Thursday, March 8, 2007

What do you mean God wants me to suffer?

II Timothy 2:1-6 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. Yet, it is also one of the hardest to follow. I mean, when I get to heaven, I'm not sure how long it's going to take for me to ask Paul every question that I have for him. I'm pretty sure that he was a runner, so I'm thinking that we can run a little ultra-marathon on the streets of gold, and that might begin to cover Round 1 of my interview. When I need to be encouraged, I find myself turning to one of Paul's letters. When I need to be reminded why I'm a Christian, I am drawn to his writings. However, most of the time when I read the text that came from his pen, I end up challenged and humbled. There are many lessons to learn from Paul's words here... let's break it down one piece at a time and see what we find.

"You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus."

1. Your strength comes from Christ. So did Paul's. I mean, think about how brave he had to be. How many times was he thrown in prison? How often was he persecuted? Yet, he continued teaching and preaching with boldness. He wasn't a quiet Christian. With courage, he proclaimed the gospel wherever he went. That kind of strength can't be found in our weak flesh. Yet Paul never boasted about his bravery. Philippians 4:13 says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." He knew where his strength came from. Do you?

"The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses..."

2. Make your Christianity contageious. Many people followed Paul...why? I mean, he traveled from town to town, had no home, no shower, no bed...are you following me? He was probably dirty and most likely smelled. Why would he have a huge crowd hanging on to his every word? Because people saw something that they didn't have, and they wanted it. Live your life in a way that is different so people will desire to "catch" your relationship with Christ.

"...entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."

3. You should be mentoring and teaching others. And no, you are not too young to do so. In Paul's first letter to Timothy, he writes, "Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity; show yourself an example of those who believe." You are never too young to make an impact for Christ. You remember the disciple John - the one that Jesus entrusted his mother to when he was dying on the cross? According to historial records, he was a teenager when he was an apostle. Jesus trusted him enough to ask him to take care of his mother after his death. He might give you a huge responsibility too!

"Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus."

4. Difficult times come as a package deal with the gift of salvation. Yes, it seems even princesses get punished. Hebrews 12:7 says, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?" God uses hard times as teachable moments. I know there were times when my earthly father knew that I was not doing the right thing. Sometimes, he intervened, and at other times, he let me learn the hard way. My daddy learned this approach from God. He uses difficult situations to discipline us, just like a loving parent.

"No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier."

5. If you get caught up in the things of this world, you will miss chances to please God. Think about those soldiers that stand outside palaces - you know, the ones that aren't allowed to move. I promise, they risk being fired if they blink too much! When they are on duty, they cannot be distracted by anything (even when obnoxious tourists try to do anything they can to make them laugh - not that I would know!) Christians are the same way. We cannot be distracted by the things of this world. We are to concetrate on carrying out the commands given to us by Christ.

"Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules."

6. In the Christian life, winning revolves around obedience. God blesses those who obey him. Also, keep in mind that we will not always be rewarded on this earth. So when you think that you are being obedient and God is not blessing you, be patient. Your eternal reward is waiting for you. This can be hard, especially when it can seem that others around you are disobedient and appear to have everything. But don't give up. When others slip, be obedient. You will never regret it, and you will win in the end.

"The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receieve his share of the crops."

7. Often, things don't happen as they "ought" to. Be prepared to take the back seat. I'm the first to admit that I love the spotlight. Who doesn't? Applause. Approval. Acceptance. I don't think anyone could honestly admit that those things don't mean something to them. But it's easy for your acts of service to be overlooked. Sometimes, people get used to them. They may even learn to expect you to go above the beyond - and many times, take you for granted. But do not let yourself be discouraged and cling to the truth in Colossians 3:23-24. "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve."

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Esther 4:14b

"And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"