Calloused Hands and Softened Hearts

Scripture Focus: 2 Timothy 1.12
That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

Reflection: Calloused Hands and Softened Hearts
By John Tillman

In suffering for the gospel, Paul carried with him a joy and purpose that he worked to pass on to Timothy and to us.

Paul, when writing this second letter to Timothy, knew that his life was coming to an end. Reading between the lines, one can hear the certainty with which Paul feels his death approaching. 

Paul does not encourage Timothy with any false hope of things improving for Christians or for Timothy. In fact, by his prayers and what he writes, he seems certain of problems and crises for Timothy rather than ease and comfort. He invites Timothy to, “not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.”

Some interpretations of the Christian faith have, from time to time, trended toward pie-in-the-sky, escapist fantasy—as if the great purpose of the gospel was only to leave this world behind. 

Gospel Christianity, fully embraced, realistically addresses the now and spiritually embraces the future. Few religions do both. The Bible shows us a Christ—with dirty, workman’s hands—fixing, healing, and working in the muddy, bloody now of the New Testament. His heart is soft for those far from God and for those hurt and damaged by this world. Following Christ, our hands will grow calloused and our hearts will be softened as we work to meet needs and change the world now.

The Bible also shows us a Christ wielding axe, fire, and wrath. This Christ will end the diseased and broken version of creation we live in and bring about a restoration. This Christ also comes individually to us to end our inner world that is equally diseased and broken, restoring us to our potential.

There is suffering coming to our lives.
There is death coming to our lives.
There is destruction on its way.
We may still be encouraged. This is true not because our suffering will be ended by Christ, but because Christ suffers with us.

There is coming a day on which the world will be no more. But this does not mean that our earthly efforts are wasted. We, like Paul and Timothy, are working alongside Christ. 

We, too, may know in whom we have placed our faith and trust. 

Walking with Christ, we will be:
Shameless in suffering
Personally assured in belief
Convinced of Christ’s ability, not our own
Guarded by Christ Jesus

“I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” — 2 Timothy 1:12

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust. — Psalm 119.147

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 10 (Listen – 6:30)
2 Timothy 1 (Listen -2:37)

Thank You!
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Read more about Jesus with Axe and Fire
To burn out of our souls our preoccupation with ourselves we require a different kind of axe and a different kind of fire. Thankfully, Jesus stands ready to supply both.

Read more about Resurrecting Goodness :: Readers’ Choice
It is a uniquely Christian claim that God is invested in our present, not just our future.

Immortality and Resurrection

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 7.2
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.

At the end of tax season in the US, we take a look back at this 2015 post from The Park Forum. The issues discussed are, of course, immortal. — John

Reflection: Immortality and Resurrection
The Park Forum

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. — Benjamin Franklin

Franklin could not have foreseen Silicon Valley. Today’s tech elite feel differently (possibly about both issues, but we’ll focus on the desire to upgrade life for this weekend.)

“Death makes me very angry. Premature death makes me angrier still” says Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle who has invested over $430 million into anti-aging research.

Peter Thiel — who co-founded PayPal and Palantir, and has a net worth over $2.2 billion — told Sonia Arisen, “The great unfinished task of the modern world is to turn death from a fact of life into a problem to be solved — a problem towards whose solution I hope to contribute in whatever way I can.”

The Washington Post describes Thiel as, “the embodiment of Silicon Valley culture at its individualistic, impatient extreme,” and he is at the helm of modern tech’s latest quest: to end death.

Max Anderson posted on Forbes about Thiel’s recent conversation with N.T. Wright:

“For Thiel, life is a self-evident good and death is the opposite of life. Therefore death is a problem, and as he says there are three main ways of approaching it. ‘You can accept it, you can deny it or you can fight it. I think our society is dominated by people who are into denial or acceptance, and I prefer to fight it.’ Whether we can successfully fight death is a question about the nature of nature and about our ability to understand it. Whether we should try to fight death is a question of our philosophy and our theology.”

Anderson quotes N.T. Wright from Surprised by Hope:

“The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present — by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself — will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
We can never ransom ourselves, or deliver to God the price of our life; For the ransom of our life is so great, that we should never have enough to pay it. — Psalm 49.10

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 7 (Listen – 3:37)
2 Timothy 3 (Listen – 2:21)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 8 (Listen – 2:41) 2 Timothy 4 (Listen – 2:48)
Ecclesiastes 9 (Listen – 3:13) Titus 1 (Listen – 2:24)

The Weekend Reading List
Peter Thiel, N.T. Wright On Technology, Hope, And The End Of Death by Max Anderson
Tech Titans’ Latest Project: Defy Death by Ariana Eunjung Cha
100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith by Sonia Arisen (Basic Books, 2011)
Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright (HarperOne, 2008)

Remember Jesus Christ

Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:8
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.

Reflection: Remember Jesus Christ
By Jon Polk

Instructions to remember are commonplace across the landscape of Scripture.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. (Ex. 20:8)
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you. (Deut. 15:15)
These days should be remembered and observed in every generation. (Est. 9:28)
Remember the law of my servant Moses. (Mal. 4:4)
This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. (1 Cor. 11:24)

Remembering in Scripture is often a calling to focus on God’s commands or to recall God’s intervention in history.

The apostle Paul in his role as mentor encourages his protégé, the young minister Timothy, that when doing the work of the gospel, we must “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.” Paul also tells Timothy to “Keep reminding God’s people of these things.”

Why? Because apparently many in the church were arguing about unimportant matters.

The most commonly quoted verse from 2 Timothy 2, “Do your best to present yourself to God as a worker approved,” is nestled between injunctions to cease “quarreling about words” and to “avoid godless chatter.”

When public discourse becomes volatile and contentious, it is far too easy for us to become distracted by matters of lesser importance. To become God’s workers who “correctly handle the word of truth,” we must focus on remembering God’s faithfulness to us, particularly through the resurrected Christ. Remembering helps us to keep the main thing the main thing.

Remembering the good news of the risen Christ provides perspective for our lives.

Remembering the resurrection also recalls Christ’s suffering and reminds us that we may experience suffering, too.

Remembering the Messiah who was in the lineage of David encourages us that God can and will work through the frailness of our own humanity.

The call to remember Jesus Christ as our focus, our goal and our hope, is echoed by a phrase in the Barmen Declaration, written in 1934 by Karl Barth and the Confessing Church in response to powers seeking to use the church in service of the nation of Germany:

Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

As the shadow of Easter Sunday begins to lengthen, let us diligently continue to remember.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me. — Psalm 101.6

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 6 (Listen – 1:44)
2 Timothy 2 (Listen – 3:17)

Unsurprising Oppression

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 5.8-9
If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.

Reflection: Unsurprising Oppression
By John Tillman

The teacher of Ecclesiastes and the teacher of Galilee seem to agree that oppression and poverty are a condition of the world that should not be surprising to us, but that doesn’t make them apathetic laissez-faire economists.

Solomon, the teacher of Ecclesiastes, says we should be unsurprised to see oppression of the poor and systemic corruption in the government.

Jesus, the teacher of Galilee, says the poor will always be with us.

Neither of them would have expected their words to be portrayed as endorsements of a laissez-faire attitude toward poverty or oppression.

Rather than an endorsement, Solomon’s statement is a confession of complicity. The king himself profits from the fields. The profit of the corrupt system, and the guilt for it, passes up the chain of authority and distributes itself throughout the entire economic system to every citizen. And Solomon calls this profit, “meaningless.”

And in the case of Christ’s words, often misquoted by politicians looking to cut social spending, Jesus is referencing an Old Testament passage everyone in the room would have instantly recognized. The other half of the sentence from Deuteronomy that Jesus is referencing is, “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”

Jesus is specifically referencing the abandoned economic practices of Jubilee. Under this system, debts (regardless of their origins or the wisdom of the debtors) were to be forgiven every seven years, including a complete reset of property rights once in a generation.

There is little biblical evidence that the system was ever followed as God prescribed it. If it had been followed generational poverty would be impossible. However, the pull of meaningless profit and gain for gain’s sake was too strong for ancient Israel and is too strong for us today.

As the teacher says:

Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless.

The meaninglessness of accumulating wealth is a universal symptom of our sinful condition. We are all affected by it, from the top economic strata to the bottom.

May we be generous not just with tangible resources, but by influencing the way our culture thinks about poverty.

In a world in which the poor and oppressed are too often excoriated as complicit in their own oppression, may we speak words of truth and comfort backed up with tangible aid.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; he perceives the houghty from afar. — Psalm 138.6

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 5 (Listen – 2:50)
2 Timothy 1 (Listen – 2:37)

Where Martyrdom Begins Part 1

Scripture: 2 Timothy 4.6-8
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.

Even though Western Christians are not facing anything that could truly be called persecution, it is still possible, even in a modern, Western, Christian church to be martyred. Over the next two days we will look back at a not-so-recent story of a martyr that never really made it into the headlines and reflect on where martyrdom begins for every Christian. — John

Reflection: Where Martyrdom Begins Part 1
By John Tillman

Does martyrdom begin when a knife is held to your throat? If laying down our lives for another shows the greatest love, is it not possible to show that love unless our lives are taken in violence?

On July 26th, 2016, near the city of Rouen, in France, a Catholic priest, Father Jacques Hamel, was killed in a vicious attack. The attack occurred during mass in the church at Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, where, despite being of retirement age, the 85 year old had served as auxiliary priest since 2005.

It’s easy to think that when Jesus referred to laying his life down for his friends, he was referring to his imminent death on the cross. And we are right to do so. He died for us. He gave up his life on the cross. But stopping there simplifies what Jesus did — and what he said — into one single act.

Dying on the cross was not the only way that Jesus gave up his life for his disciples. On the cross it was finished, not begun. Jesus didn’t just live for himself his whole life and then in one grand gesture, decide to sacrifice his life for all of humanity. He gave up his life for his followers in little moments and big ones, bit by bit, in every minute that he was with them.

When Jesus talked about giving up his life and commanded his followers to do as he did, he hadn’t died yet. What he had just done was wash their feet. He had lowered himself from his position as leader to serve them. And he served them in a way that was unreasonable, even degrading, in the eyes of some.

Our laying down our lives for each other as Christ did may include physical martyrdom, but it definitely includes more than that. It is harder than that. Father Hamel spent seconds—perhaps minutes—dying for his flock. He spent more than a half-century serving them.

We are commanded to take up our cross daily, not finally. It is in the so-called small, everyday sacrifices that we give our lives for each other. We do it in each hour, each moment, that we remember to not stay in lofty positions as respected teachers and friends, but to lower ourselves, perhaps humiliatingly, to serve each other.

Revised and abridged from a post on Garage For Faith.

The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Protect my life and deliver me; let me not be put to shame, for I have trusted in you. — Psalm 25.19

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 14 (Listen – 5:06)
2 Timothy 4 (Listen – 2:48)

Read More: Where Martyrdom Begins Part 2
Physically giving up your life — being martyred — on behalf of others is loving as Christ did on one day of his life. But giving up your rights purposely, embracing humiliating servitude to help others, and doing it with a heart of love and not resentment, is how Christ loved us on every other day of his life.