Defend the faith, but without quarrels. Is that doable?

“But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23).

In Second Timothy 4, Paul’s final charge to his young protege’ is to “preach the word, be ready in season and out, reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (4:2).  After all, he says, in the end times people are going to be clamoring for false teachers who will say what they want to hear, who will spread myths and will shape doctrine for their own purposes.

So, God’s people–and particularly His preachers–must hang tough and “endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (4:5).

However, no quarreling please.

That’s what he said. “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition….” (2:24-25).

Tough assignment, to be sure.

Stand firm, preach the word, rebuke error, and be nice about it.

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The highest accolade

“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you…. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus…..” (Philippians 2:19ff)

As I write this, I have just come from the office of my E-N-T doctor.  For two decades this good man has looked after our family and has done life-saving surgery on me twice.  I find myself thinking that as I age, he too will make that decision which I made five years ago, and retire.  Anyone else can retire and we’re fine by that. But not our doctor.

He reaches age 65 next month. So I asked the big question.

“I’m not even remotely thinking of retiring,” he said. “I love my work too much for that.”

I’ll tell you how much he loves his work.

Every morning of his life he attends 6:30 am mass to pray for his patients.

Ten years ago, before performing cancer surgery on me, he gathered his team around and said, “Reverend, would it be all right with you if I prayed?” Are you kidding?  That is just about the finest gift anyone has ever given me.  (I reminded him today I am ten years cancer-free.)

You do not need me to tell you–but I will anyway–that his staff and colleagues adore him. When he had stepped away, one of the OR nurses whispered, “He’s my doctor, too.”

Later, after leaving his office, I thought of Paul’s words about young Pastor Timothy: “I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.”

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Can the Lord trust you?

(Variation of this title: “Has the Lord trusted in you for your salvation?”)

“….for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).  “Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14).

Listen to the typical Christian witnessing and you’ll hear him ask “Are you trusting in Jesus?”  “Have you trusted in Jesus for your salvation?”  Or some variation of that.

It’s a good question. It just doesn’t go far enough.

Even if the witnessee assures that “Yes, I’m putting my trust in the Lord Jesus Christ,” there is still an issue to be settled.

Is He putting His trust in you?

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Favorite pastime: Hedging our mortality

In the opening of Tim Keller’s new book, “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering,” he quotes a writer in The New York Times Magazine during the time of the Beltway Sniper, a fellow who was shooting people at random throughout the Washington, D. C. area.

Ann Patchett wrote:
“We are always looking to make some sort of sense out of murder in order to keep it safely at bay: I do not fit the description; I do not live in that town; I would never have gone to that place, known that person. But what happens when there is no description, no place, nobody? Where do we go to find our peace of mind?

“The fact is, staving off our own death is one of our favorite national pastimes.  Whether it’s exercise, checking our cholesterol or having a mammogram, we are always hedging against mortality.  Find out what the profile is, and identify the ways in which you do not fit it. But a sniper taking a single clean shot, not into a crowd but through the sight, reminds us horribly of death itself.  Despite our best intentions, it is still for the most part, random. 

And it is absolutely coming.”

In the early 1990s after we moved to New Orleans, I tried to assure my mother that she should not be concerned about our safety in this part of the metro area. “The murder rate in Jefferson Parish is about the same as in Jasper,” the nearest town of any size to our Alabama farmhouse.

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I know Whom I have believed. And a few other things.

“For this reason I suffer these things, but I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).

Some things you know and you know that you know them, and there is no need for anyone to say otherwise.

Try to convince me that, say, Lois Kilgore McKeever never existed. In spite of the incredible arguments you might mount and the truckloads of old records you might haul from the courthouse annex, I remain unconvinced and for a good reason.

I know her. She’s my mama.  She birthed me and did ten thousand other things for me until God called her to Heaven nearly 2 years ago.

Some things are settled forever and to debate their existence, at least for us personally, is an exercise in foolishness.

Imagine someone trying to convince a Christ-follower there is no God simply because he has never met him! Sheer foolishness.

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When the roll is called up yonder, it won’t be a list!

“I am mindful of…your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice….” (2 Timothy 1:5)  “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermnogenes” (2 Timothy 1:15). 

A pastor friend sent a copy of his resume’ which I am passing along to a couple of preacher-hunting churches.  At the top, he posted a lovely picture of his family, and inside introduced their children in an interesting way: “Elizabeth the writer, Silas the Shooter, and Sarah the craft queen….”

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, which became the final epistle from his long ministry, he remembers certain individuals and is rather specific as to why.

Timothy he remembers as “my beloved son.”  These two men, the old mentor and the young protege, have a history.  In Acts 16:1 they meet and quickly bond spiritually.  Timothy accompanies Paul and Silas for the balance of their “second missionary journey.”  At various times as Paul writes to churches, Timothy is alongside him (2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1;Colossians 1:1; and the two Thessalonian letters).

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Thank you, Father, for the pain

“No suffering for the present time seems joyful but grievous; nevertheless, afterward….it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

“And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12).

I hated the pain at the time, Lord.

It’s no fun hurting, lying awake at night hoping for sleep that will not come, wishing for relief and seeing none on the horizon.  At those times I knew why some turn to drink or drugs or worse, but that issue was settled decades ago, Lord, that I would not be bypassing, shortcutting, or tranquilizing whatever you send me in this life.

Remember that time back in the 1960s when a few unhappy people were stirring up matters in your church, saying that I was pushing integration and was going to destroy their church?  Remember that?  I do too.  Oh, how I do.  That was no fun.

As though it were their church. That’s a laugh.  They’re long off the scene and Your church is still there. And integrated, too, I imagine. (smiley-face goes here)

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10 ways some preachers undermine confidence in God’s Word

“All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable….” (Second Timothy 3:16)

We pastors love the Word of God.  We read it, study it, devote our lives to learning and teaching and preaching its riches.  It is our sole authority for what we believe and teach.

And yet.

We sometimes do things that undermine the confidence of our congregations in God’s Word.  By our (perhaps) well-intentioned attempts to communicate what we have learned and believe, we may actually do more harm than good. The result of that is to discourage God’s people from reading it on their own and feeding their souls upon its nourishment.  And when we do that, we are betraying them, dishonoring the Lord, and playing right into the hands of the enemy.

Here are 10 ways we sabotage the confidence of our people in Holy Scripture…

1) The pastor stands to preach without reading Scripture at all.

He says by his omission that Scripture doesn’t matter, that what counts is what he has to say.

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Seven things the dying Apostle needed

(This is a continuation of our series on Second Timothy.)

“Make every effort to come to me soon…. When you come, bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments” (Second Timothy 4:9,13)

It’s not that the Apostle Paul was so elderly and infirmed that caused him to anticipate his departure from this life, but rather knowing that the upcoming trial before Caesar was not going to turn out in his favor.  “The time of my departure is at hand,” he said in II Timothy 4:6.

Now, he has not given up and he was not shutting down his ministries.  He had not chosen to sit down and wait for death to catch up to him.

Something else entirely was going on here.

Paul was extremely active from his jail cell, ministering to everyone who came near and sending out letters and other messages as the Lord gave him opportunity. That’s why we have these epistles from his hand.  This one, Second Timothy, is the final one we have. (Note: We’re not necessarily saying it’s the last thing he wrote. No one knows this. But of the epistles we have, this is the latest.)

In the four chapters of Second Timothy, we find seven final concerns of Paul, things he “needs” as his departure draws closer….

1) He needs the company of a few good friends.

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Beware of religious people who do not know God

“An hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2).  “Deceiving and being deceived” (II Timothy 3:13).

I wrote something on an earlier blog calling for transparency and integrity from churches, using as a jumping off point the billboards up and down the Mississippi Gulf Coast which hawk the fun, the shows, the money, the jackpots, etc., they offer without once mentioning the addicted souls, broken lives and destroyed homes that accompany these enticements. In the piece, I was wondering what if the government enforced “truth in advertising” laws that would require them to tell the full story.

That article was directed to the churches. But someone who found it on the internet jumped all over it (and in ALL CAPITALS!) to accuse me of worse things when our churches ask people to give money.

When people cannot see the difference in a church and a casino, forget about trying to reason with them.

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