Tagged ‘Timothy‘

Stewardship and Contentment

Last week I returned from a trip to Central America. I was in Guatemala as part of a team from my home church to review several orphan care ministries with whom we were considering partnership. It was a privilege to see what God is doing there. In the coming days, I will write more about this trip. In all, it was a fantastic week.

By the time I flew home Saturday I was tired and not feeling well. I rested Sunday and then on Monday I dove into the pile of work in my office. I was still a bit drained, and my stomach was rumbling, but the workload was piling up swiftly. To complicate matters, several appliances in my home had broken while I was gone and urgently needed repair. Then a last minute invitation for an overseas ministry event arrived in the office. I needed to make decisions. I needed to order parts. I needed to purchase parts. At one point I was juggling three different text conversations at the same time. Then my laptop crashed. It felt to me like a sinkhole had opened up, and I was clawing in loose gravel to keep from sliding into the abyss. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the idea. It was not a good feeling!

By the time the dust had cleared, I had spent 30% of my savings in one day’s time. I was a bit shell-shocked. Like most of us, I have to carefully manage my resources. I try to plan ahead. I try to follow a budget. I try to keep a certain amount in reserve for emergencies. I try to earn extra income on the side to help with expenses. But then the ground shifts, and all of it can be wiped out in a moment.

By the time the laptop crashed for the third time, I figured out that God was trying to get my attention. Everything came to a stop as the screen suddenly went dark. I sat staring at the black hole that was my laptop as an eerie hush settled into the room. “Okay, God,” I said aloud, “what’s going on? What are you trying to tell me?”

I made a cup of coffee and settled into my chair to hear what he had to say.

God reminded me that I am supposed to live by faith. I made a commitment in 1997 that it would be God or nothing in my life. I could fill volumes with stories of God’s faithfulness since that point. It has been a miraculous journey as I have trusted him alone for my needs. But somehow lately I had forgotten that point. I take seriously the role of stewarding his resources. But I had made the mistake of becoming a better money manager than a steward. There is a difference. Let me explain.

Being a good money manager is relatively simple. Lots of people do this. You follow a budget, invest your resources for the best possible return, and plan for your retirement. You put together an emergency fund to cover six months’ worth of expenses. These are all good things for a money manager to do.

But being a steward is different. A steward is one who manages the resources of someone else. The steward does not actually own the resources he manages. The steward simply manages the assets in a way that will please the owner. A steward can be a good money manager, but a good money manager is not necessarily a good steward.

As a follower of Jesus, I am a steward of the resources God gives me to manage. I don’t actually own the resources he gives me to manage. I merely use his resources in a way that pleases him. Along the way, as I steward his things, he provides for my personal needs as well.

I think the reason the drain on my savings account hit me so hard was that I had forgotten that it wasn’t actually my savings account. I had unknowingly slipped over the line from steward to money manager. I had forgotten that I was managing God’s resources. Instead, I was frustrated because my plan for financial security was crumbling around me. I had forgotten that I was investing his resources in the way he wanted to invest them. When I use money management as a tool to provide a sense of security for myself, I cross a dangerous line. If my security is in anything but God, I am guilty of idolatry.

For me personally, the question was this: Have I used good money management to avoid having to live by faith? Ouch. It is such a subtle line to cross.

Being a good money manager is relatively easy. But being a good steward requires faith, and that can be daunting. Being a steward means that God may put me in a situation that does not make sense to me as a money manager. I have to have faith that God knows better than I do how to manage my life and ministry. God may lead me to give away the home I live in or to give away everything I have in the bank. If you are a good money manager, none of this would make sense. But when you understand stewardship, then it all becomes clear. And while it may be clear, it is not always easy. Naturally, I do not want to be in a position where I have no real control. But do we really have any control at all? Are we not all at the mercy of God’s kind hand? Are we not all moments away from financial ruin if he so chooses? How misguided we can be!

In Guatemala I visited the home of some folks who knew what it means to have next to nothing. Their homes consisted of tarps stretched over tree branches that had been stuck into the muddy ground. I don’t have the space to tell all the details here. But these people had nothing except the clothes they were wearing and food for that day. When I remember them, I can’t help but think of what Paul wrote in his first letter to his friend Timothy. This is what he said:

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8, ESV).

I hope this could be said about me.

I understand the human element of living by faith and being a steward. I know what it feels like to live with that tension between money management and stewardship. I understand the importance of contentment in every circumstance. In those moments when we feel like the ground is giving way and we are losing our grip, we can let go and find that he is waiting to catch us.

I am grateful to tell you that all these challenges did, in fact, work out for good. I booked the flights. The appliances have all been repaired. I am well rested and feeling better. And, most importantly, I am once again stewarding the riches of God’s kindness to me instead of trying to be a better money manager. I brought nothing into this world, and I will take nothing out of it. If I have food and clothing, with these I will be content.

This article was originally published in the November 2015 Newsletter.

Sharing Suffering

As I write this, my heart is heavy for the families of the 21 Egyptian Christian men who were martyred on Sunday, February 15. I wept when I heard the news. The Muslim extremists singled them out because they were Christians. When they were forced to kneel before their executioners, surely Jesus stood. They gave their lives rather than renounce the name of Jesus Christ.

Before this tragedy unfolded, I had been working on this devotional. For some reason, my spirit had been stirred up in regard to suffering for the cause of Christ. Personally, I am not going through a trial myself. I was simply reading through Paul’s letters to his friend Timothy, and I was struck by what he wrote.

When I read through both of Paul’s letters in one sitting, I was startled by the difference between the two. The first letter is upbeat and encouraging. It is straightforward, and full of simple instructions about the operation of the church. But the second letter is haunting. It is much more somber in tone. We do not know how much time passed between the writing of the two letters, but when Paul wrote the second letter, the circumstances in his life had completely changed. He was facing execution. Most of his friends had abandoned him. He was in prison. He felt alone. He was suffering greatly.

I examined his second letter and separated statements he wrote about himself from statements he wrote about Timothy. Consider some of the statements Paul wrote about himself:

“I remember you constantly…. I remember your tears…. I long to see you…. All who are in Asia turned away from me…. I am suffering…. I endure everything…. I am already being poured out as a drink offering…. The time of my departure has come…. I have finished the race…. I have kept the faith…. Demas has deserted me…. Luke alone is with me…. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm…. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me…. The lord stood by me and strengthened me….” (from 2 Timothy 1:3-4:17, ESV).

When you read his thoughts about himself, can you feel the depth of suffering he is enduring? I can. It unsettles me. His letter bleeds between the lines. This is the man who had planted churches throughout Asia. His writings fill the New Testament with instructions we treasure today. He doesn’t even mention suffering in his first letter to Timothy. Yet at the end of his life he feels alone and abandoned. He is suffering greatly.

It is in this context that Paul is writing to Timothy. When we understand the depth of Paul’s suffering, we can better understand the instructions Paul gives him. Consider these statements:

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8, ESV).

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3, ESV).

“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5, ESV).

When we suffer, often we feel we are alone in the suffering. It is human nature. Paul seems to be saying to Timothy, “I feel alone. I’m struggling greatly. Please bear the burden with me. Share in suffering with me for the cause of Christ.” If Paul, the great apostle and author of much of the New Testament, could feel this way, it is likely that you and I could experience similar emotions.

It is also likely that many of our brothers and sisters around the world feel the same toward the North American church. Around the world, many Christians are experiencing suffering through trials we never imagined possible in the 21st century. Almost daily there are news reports of Christians being killed, kidnapped, or losing their homes, even fleeing with only the clothes on their backs. Are we aware of their suffering? Are we suffering with them? Surely they must wonder.

On Friday, as I was writing this devotional, I wrote these words:

“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know for whom I am writing this. But even as I have been writing, the Holy Spirit has pressed upon me so heavily to pray for you. Even though I do not know your name, I am praying for you now. You are ready to quit. You feel alone. I am praying that you will have a clear awareness of the presence of God with you. I am praying that the Holy Spirit will strengthen you. I am praying that in the midst of your trial you will lift up your eyes onto the hills, from which your help comes. Your help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. You are not alone, so stand firm. Don’t quit. With Paul I plead with you to share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

At the time I wrote those words, I thought it was odd. I don’t normally pray like that. The heaviness I felt in that moment was profound. I had tears in my eyes as I was praying. On Monday, I resumed writing this devotional, but the news of the 21 men who had died the night before was heavy on my heart. It occurred to me that on Friday the Holy Spirit may have led me to pray for those men who were facing the end of their lives. It is possible that I was unknowingly praying for them. Perhaps that is why I felt so heavy for whomever I was praying. It is haunting me now. Perhaps the Holy Spirit was leading me to share in their suffering without my even knowing with whom I was suffering.

It is also possible that those words are for you. You may be suffering as you read this. You may be a pastor or other Christian leader and you are ready to quit. You are crying out for someone to share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God. You may be a husband or a wife and are suffering greatly. Inside you long for someone to share in your suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. You may be a student and your peers are mocking you for your faith. You’re looking for a friend to help you to endure suffering, to do the work of an evangelist, to fulfill your ministry.

My friend, if you find yourself in a place of suffering today, you are not alone. God knows exactly what is going on in your life and may even put your need on the hearts of others in the body of Christ to pray for you. Find a fellow follower of Christ with whom you can share your burden. Allow others to come along side you in your time of trial.

Will we answer the call? Will we share with them in their suffering? Will we bear the burden our brothers and sisters are bearing even now? When we are not suffering personally, we have a responsibility to share in the suffering of those who are going through a trial. Paul’s encouragement is for all of us. When one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers.

Be a burden bearer. Pray as the Holy Spirit leads. Act as God allows. Share in suffering.

I close with a prophetic word from the Apostle Paul, written to Timothy, yet ringing out to our generation as well.

“Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1, ESV).

This article was originally published in the March 2015 Newsletter.

When God uses my sin for good

Do you ever rehearse some past sin in your life, replaying in your mind what you said or did, wishing you could go back and make a better decision than the one that led you into sin? I have. My goodness, I have blown it so many times. But did you know that God can use even your past failures for good? It’s true. A few days ago I was reading one of Paul’s letters to his friend Timothy, and a statement he made in this regard really stood out to me.

The Apostle Paul is one of my favorite biblical characters. I appreciate the way he acknowledges his past while focusing on his future. Again and again he writes about the wonder of understanding the grace he has been given for his past sin. Remember, he was the one who had persecuted the early believers. He was responsible for imprisoning many followers of Christ. Many died as a result of his actions. To carry the thought of that sin surely must have been a heavy burden to him. Yet he had been forgiven and set apart by God to carry the message of forgiveness to others who also needed forgiveness for sin.

This is the beauty of the gospel. God’s grace gives us forgiveness for our sin. Then, when we are aware of the forgiveness that we have received, we want others to know that they can be forgiven as well. Those who have been set free from the bondage of sin want others to be free as well.

One of the ways our enemy tries to silence us is by reminding us of sin we have committed in the past. Our focus is on the shame we feel from the sin we have committed. But when our focus shifts to the wonder of God’s grace and mercy, then we view our sin in a whole new light. The focus shifts from what I have done to what God has done. It is God’s grace and kindness to me that overwhelms me. His faithfulness humbles me when I consider my unfaithfulness to him. Always I am in the debtor’s corner.

But here is the amazing part. God redeems our sin and uses it for good. How can this be? How can God take the sin I have chosen in my past and use it for good? He does this in a couple of ways.

First, he uses my sin to help conform me into the image of Jesus Christ.

Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:28-29, ESV). God’s idea of all things working for good is not for my comfort, but for my conformity. When I am in a relationship with him, learning to love him more and more, he will use everything in my life to help conform me to the image of Jesus Christ. That means even the sin I have done in my past can be used to help me look a little more like the person of Jesus Christ.

For me, it is the awareness of the sin I have done that keeps me humble before God. God has given me great grace in forgiving me of my sin. God gives me this grace, not because I deserve it, but because it is his character to do so. It is part of who he is. Therefore, when I am aware of the grace I have been given, even though I do not deserve it, then I can give grace to others who also don’t deserve it. When I do that, I become a little more like Christ. I am being conformed to his image. In this way, God uses my past sin to conform me into the image of Jesus Christ. What a powerful thought.

But not only does God use my sin to conform me into the image of Jesus Christ, he also uses my past to encourage others in the body that may be caught in sin today. Through my example and the evidence of God’s grace in my life, others will come to understand that they can be forgiven as well.

Paul wrote about this idea in his letter to his dear friend and fellow servant, Timothy. This is the phrase that really stood out to me as I was reading the other day. “The saying is trustworthy,” he wrote, “and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, ESV).

Please don’t gloss over those words! This is important stuff! Paul says that even though he was the worst of sinners, he received mercy so that his life could be an example of the patience of God in drawing all men unto himself for salvation. What hope! What encouragement for those of us who have also blown it, who know the grace of God and forgiveness for sin. Your past failure does not have to be for naught. God wants you to know that your life is a testimony of the grace of God. Again, the enemy wants you to focus on your shame; God wants the focus to be on himself and his grace. The focus is on God’s ability to forgive, not my ability to sin. When we understand this, then even our past failures can be used for good. Imagine that!

Friend, perhaps today the enemy is haunting you with some sin that you committed in the past. You know you have been forgiven, but the reminder of that sin has kept you in the bondage of shame. Today, God is speaking to you. He wants you to know that he can even use your past sin for his glory. You are a testimony of the grace of God! How wonderful to know that God can use my failures to show how great he is.

Paul wrote, “for those who love God, all things work together for good.” Yes, my friend, God can even use your past sin to work together for good. God can use it to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ, and he can use it to encourage others who have sinned as well. Today, keep your focus on the one who forgives, not on your past. Like Paul, you also have been forgiven and set apart by God to be an example of God’s grace and to carry that message of forgiveness to others who also need forgiveness for sin.

This article was originally published in the November 2014 Newsletter.