Sunday, June 28, 2009

Where I Am Now – Keeping Focused

This morning, someone made a comment about passages of Scripture that have, in the past, impacted you so deeply that they’ve become a part of the fabric of your being. At the words, I cast my memory back and thought of passages like that in my life.

The first to come to mind was a verse in Second Timothy that resonated with me in times of struggle during college, hard times when I didn’t even have the strength to pursue Christ: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself.” Having the strength for faith isn’t something I’m currently struggling with, but the verse still resonates—it is a truth I rely upon and live in.

Today, though, I went back to the beginning of the chapter to take a look at that verse in context. I wanted to see what I was to do with the phrase right before the one I’d grasped: “If we deny Him, He will also deny us.” It’s a frightening verse, really. What does it mean by the word deny?

These days, my spiritual struggles are wrapped up in the struggles of others. I have friends and mentors who have turned their back on the God who is my life-force; friends and mentors with whom I learned Christ and a biblical worldview. And I do not know what to do with that. If God taught me something through the words or actions of a friend, and that friend no longer follows that teaching, what am I to do? How am I to comprehend that teaching now? Through prayer and consideration, I’ve come to realize that my philosophy that God’s Truth is Truth, no matter in what vehicle it is presented, applies here, too. But even so, the struggle remains. My faith is currently secure. By God’s grace, I am not doubting His person, His faithfulness, His goodness, His justice. But these friends cannot say the same—and some have said the very opposite; they have rejected God.

So I read the whole passage again, finding myself in a different position than when I last spent time looking at it. This is what I read:

“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in sufferings as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect; that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him;
if we endure, we will also reign with Him;
if we deny Him, He will also deny us;
if we are faithless, He remains faithful—
for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

Who am I in all this? Where do I stand today? I am the “child” addressed at the very beginning. I’m exhorted to be strengthened by Jesus’ grace, by the truth I’ve heard all my life. I’m commanded to pass this truth along—which is what I’m doing right now.

I’m to pursue Christ single-mindedly, undistracted by those around me who doubt. Not without care for them, but with the knowledge that my pursuit benefits them, as a soldier’s obedience to this commander serves everyone he protects. Yes, certainly, there is reward for faithfulness, like the athlete’s crown or the farmer’s crop, but that is secondary to the soldier’s focus upon his commander. That aim to please the commander comes with hardship sometimes; soldiers are asked to lay their very lives on the line, but their aim is not focused upon the suffering, rather the goal.

And what is that goal? That Truth will be heard and understood. Paul exhorts me to remember Christ Jesus. He is bound for the sake of the Truth, but the Truth still speaks, still goes on. Paul sets aside his own cares; he shows the soldier how to endure the suffering for others’ sakes.

This is where things get nitty-gritty and theological, and I’m not sure if I’ve got it all right, or even exactly how it plays out in real life, but here’s what I’m thinking on the end of the passage. Paul says he endures everything for the sake of the elect, and it is in that context that he says what follows. He knows the elect will be saved, but he wants them to obtain salvation with eternal glory…living fully forever, starting now.

The saying Paul quotes at the end of the passage is the part I’ve always spent time upon. There’s salvation: dying with Christ and also living with Him. There is suffering and reward: enduring and reigning. And then that denial. Those who deny Christ will be denied. So who are these ones? I think, based in the idea of election, these are those who are not elect, who were never saved to begin with. The faithless, on the other hand, are believers who falter, either through willful sin or simple exhaustion. To them, Christ remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself – and they have co-died and co-lived with Him.

So where does it leave me with these friends who have turned their backs on the Savior who suffered for them? I mourn to think that some of them may have denied Him from the start, and they will be denied by Him. But others, even those who have shaken their fists in His face and said, “I will not serve!” may still yet find Him faithful. For He cannot deny Himself, and they are His.

I wish I could figure out who falls into which category. I wish I could shake those who have lost faith and say, “Wake up! Don’t you see? He’s still here! He hasn’t given up on you!” Right now, I don’t have the opportunity to say those words, but at least I can keep my focus and hope He speaks through my life. I also co-died and co-live with Christ. He is my commander. It is He for whom I compete, for whom I work. And it is that that will benefit those friends around me; it is that which will point to the Truth. I love that right in the middle of this whole passage there’s an encouragement to think on all this, and a promise that God will give understanding. I don’t know if I’ve got it yet…but I’ll keep my focus.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Unfathomed Mystery

It's funny - strange, really: grief. One of those mysteries of life we experience as human beings but never really understand.

This week I watched episodes from the show Roswell--not a series of great depth or insight in general, mostly just fluffy teen pulp with aliens thrown in for good measure. An entertaining diversion, but not much more. But there was an episode I saw in which one of the main characters died in an accident and the rest of them dealt with the loss. It was a very real hour of drama. Despite the random alien elements of the show, it took the time to focus on how death affects us as humans, how we grieve.

I've been grieving lately, that's no secret. My niece died in January and the loss has marked me forever. As I watched that episode this week, I shed a few tears for Keren. But here's where grief bewilders me: that recent loss was not at the forefront of my mind as I watched. Instead, I found myself once again grieving the loss of my friend Carrie Wolfe who died in 2003.

I got word of Carrie's death just after we'd finished celebrating my birthday a day early. The next morning, the day I turned 22, I awoke to the knowledge that my friend was gone. It was not the happiest birthday I've ever had.

In the Roswell episode, on the morning after the accident, one of the guys, Kyle, awakes to his typical morning routine but then, remembering, he crawls back into his bed. His dad comes in and, sitting next to him, says, "Not a very happy day, is it? I want to tell you something. It may not seem like much, but you need to know it: your friend died yesterday, not today. Have a happy birthday, son."

At those words, the loss of Carrie washed over me once more, and it was followed by a wave of relief. I'd never realized how closely I've connected Carrie's death and my birthday in my mind. With the words of a fictional character on a silly television show, God reached into my heart and set up a hedge of proper separation between the two events.

I lost a friend, and that loss is a thing to grieve, and the knowledge that Carrie is in heaven is a thing to rejoice over, and the anniversary of the day I was born is a thing to celebrate. But they are not one event. I can commemorate each, day after day. Though they fell together in time, here on this earth, God holds them each in His hands individually, having known since before the dawn of Creation that He would place both grief and happiness in my life and that they would become intermingled. But to give each event its own value, I cannot remember them as one. Instead, I should hold them separately, as precious memories in my heart.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Random and Ridiculous

An occasional assortment of things I've found of (humorous) note:

1. T'other day, I drove through a neighborhood on the way home from work. In one lawn stands a lightpost. That day, there was a bright yellow recycling garbage can upturned over the lamp post. I'm still not quite sure why.

2. Sometime in the media blitz that followed the American Idol win of Kris Allen, I saw a clip from the first morning after his win. He arrived at a red carpet press gathering early in the morning after only a couple hours of sleep to begin the morning show interviews. Upon arrival he was greeted by a woman (some sort of publicist or something), who asked him if he'd gotten any sleep and then offered to get him a cup of coffee. He accepted the offer and she took off. A little while later she returned, and pulling him aside between interviews handed him what I know to be a venti-sized Starbucks reusable mug. "Thanks! Oh, look at this," Allen said, admiring the mug. "Yeah, we're being eco-conscious, too!" the woman replied. "Vanilla latte, right?" Kris took a gulp. "Wow," he said. "Thank you."

And I laughed. Originally offered: Cup of Coffee: $1 at a 7-11. Recieved? Mug: $19, Vanilla Latte: $5. Yep, that "cup of coffee" was worth nearly $25. Welcome to your new life, Kris.

3. Yesterday, my friend Courtney and I went to Max & Erma's for dinner. The closest one is more than half an hour away, so it's a treat to head there. I, confident in my memory of the direction, did not look it up again before going. My confidence obviously misplaced, my memory failed me and when I took what I thought was the right exit, I found myself feeling that I was headed in the wrong direction. Courtney offered to pull out her GPS and fix the problem for me by typing in Max & Erma's and getting the Garmin to lead us there. When she did so, the woman in the little box informed me that I was headed in the right direction and that Max & Erma's was less than four miles ahead. Still slightly suspicious, I believed the determined voice of the woman, and drove on. Then she told me to turn right. Doing so, I found myself in a neighborhood. Continuing along, I followed her directions through the neighborhood back to a main road where she told me I'd arrived at my destination. I looked right. There was an STS Tires, Honeybaked Ham, and Curves. None of those were Max & Erma's. After a little fiddling, I found the right town on the Garmin's map and she eventually led us to our destination, which was, after all, in the direction I'd originally thought was correct. Silly GPS.

4. In the course of the above adventure, Courtney informed me that when she first got the GPS she wanted to call it Jack Bauer, 'cause it was so often useful for getting her out of a pinch. But, realizing that the little black box had a woman's voice, Courtney found that Jack Bauer was probably not the best namesake for the little device. So instead, she named it Sydney Bristow. "I usually just call it that to myself, though," she said. "Not many people understand." I, of course, understood completely, having often attempted to name myself Sydney Bristow whenever I have some sort of experience that I can remotely connect to being spy-like.