Embrace Power, Love, and Self Control (Not Fear)

…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV)

Several days ago, terrorists from ISIS attacked numerous places in Paris, France. Ambushing a concert and restaurant patios, the terrorists killed over 120 and injured many more. This horrific (and cowardly) attack struck fear into the lovely city of Paris and beyond, the fear ripples now reaching the civilized world. (My parents were in Paris the day before, and praise God they made it out before the attacks.)

Today news headlines are littered with the situation with Syrian refugees. Many feel the only right thing to do is to accept all refugees and many feel the right thing to do is to refuse them all (for fear there are terrorists among them). Some land in the middle or maybe they are still trying to understand the situation.

Presidential debates are an often occurrence these days, with the right and the left doing verbal battle with their fellow party members. We want to know who will be our next Commander-In-Chief and it seems everyone has a hot opinion on who would be best for America. Again, fear seems to control much of the conversation.

There’s a lot going on.

But let me remind you of something: God did not give us a spirit of fear. In Christ, we win whether we live or die (Phil. 1:21). We must seek to lay our life at the feet of Jesus and allow His Spirit to guide us, no matter how scary – or even deadly the path may be (Matt. 16:25).

Here are some reminders from 1 Timothy 1:17:

  1. God did not give us a spirit of fear. Do not be anxious (Matt. 6:34). Our worries don’t add to our life, they take it away (Luke 12:25). The King of the world is our savior, our advocate, and our friend. If He is for us, who can be against us?
  2. We have a spirit of power. Prayer works. It changes things. And our God is sovereign. You have the Spirit of God living within you (1 Cor. 3:16). There is no greater power.
  3. We have a spirit of love. We are not only called to love our neighbors, we are called to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). Do you realize that includes terrorists? Now this does not mean that we sit on our hands and do nothing, but we are to be governed by the love of Christ, which is a love that loves the unlovable. We do not drink the poison of revenge, but rather we leave ultimate justice up to God Himself (Romans 12:19). Even when we suit up for battle, we must have love and respect for the enemy.
  4. We have a spirit of self-control. We may voice our opinions. We ought to when we have something to say that is winsome and helpful. Christians can and should be involved in the public conversation. But we are to do so with love, grace, and truth. Here is a good measuring stick: if you are engaging in dialogue with someone, does it honor everyone (1 Peter 2:17)?

My friends, do not fear. Because of your purchase on the rugged cross, you have no need of it. And remember, it is not that we ought to be fearless, powerful, loving, and self-controlled. This is not a behavioral standard that we must meet to be righteous. No, 2 Timothy 1:7 says that God has given us a spirit of fearlessness, power, love, and self-control. We are recipients of these virtues by way of the Spirit who lives within us.

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The Crucial Generation Link

“They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women…” (Titus 2:3-4)

Where older generations do not invest in the younger generation, societies fail. It’s just common sense. Ignore your young people and they’ll grow up to be childish adults. And if we have too many of these kid grownups, society will look like Gymboree meets Rambo.

Our churches tend to segregate because churches are made up of people and people tend to segregate. But let’s talk about age segregation. You have old, gray-haired churches in old white buildings where things are traditional and you have young, hip churches with rock bands playing worship. Clearly one caters to the old folks and one caters to the young folks.

It is natural that we lean towards a certain worship style. It is also natural that we tend to hang out with people our age. But heaven forbid we separate ourselves from other generations of believers (even if unintentionally).

The onus is on the older generation, so if you’re in that camp, please listen up. The vitality of your church will be directly proportional to your investment into young men and women (particularly those you share a gender with) as you train them in the application of the Gospel in life. How should they treat their spouse? How do they work? What have you learned in regards to Bible reading that they can use? What should they watch out for? You get the point.

Young men are prolonged adolescents (boy/men) so often not because they are idiots but rather because they lack (or lacked) training and discipleship by strong older men. Trust me, as a young man, when I see a lion-hearted older man who loves Jesus, I just want to listen.

The Gospel is both childishly simple and impossibly complex. It is approachable and easy to be grasped by all, grace covering our sin because God is good. But the application of the Gospel on our lives is where we need help. The Bible doesn’t tell us everything, it just tells us what we need to know. And one of those things is that older people train younger people in righteousness, in study, and in general life.

Let’s get practical. Okay, so my old people line up over here. Now young people line up over there. Now for your action items:

Old folks – Invest in young people. Take them by the arm and teach them. Give them advice, even if it feels unwanted. Pray for them. Show them the way to deeper communion with Jesus. Apply the Gospel to their life for them so they can see the beauty of God.

Young folks – Seek the wisdom of old people. Maybe it’s your parents or maybe it’s an older couple at your church. Maybe it’s a wrinkled old person in an old folk’s home – those people are treasure chests of wisdom. Seek wisdom from those who have fought years for it.

We need each other to fight arm in arm as we walk each day towards our eternal reward in Christ. The old must train the young and the young must keep the cycle going as they age. The health of our churches and families depend on it.

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Don’t be Such a Cretan

“For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’” (Titus 1:10-12) 

Harsh words for the Cretans from a Cretan, eh? It would be like a Coppellian saying all Coppellians are liars. Does that then discredit the statement of the lying Coppellian about other Coppellians? That’s a head scratcher.

Paul planted churches all over the place. He saw it all. Good churches, bad churches, big cities, one goat towns.

Having spent the past 5 years in church leadership, I have noticed there are two types of people that belong to a church. Now there are fence sitters and outliers, but people generally fall into one of two categories: Cretan Complainers or Humble Helpers.

The Cretan Complainer

The Cretan Complainer (or CC, for short) is someone who is quick to criticize and slow to raise their hand to help. They don’t like this ministry or that song or that person and you just don’t hear much from them in the way of positivity. CCs talk empty and they seem to talk often. They bring up problems but never matching solutions.

The Humble Helper

The Humble Helper (or HH, for short) is quick to help and slow to criticize. If they do offer a criticism, it is in love and for the good of the church. The HH talks less and does more. They may or may not like certain aspects of the church or the people within its walls, but they fight to make their contribution because they love the bride of Christ.

Obviously the HH wears the white hat. Hopefully as you read the description of the two you want to be a HH and not a CC. The Bible would certainly condone the spirit of an HH:

“Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5:9)

“Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19)

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

So I think we can agree that an HH is the way to go. If we have CC tendencies, we can repent and move towards and more humble and loving devotion to the local church body to which we belong. We can aim at the 3 verses above to guide our conduct.

But why?

We must always look behind the what to get to the why. It is not merely enough that we should have a humble and helpful character, because doing so just because it’s just the right thing to do is a weak motive that won’t last. Doing good because good is good is a circular argument to nowhere. That’s like being obsessed with peace. Someday someone will come along and upend your peace and you’ll throw a rip-roaring (read: not peaceful) tantrum. Motive must come from a place of purity.

When we are saved in Christ, we are saved into a body of believers. That’s called the church. Jesus called the church His bride. And He shed His blood for her. For the church, which is a family of weirdos like you and me. His rescue of us was the most loving act in known history.

Clearly the church matters. Clearly you matter.

The church (the universal church, meaning the body of believers) is not an organization of like-minded individuals that rally around a purpose. It isn’t like the Rotary Club or the Boy Scouts where you sign up or leave at will. The church is a family purchased by the blood of Christ. We belong to one another, and we are immensely blessed to belong.

So Jesus bought our way into His bride, His church. That means if we value what Jesus values we must find our way to a local church. If we want to be near to Jesus we will want to be near His church, and guess what – that means you’ll get to gussy up next to His ragtag people. Throw a bunch of sinful people together, add the grace of Christ, pour over the great news of the Gospel, and stir.

In the Bible Belt, the default mode for most is consumerism. Shop, compare, decide, and scrutinize. It’s how we buy socks and it’s how we shop churches. Now considering the importance of a church home, you should absolutely vet theology and check things out before becoming a member (or more importantly, encouraging your entire family to become members). But if you’re looking for a perfect church, you’ll just keep looking. The only perfect thing about a church is Jesus. So after vetting theology, praying, and then determining a church is right for you, you commit. You buy in.

John F. Kennedy famously said, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” When I was a kid my dad inserted “family” in that line during a teachable moment. Allow me to insert “church” into that line:

Ask not what your church can do for you, ask what you can do for your church.

We will not be useful members of our church until and unless we behold Jesus with our heart and soul and mind. That’s the Great Commandment: love God entirely and then love your neighbor as yourself. You cannot skip to step two because step one is a prerequisite. The imperative here – the action item – is not to simply do more. That is a weak and overly simplistic approach. No, we need to sit at the feet of Jesus. Practically that looks like reading Scripture, preaching the Gospel to yourself, serving others, and belonging to a local church body.

Don’t overthink it, my friend. And don’t feel guilty if you’re more CC than HH. But do remember to check your thinking about the church and repent of your CC ways. You belong to a family that loves you, albeit imperfectly. You belong to that family because God loves you perfectly.

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