, “loved.” See even though we might not all be leaders, we all have influence. I believe that God puts people into your life so you can speak into their life. Sometimes altering the course of their life forever.

Here are the words Paul speaks over Timothy:

“But you, Timothy, are a man of God: so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. 13 And I charge you before God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you obey this command without wavering. Then no one can find fault with you from now until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.”

We’ve titled this week’s section, “Where are You Weakest?” but the more I think about it, the more I think a better title would be, “Where You Are Strongest.” Did you notice some familiarity with the qualities Paul names for Timothy? Faith, love perseverance, and gentleness? They sound very similar to the fruits of the Spirit that Paul names in Galatians; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentle-ness and self control. You see, what I think Paul is reminding Timothy is that he is at his strongest when he is rooted in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Timothy’s strongest place in life and in leadership is rooted in Christ.

The same is true for you and for me, our strongest place in life and in leadership is being rooted in Jesus Christ.

  1. What does it mean to be rooted in Jesus?
  2. What words (good or bad) have been spoken over your life recently?
  3. Who might be in your life right now whose life you could speak into? What word would you speak?

 

 

Be Content With Who You Are

Read: 1 Timothy 6:1-10

In Desiderata of Love, Max Ehrmann writes, “Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.” In this poem, he speaks of quiet contentment. This is not to say never change jobs or explore career options. But it is to say that God can use you and is using you (if you let him) in whatever position in life you are in. Being content with who you are and your position goes beyond career into all aspects of life. But it starts with understanding whose you are not what you do as your identity.

When your identity is rooted in Christ and you live that out in whatever arena you work in, it matters very little then what you do. One person I heard speak counselled young people not to become pastors in churches, because we have enough pastors in churches. He said we need more pastors in corporations, and hospitals, and schools, and in government positions. This might not be a mainstream opinion, but the point is congruent with what Paul is saying here, that you shouldn’t change positions because you become a believer, you should use your identity as rooted in Christ regardless of your position.

What Paul talks about in 1 Timothy 6:1-10 is a group of people in Timothy’s church who were trying to use the Gospel to gain themselves higher positions and riches. Not only does this not work out for most people, but it is counter to the Gospel which they were trying to purport. Jesus says, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” He doesn’t say, “You will get rich quick if you follow me.” He was no pyramid schemer!

So if you are a believer, let your identity be rooted first and foremost in Christ, regardless of what you do. And practice contentment in your place in life, not trying to gain wealth. Try amassing spiritual growth! How different would the Western world look if that were our goal?!

Question:

  1. What does contentment look like in your present position in life? Do you practice contentment now?
  2. How do riches and wealth lure/tempt you?
  3. What are some ways to avoid falling into these traps?
  4. How can we persevere in our faith amidst our present culture?

Good Reads for the Interior Life

Our sermon series “Inside Out: Pursuing the Interior Life of Jesus,” comes to a close in a few weeks. So, I thought it might be helpful to identify some ongoing resources. For individuals who feel that further reading on the interior life of Jesus or how to become integrated themselves would be helpful, here are ten books that I would recommend. Many of them I have mentioned in the blog throughout this series, others are just excellent reads.

10. Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life, by Henri Nouwen is a short reflection on what it means to live a spiritual life in the current cultural context. Though it was published in 1981, it remains just as true (if not truer) to our secular context today. Nouwen writes, “Worrying has become such a part and parcel of our daily life that a life without worries seems not only impossible, but even undesirable…Our worries motivate us” (15).  He delves deeply into what it looks like to live settled and worry-free, centered in a deeply rich spiritual life with Christ. Plus, for those with a short attention span, this is about an hour and a half read!

9. Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster, is a much better read than it sounds! Foster looks at twelve different spiritual “disciplines” that can help take us deeper in our walk with Jesus. The disciplines vary from fasting to worship. Much research and insight from the early Catholic church mothers and fathers on the interior life went into the making of this book. Foster offers refreshing practical advice and application for the challenges we face in living a spiritual life in a bustling world.

8. Lament for a Son, is anything but a fun read; but for those who have experienced tremendous grief or loss, it is a must-read. Nicholas Wolterstorff, is a brilliant professor of philosophy and theology, who has influenced thinkers all over the world. But beneath his professorial exterior lies a tender-hearted father who lost his son. Lament for a Son is as refreshingly honest as it is profound. Wolterstorff digs deep and calls the reader to dig deep as he practices lament through the art of writing.

7. A Hidden Wholeness, by Parker Palmer, might be the most pertinent book to this series. Palmer explores “the journey toward the inner life” in this short volume. He discusses the various facades that we wear in life and how to integrate our inner and outer lives through a deep-rooted spirituality. Palmer writes, “Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives” (4).

6. Meditation on Psalms is a compilation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work edited and published posthumously by Edwin Robertson. While Bonhoeffer suffered tremendously for the sake of the Gospel, imprisoned by the Nazi’s in World War II, he maintained an undivided life reliant on Jesus and the high calling of scripture. Bonhoeffer wrote some more complex theological books as well, but this one is more of a spiritual reflection, dealing with the reality of war and testing of his faith. He was eventually martyred in the war.

5. The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis, is his quintessential work on theodicy. He explores the question, “If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain?” He answers this questions with philosophical and theological insights from the perspective of an atheist-become-believer. This is one of the books that influenced my post “Where is God in Our Suffering?”

4. Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, is part of a five-part spiritual theology series developed by Eugene Peterson. He weaves almost textbook-like research into personal narrative flawlessly as he explores what it means to not only read the Scriptures, but to experience them in everyday life.

3. Wounded, by Terry Wardle looks at “how to find wholeness and inner healing in Christ.” Part personal narrative and part spiritual analysis, Wardle explores the depths of human emotion and what it means to incorporate Christ into the wounds of the past. This work aligns with Wardle’s Healing Care ministry.

2. The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, by David Benner, explores the connection of knowing God and knowing yourself. Relying on psychological research and spiritual insights, Benner looks at Augustine’s ideology: “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.”

1. The Interior Castle, by St. Teresa of Avila, explores the interior life of a nun in the sixteenth century. St. Teresa is known for this work, among others, as well as her visions of Christ. Written from a Catholic framework, some of her material might be foreign to Protestant thinkers, but she still offers one way to pursue the interior life in Christ. Though she herself was crippled by guilt, she yet offers some beautiful images of pursuing life in Christ.

I would recommend any and all of these books if you are interested in further reading on this topic. Do you have any books you would recommend on this topic as well?

Accepting Blessing

By Andrew Allison and Konnie Vissers

We live in a world where all too often people do not receive the kind of love and care they need growing up. Simply put…we live in a broken world. I believe this is not actually how God intended us to live. I believe God intends us to live into Jesus’ wholeness and love. Last week at SPL Church we looked at Mark 9, and the transfiguration, where Jesus is transfigured on a mountain top before Peter, James, and John (his inner circle of disciples). And the voice of God is spoken over Jesus, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” A beautiful blessing… “This is my Son, the Beloved.”

Andrew preached a sermon on this, ending with a blessing to those listening. He took promises and statements from various points in Scripture that God speaks to us, His beloved children. It was powerfully moving for me, and I would like to share that with you. This is the Father’s blessing that Andrew shared:

“Hear the Father’s blessing:

I see you.

 I’ve always seen you

  I’ve always seen you and I adore you.

I made you.

  I made you like Me.

    You bear My family resemblance

       My likeness is on your soul.

    I made you inside and out

  I know every bone in your body.

You are wonderfully and fearfully made.

I know your dad and I know your mom.

  I know the details of your conception and the day of your birth.

    I know the whole story.

       Child, listen, I brought you here.

You are My idea, My delight, My beloved.

I smile every time you wake up.

 I know your heart, and it is precious to Me.

  I’ve kept track of every toss and turn,

   Through the sleepless nights,

     Each of your tears are entered into My ledger,

      Each ache is written in My book.

I know your struggle.

  I’m well aware of the temptation that threatens to ruin you.

   I see how fear calls your name.

      When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,

       When you walk through the flames, you will not be burned.

      I have redeemed you.

   Child, you are Mine, I bless you.

Stop thinking these words aren’t for you!

   As though I’m speaking to someone else,

      It’s YOU I’m speaking to.

You are precious to Me;

 You were bought with a great price.

    Hordes of evil were fought to rescue you, and        

       Even now they are kept at bay because

       I love you.

I bless you.

  You have my favor.

    No longer live in fear.

      No longer carry shame.

        I don’t condemn you for anything;

         All is paid for.

You are free!

 Free to live, free to love, free to forgive and give away.

You are blessed so that you can be a blessing to others.

   Live from the fullness of My blessing, live generously.

      You are My daughter, My son.

   I AM the One who never leaves you,

     I will never abandon you.

      I will NOT change My mind about you or forget you,

  I can’t, I carved you in the palm of My hand.

Listen to Me! You are my child. I love you.”

Thinking through Scripture in this form changed something for me. It was no longer words on a page that I had read and heard time and time again. It was a love note. It changed the way that I saw the promises of God in the Bible. They are personal, not generic. They are written for each and every one of God’s created children.

When our identities are rooted in this—rooted in the promise that no matter what has happened to us, and no matter what we have done—we cannot be shaken from our foundation. When we accept that we belong to Christ, we have a firmer foundation than even the most perfect earthly upbringing.

It is one thing to hear these words. It is another thing to accept them, with your whole heart. For those who have been wounded in the past, or are jaded to the world around them, these are much harder to accept. For such people, I encourage you to read them often. Soak in God’s promises. If you hear something enough, you begin to believe it. This is certainly true with the many lies the world tells us: “You are not smart enough. You are not good enough. Nobody could love you after what you have done. Nobody could accept you or see the changed person you have become.” We hear things like this from the world. But God has different words for you…words of blessing, words of love.

Every time you are told a negative, a lie about who you are, think about God’s promises and the blessing bestowed on you through God’s words.

Journal Questions:

  1. Write about some of the thoughts and emotions that came to mind as you read the blessing above.
  2. What are some of the lies you have received and believed about yourself from the world (whether in childhood or adulthood)?
  3. What stood out to you in the blessing above? Was there a certain phrase that stuck out?
  4. What would your life look like if you lived as if you believed that blessing about yourself?

Teach Me How to Pray: Confession

What does it mean to confess our “sins” to God? What if we forget a “sin”? What if we die before we confess all our sins? Will we still be forgiven? These are all questions I have heard on the topic of confession. But something in me was stirred this past week as I sat in a discussion with other Christians on the troubling topic of confession. And what became even more apparent is that people who don’t consider themselves Christian are probably even more troubled by traditions surrounding confession.

So, while we are on the topic of “Teach Me How to Pray,” I thought that a post on prayers of confession might be due.

As I grappled with confession this week, several things came to mind. First, what is sin? The historic understanding and interpretation of sin is “transgression”—simply doing something wrong. But I think that limits our perception of sin, and perhaps even undergirds a problematic mentality of sin. If sin is doing something wrong, then as long as we avoid doing those things, we are good to go, and have no need of Christ or salvation because we can do it on our own.

In Matthew 19:16-26 a rich young man confronts Jesus and asks how he can inherit eternal life. Jesus lists off a few commandments for him, and he says, “I have done all these since my youth.” Then Jesus says, “Go, sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and then come follow me.” The man is deeply distressed by this because he has so much, and he goes away grieving. Jesus then tells his disciples that it is nearly impossible for the rich to be saved, and they inquire, “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus says, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

I think in this story, we see a man who did everything right, but still couldn’t attain salvation on his own. He still needed Jesus, even though he followed all the Jewish laws. For this reason, I prefer to define sin as “brokenness,” or as a broken state that we are in as humans. In this way sin covers a multitude of motivations of the heart that we often live out of that are not whole or holy ways of living and being.

When Jesus came into the world, and offered up His life as a once for all atoning sacrifice, it formed a new covenant between God and God’s people. 1 Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” Similarly, Romans 6:10 says, “The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” In this we no longer need to go to the priest with a sacrifice for each transgression (as the Israelites did according to Hebrew law), but rather can look to Jesus for forgiveness and learn to live repentant lives.

Repentance is simply a turning away from one way of life toward a better way of life. God desires our wholeness and to be able to live in relationship to us. That is what repentance is about, a turning toward God.

So, what should confession look like today? Confession should focus on repentance (turning back toward God), or as my husband says, “leaning in to Jesus.” When we lean in to Jesus wholeheartedly, we can share everything with him—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Being vulnerable with Jesus in prayer means putting it all out there. Often when we pray we give sanitized versions of what we really mean, but God knows our hearts, so this attempt to sugar-coat is both futile and inauthentic.

Being vulnerable with Jesus means opening up about our brokenness: not just listing off the things we have done wrong, but getting at the root of our brokenness. Talking about sin as transgression misses that we need healing from the ways we have been victimized and the ways we have victimized others. It misses that we need healing from the ways we have tried to get there on our own by being good. It misses that we need healing from the ways that our motivations were wrong, as well as from the things that we didn’t do that we should have done. But talking about sin as living in a broken state, resonates with the reality of life on this planet.

Most people are comfortable being just a little bit vulnerable. A friend of mine refers to this type of vulnerability as being slightly “wind-blown.” Maybe your hair is a bit tousled. But abandoned vulnerability before Jesus is equivalent to ugly-crying. Abandoned vulnerability looks like the woman in Luke 7, who weeps at the feet of Jesus, seeking forgiveness. When we let Jesus into those deep places of brokenness, we open ourselves to healing in new ways. We create the opportunity for repentant hearts and repentant lives when we recognize that we are very imperfect, and yet perfectly loved as children of God.

So what should confession look like today? I think confession has more to do with identifying the ways we are not living in the right direction—toward God, and asking God to be involved in correcting that. I don’t think there is some magical prayer we can say to make our sins vanish. I think it has more to do with having repentant hearts and desiring to turn back toward God.

But very simply, a prayer of confession would include asking God to show you the ways that you have failed to love others and to follow Him well. It would include asking for forgiveness, and should also include asking God to help you to live “toward Him.”

A basic template would be: Jesus, Open my eyes to the ways I am not following you. Forgive me for the way I have failed to love you and others well. Teach me to live “leaning in” to you. Amen.

Journal Questions:

  1. Read the following prayers of confession from the Bible. (Psalm 39, Psalm 51, Nehemiah 1:4-11, Matthew 23:32-43, Luke 7:36-50) What resonates with you?
  2. Do you notice a difference in the prayers of confession from the Old Testament to the New Testament?
  3. Read Luke 7:36-50. What does this tell you about Jesus? What can you learn from the woman and how she seeks forgiveness?
  4. Write your own prayer of confession. You can use the “template” above to work from or try something totally different.

 

*For further reading on prayer, and prayers of confession, I would recommend Too Busy Not to Pray, by Bill Hybels.