Wilt thou love God as he thee ? then digest,
My soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by angels waited on
In heaven, doth make His temple in thy breast.
The Father having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting—for he ne’er begun—
Hath deign’d to choose thee by adoption,
Co-heir to His glory, and Sabbath’ endless rest.
And as a robb’d man, which by search doth find
His stolen stuff sold, must lose or buy it again,
The Sun of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom He had made, and Satan stole, to unbind.
‘Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.
Holy Sonnet XV – John Donne
Poetry like this can feel antiquated. The language is confusing and disorienting, but I’m still drawn to it. I think I’m drawn to things like this because it forces me to slow down. It forces me to read carefully, then to reread it. I’m thankful for things in my life that force me to do this because I’m always reminded of how much richness I miss. This poem is beautiful, but it takes work to understand.
I first encountered this poem in one of my favorite seminary classes. We boiled this poem down to a simpler, more understandable idea. It’s a poem about downward mobility. It’s about God humbling himself for us. It’s a Trinitarian poem showing how God the Father, Son, and Spirit, has exhibited this downward mobility for our sake. It’s in the Spirit, served by angels, making His home in us. It’s in the Father who has a Son, making us co-heirs with Him. It’s in the Son, putting on flesh and being slain to unbind us from sin.
Prayer and Reflection
God humbled himself for us and for our benefit. How can we have a heart like that? What can we do to live into that beauty? In what ways can we humble ourselves? I’ll leave you with a prayer. Pray it with me.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
Let me start by saying that this is a long passage. That means I won’t be addressing every question that it might raise. What I want to do with a passage like this, as uncomfortable as it is, is to try to understand it within the greater context of the book of Genesis and the Bible as a whole.
First, does Abraham believe that he will actually have to sacrifice his son? If you remember a few days ago, we looked at an earlier passage in Genesis when God promises to give Abraham a son and tells him that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars. Abraham knows this promise and knows that his and Sarah’s only son will need to be alive in order for this promise to come to fruition. We know that Abraham is a man who has faith (Romans 4 & Hebrews 11) and believes what God has promised, but to sacrifice his son would be a direct contradiction.
Here is verse 8, Abraham says, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” He very well could be lying to Isaac in order to get him to go up with him, but what if he actually does believe that God will provide a lamb for them instead? The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham believed that if he went through with it, God would be able to raise Isaac from the dead. Either way, Abraham knew that the promises God made to him regarding Isaac would hold true. He knew that God would be faithful to His word. He knew that God would provide.
I mentioned before that this passage was uncomfortable. In some ways, I think that’s the point. When we take a longer view and examine the allusion it provides of Jesus, you’ll see what I mean. For Abraham and Isaac, God provided a way for them to still be obedient without Abraham having to sacrifice his son. Maybe the punch has been taken out of what is actually communicated in John 3:16 because of its popularity, but isn’t it saying the same thing? God sacrificed His son Jesus as a sin offering on our behalf. For some reason, this doesn’t make us as uncomfortable. It’s a powerful display of the love that God actually has for us that He would do that and of the love that Jesus has for us that he would willingly go.
Maybe the passage of Abraham and Isaac is intended to be uncomfortable because it communicates the harsh realities of the cross. In both stories God provides a way for His promises to come to fruition and ultimately a way into relationship with Him. If we want to tie this into our Lenten theme, there is clearly beauty embedded in the discomfort, beauty embedded in the brokenness. We find ourselves broken from any number of things, but God has provided a way for us to be seen as whole, and that is beautiful.
Prayer and Reflection
Pray for God to show you places in your past when he has provided. If you have a hard time coming up with things and feel like God never provides for you, think about how a difficult situation could’ve been worse. Most things could always go worse than they actually do.
1Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! 2 Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! 3 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! 4 Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! 5 Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered, 6 O offspring of Abraham, his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!
7 He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth. 8 He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, 9 the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, 10 which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, 11 saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance.”
What an immediately beautiful reminder that God is faithful and good! Sometimes it can hard for us to remember that God is faithful and good in the midst of something difficult. It’s always been that way for me. Whenever I’ve struggled through trials in my life, I want to cry out to God, “where are you?” Now, when I look back at many of those situations, it’s so obvious what I’ve learned from them, how I’ve grown out of them, and who I’ve become because of them. Last year my pastor said something that my wife and I quote to each other on occasion. It’s not necessarily an idea that I wasn’t already aware of, but it was put so succinctly that it brought to mind a clear image. It was at that moment, that something I knew became something I really believed. He said that God’s will is best discerned in the rearview mirror.
It’s simple, it’s straightforward, and in some ways it’s obvious. Try as I might, I struggle to understand God’s will in any given situation, but when I look back, I see how so many small decisions have impacted my life in dramatic ways. I see how the decision to send one specific text at one specific moment helped get me an unbelievable wife. I see how one reckless decision on choosing a college, altered my worldview for the better. I even see it in my family, how a new job took us to a different town and how that made all the difference. It’s hard for me to separate my identity, now, from so many small things. God’s guiding hand is as clear as day. When I “remember the wondrous works that he has done,” it becomes difficult to talk about my past without telling people about them and without making His deeds known.
The rearview mirror is backward focused. If you don’t regularly think about your past for whatever reason, I’d encourage you to reflect deeply. Make connections and think about how you’re better because of what you’ve experienced. Doing this doesn’t just keep us in the past, though. It makes us seek Him. It makes us “seek His presence continually.” It makes me want to seek Him because in seeing how He has guided my life in the past, I become convinced that He will do the same in the future, and it’s my prayer that you’ll feel that as well.
Prayer and Reflection
Pray that God will show you the ways in which he has been faithful to you in the past. Reflect on where you’ve been and how you’ve gotten to where you are today. If you’re in a difficult space right now, remember a time when you weren’t and know that where you are now is as temporary as anything else you’ve experienced and let that lead you to seek His presence continually.
Last Saturday, I departed from what is becoming my normal routine of biblical passage and commentary to share a prayer from Thomas Merton. I think I’ll make a similar departure this morning, but instead of a prayer, I’ll offer a poem. This particular poem is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison and it’s entitled Sorrow and Joy. Bonhoeffer was not exactly known for his poetry, but he was known for having a brilliant theological mind and this poem shows his ability to make deep connections.
His insights in this poem are powerful. He considers the natures of both sorrow and joy and finds that they compliment one another far closer than a first glance may give you. He suggests that time can easily make a moment of poignancy become suffering when dragged on too long. The poem ends with a beautiful reminder that it is at the moment of our callousness in the face of difficulty that we have to make a choice to fight against it. We can “fight the face of sorrow” with loyal hearts, not allowing ourselves to become uncompassionate because of our circumstance.
If you don’t know who Bonhoeffer is, I would suggest you take the time to read his story. It’s difficult to find a more compelling story of faith and courage in the face of oppression.
Sorrow and joy,
striking suddenly on our startled senses,
seem, at the first approach, all but impossible
of just distinction one from the other,
even as frost and heat at the first keen contact
burn us alike.
Joy and sorrow,
hurled from the height of heaven in meteor fashion,
flash in an arc of shining menace o’er us.
Those they touch are left
stricken amid the fragments
of their colorless, usual lives.
ruinous and compelling,
sorrow and joy
—summoned or all unsought for—
Those they encounter
they transfigure, investing them
with strange gravity
and a spirit of worship.
Joy is rich in fears;
sorrow has its sweetness.
Indistinguishable from each other
they approach us from eternity,
equally potent in their power and terror.
From every quarter
mortals come hurrying,
part envious, part awe-struck,
swarming, and peering
into the portent,
where the mystery sent from above us
is transmuting into the inevitable
order of earthly human drama.
What, then, is joy? What, then, is sorrow?
Time alone can decide between them,
when the immediate poignant happening
lengthens out to continuous wearisome suffering,
when the labored creeping moments of daylight
slowly uncover the fullness of our disaster,
sorrow’s unmistakable features.
Then do most of our kind
sated, if only by the monotony
of unrelieved unhappiness,
turn away from the drama, disillusioned,
o ye mothers and loved ones — then, ah, then
comes your hour, the hour for true devotion.
Then your hour comes, ye friends and brothers!
Loyal hearts can change the face of sorrow,
softly encircle it with love’s most gentle
4 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
This passage is a long one, but I think it’s an important continuation from the passage we looked at yesterday and paints a beautiful picture of the framework God uses for us to enter into relationship with Him.
Yesterday we looked at the Genesis passage in which Abraham believed the Lord. Here, today, we have the Apostle Paul in the Letter to the Romans explaining a foundational belief for many Christians, justification by faith, or sola fide. It’s important that we get this right, and I’ll try to do it as quickly as I can.
Justification (in Christian theology) is an act of God in which God pardons the sinner and accepts that person as righteous. It is the act in which God looks at you who is broken like you’re whole, and not just looks at but fully treats you, not as broken but as complete The theological question is not about whether God does this or doesn’t do this, but the question is, “what makes Him do this?” Justification by faith, sola fide, says that it was in Christ’s death that a switch was made, and we who have faith in Christ receive His righteousness, while he received our penalty (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus did this willingly, laying down His life for His people.
That raises another question though, who exactly are “His people?” All of the talk about circumcision in this Romans passage tells us something about that. For the traditional Jewish person at the time, circumcision was the sign that showed that you were a part of God’s people. It was this outward expression that proved your righteousness. Paul is showing that faith is the indicator of righteousness, not circumcision, and he does this by explaining that Abraham was called righteous before he was circumcised because he “believed the Lord.”
That’s truly all it takes to be seen by God as whole, as righteous. Sometimes we overcomplicate this process and want to provide a laundry list of the things we’ve done that make us a good person, but that isn’t the rubric God uses. He’s looking for faith. Faith is the key that unlocks the door to relationship. That doesn’t mean that once we have faith that we just sit and wait until we die to join Him. It means that we join Him now in the renewal of all things. He, indeed, calls us to work, but the work isn’t what gets us to Him.
1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
What a wild passage. A man old in his age, childless, becomes resigned to the the fact that his fortune will simply be given to someone else in his household. Being childless was a very real, very clear point of pain for Abram and Sarai (who later become Abraham and Sarah). It’s a reason for doubt, pain, and strife for many people still today. What’s amazing in this passage, and the next couple of chapters, is how clearly God addresses that pain.
Here God tells Abraham that his offspring will be his heir. He then takes him outside and basically says what he says more explicitly in chapter 17, that his offspring will be many, that his descendants will be like the stars in the sky. This man, old in his age and childless, will become the father of many nations. It’s easy to offer empty condolences and hope from a text like this. We often look to passages like this for encouragement and see that God relieved Abraham and Sarah from their strife and healed the biggest sore spot they had by delivering to them a son. I want to be careful in doing that though. Lent keeps us grounded. Sure Abraham is promised a multitude of descendants, but the more important piece is that he believed the Lord. His belief is counted as righteousness and it’s from that righteousness that a promise like this is even made.
I can’t promise you that whatever suffering you might be dealing with will be healed during your lifetime. I truly wish I could. I do, however, feel confident in telling you that the perspective you have towards that thing can change the course of your life. Abraham’s belief in the promises of God alleviated his pain. For us, an eternal perspective is needed to know that a trusting belief in the work of Christ on the cross guarantees us freedom from sin and pain, not here in this lifetime, but in eternity.
This is good news for us that should prompt us into action. We, as the church, are called to continue the work of God with the help of the Spirit here on Earth, which includes tending to the sick, caring for widows and orphans, helping the impoverished. We’re called into action to help give the world a taste of the new Heavens and new Earth. We’re called as a community to help each other endure the hardships of this life with a hope pointed towards a glorious end, when the promises of the cross are realized once and for all.
Prayer and Reflection
Pray that God helps you see your points of pain from an eternal perspective. Ask for empathy in seeing the pain in others and wisdom to know how to serve them best.
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”4 But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
This passage is the heart of the Lenten fast. It’s where the 40 days of Lent is traditionally derived. It’s a powerful example of the resistance of temptation and the goodness of God. Jesus reminds us at each moment of temptation to shift our focus away from that temptation and back toward God.
If you’re searching for the rhythm of Lent, this is it. It’s the ebb and flow of hunger, temptation, Jesus, hunger, temptation, Jesus. Whatever you may be fasting from, the longer you go without it, the greater the temptation grows, and the more we need to lean on Christ. It’s hard, and it’s also a microcosm of the Christian life.
As the Spirit begins to sanctify us from the very beginning of our faith and begins to pare away sin from our lives, the temptation for our comforts, our old ways grows stronger. It becomes harder to resist. We’re faced with choice to remain steadfast or to momentarily lapse into our old ways and try to fill the hunger with the idols we used to carry. When this happens we enter into a different rhythm, one of confession, repentance, and belief. We enter back into the cycle and the Spirit continues to work in us.
This is the work of the Spirit, to make us more Christlike through the rhythms of the Christian walk that are magnified during the Lenten season. Maybe think of it like a workout routine. You don’t start with lifting the heaviest weight in the gym, and you don’t start with the marathon. You build your way up to those things. The good news is that with this spiritual exercise, the Spirit guides you and helps you along the way. We don’t do this alone. Not only has He sent the Spirit to help us grow, but he’s also sent other people. We’re never alone in this walk no matter how it may sometimes feel.
If you feel like progress is slow, just know that you’re not alone and that even Jesus is served by angels at the end of this event, and at the end of ours, He’ll be there too, lifting us up in our exhaustion. He’ll be there to feed us the feast He has prepared.
Prayer and Reflection
Reflect and pray the collect from the Book of Common Prayer for this past Sunday. Also, think about what idols you need help shedding and lean into the support of the Spirit, who will guide you to truth.
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations, and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
As we’ve already established, to some degree, Lent is a time for us to come to terms with the human condition. The focus is often on the brokenness in each of us as well as the brokenness around us. As I’ve mentioned before, we embrace our brokenness and look for truth in the midst of it. We “endure suffering” as 2 Timothy 4:5 states. Yes, Lent is a time to crack open the shells of our lives and peer into the inner workings of who we are, but besides brokenness, what might you also see?
Is it not true that we were created in the image of God and given a task to tame the wildness of creation in such a way that promotes flourishing, to use our creativity for His glory (Genesis 1:26-31)? We may be broken, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t valuable. We may not have earned God’s grace, but that doesn’t negate our value. It doesn’t mean that God didn’t create us for a purpose or that we weren’t made with intention.
Verse 8 is clear that salvation doesn’t come from anything that we’ve done. It’s a gift from God. His grace is a gift, but just because we didn’t do anything to receive the gift doesn’t mean there isn’t something for us to do. We were created for good works. We were created to seek the flourishing of other humans, to “be fruitful and multiple.” We often think of this phrase as a commandment to reproduce, but what if it’s broader than that? What if we’re called from the very beginning to participate in a world that promotes health and care and love for everyone?
The human condition is broken, but at the same time in our brokenness, in our death, we were loved and saved so that we could live into the good works that God planned for us from the beginning. We seek healing. We seek reconciliation. We seek justice. We seek love. We seek the welfare of the city. These things may not be perfected until He returns, but we can catch a glimpse of what His glory is like and help others do the same.
I’ve mentioned that I want to make Lent about introspection. I want us to shed the weight of our idols and see what’s left. What’s left might be broken, but it’s also the workmanship of God. He took care in creating each of us, so maybe the cracks are there on purpose. What might we see when we peer into the inner workings of who we are? Maybe when we hesitantly peek into those broken spots, we’ll be surprised by what we find. Maybe we’ll find that we were fearfully and wonderfully made. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find the kingdom of God.
Prayer and Reflection
Pray for guidance in better understanding how God can use you for the flourishing of those around you. Pray that you will find hope, love, and value in the brokenness of your life.
This morning I’d like to shift gears and try something different. Instead of taking a look at a passage of Scripture, I’d like to share a prayer with you from the 20th century monk and author, Thomas Merton. I don’t typically use traditional devotionals in my own life. I don’t really know why, but I often gravitate towards other things like written prayers and poetry to supplement my Bible reading. They tend to be both short and reflective.
The reading this morning appears in a collection of Merton’s prayers titled, Dialogues with Silence. Hannah and I randomly came across it a few years ago in a small bookstore in Providence, Rhode Island. I’ve since used it off and on for daily reflection. It’s funny to me how something so random, so seemingly inconsequential can work its way into the daily rhythms of life. If you’re in my college group, you may have read this particular prayer before, but it’s one of my favorites. Sometimes these take a second, slow reading to really catch the intimacy and details. Reflect with me.
My Lord, I have no hope but in Your Cross. You, by Your humility, sufferings and death, have delivered me from all vain hope. You have killed the vanity of the present life in Yourself and have given me all that is eternal in rising from the dead.
My hope is in what the eye has never seen. Therefore let me not trust in visible rewards. My hope is in what the human heart cannot feel. Therefore let me not trust in the feelings of my heart. My hope is in what the hand has never touched. Do not let me trust in what I can grasp between my fingers, because Death will loosen my grasp and my vain hope will be gone.
Let my trust be in Your mercy, not in myself. Let my hope be in Your love, not in health or strength or ability or human resources.
If I trust You, everything else will become for me strength, health and support. Everything will bring me to heaven. If I do not trust You, everything will be my destruction.
1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Whew! There’s a lot to say with a passage like this. I’ll try to make this one a little shorter than yesterday, but if you know me, you know I’m long winded. That plays itself out in writing just the same. For our purposes and for the purpose of Lent, we’re going to focus in on just a couple of key pieces after looking at the passage as a whole.
Verses 1-2 have an exhortation for the Christian (and specifically Timothy, to whom the letter is written). “I charge you… preach the word.” The meaning here is simple enough. Preaching the word should “reprove, rebuke, and exhort,” and you’re to do it “with complete patience and teaching.”
Verses 3-4 are a commentary on the tendency of people to gravitate towards things that suit themselves rather than challenging themselves with what is true. This is where we’re going to spend the bulk of our time because I think it’s the most obviously recognizable piece in our own lives.
Verse 5 doubles back to the same charge as verses 1 and 2, just worded differently. He says “fulfill your ministry” by doing the work. There’s also a charge to “endure suffering” which is a form of patience, a theme that will carry over throughout these posts.
Verses 3-4 are where I really want to focus for the rest of this post. Man, if we don’t all fall into this trap from time to time. In fact, it seems that for many people, finding a teacher to suit their passions is their ultimate goal and is, they believe, their God-given right. I want to offer an alternative perspective. Maybe you don’t believe in truth. If that’s you, then this alternative perspective may not say very much to you. It’s a completely different conversation that we need to have, however, for those that do believe in truth, listen up.
Sometimes coming to grips with what is true can be difficult. Sometimes it’s much easier to listen to someone who is telling you exactly what you want to hear, what you want to be true. This is where we get into to trouble. We begin to construct for ourselves a house of cards that becomes more and more fragile the higher we build it. The deeper we move away from reality, the more cards we stack on top until the smallest breath of truth sends the structure crashing down.
It boils down to the same message that I mentioned yesterday. We can’t skip the hard parts of reality and go right to what feels good. The more we medicate our lives and placate our senses with ideas that simply suit our desires, the more we become detached from reality. We build a shaky frame that’s always in danger of falling apart. We’re always rushing to plug every hole and fix every leak, and we become exhausted. Pretending is exhausting.
So seek the truth. Find comfort there. Find rest there. Find meaning there. If Lent is about anything, it’s about stripping away the things that make us believe we are independent, that we don’t need God, that we don’t need community, that we are self-reliant, and that we control everything around us. Lent is about stripping away the flashy and getting to reality, authenticity, and truth.
Prayer and Reflection
Pray that God reveals those things in our lives that prevent us from listening to truth. Pray that He helps us to see ourselves as we are, helps us to love ourselves as He’s created us.