Fallen responses and gospel responses.

I’m not a fan of emotions. I’d rather (and I tend to) stay even-keel all around than to get too excited or too upset about things.

But I still have a response to things internally, and I find the polarity between them fascinating.  I’ve started to realize that within myself, I can have a fallen response to things, or I can have a redeemed, Gospel response to things.

For starters, it’s easy for me to feel hard done by. It’s easy for me to feel that I’m unappreciated, overused, and undervalued. But when I feel that response welling up in me, I have to stop and think that that’s one of those fallen responses. Why?

Well, recall the story of Cain and Abel, for one. Cain was angry because his sacrifice (which, in reality, wasn’t of the same quality according to God’s standards) wasn’t as appreciated; because God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice and not with his. In reality, Cain threw a temper tantrum (which is how I see my hard-done-by attitude manifested) and didn’t really speak to God other than to ask if he was his brother’s keeper. What goes understated is God’s response to Cain—He always gives him a chance. He asks why Cain is upset, and Cain fails to respond, to make his case. God asks Cain where his brother is, and Cain responds bitterly by attempting to absolve himself of responsibility. So the first thing I notice about this response is that it involves a willing lack of reciprocity in communication. In other words, God gives Cain the chance to make his case, but he never does, because he chooses not to. Why? Who knows—maybe he was mad at God (likely,) maybe he knew he didn’t have a good case (also likely,) and/or maybe he just thought it would be better not to say anything and try to make God feel bad. But it didn’t work out so well for Cain. He wandered the earth for the rest of his life.

Second, it’s easy for me to feel afraid. Just ask my parents—I was chronically afraid as a child. I remember how petrified I’d be when a trailer for a scary movie came on TV while we watched our favorite shows or a football game. This was a perpetual issue until I was probably 16 or 17 years old. Today, this manifests itself in that I’m petrified of being found out. Let me explain…

My car needs to go into the shop. I haven’t even told my dad this yet (and he’s my go-to guy for cars, because they were never a strong suit of mine, nor do I really care for them to be) but it’s making funny noises and has been for at least a month, and the brake pads feel worn…it’d be best if I just took it in and said to the mechanic, “just drive it around the block, and you’ll be able to hear all the different things you need to look at!” But that response is exactly what I seek to avoid! I think there’s this manly things within me that wants to have an answer or a problem to be solved, rather than admitting, “I don’t know what the problem is, and I’ve been too embarrassed to bring it in because the fact remains—I don’t know what’s wrong.” Not only that, but remember that taking your car to the mechanic has potential to be expensive, and while I technically have the money to cover a trip, that money is in my emergency fund, and to this point, it’s no emergency, because my car runs just fine.

There’s this perpetual fear of exposure: that I don’t know what the problem is; that I don’t have the money to fix it; that I haven’t practiced the right habits to save; that I’ll be found out.

I write this because these are two of what I call fallen responses. A fallen response is simply responding to circumstances or events in a way that I would have responded before Jesus came onto the scene. That begs the question: how should I respond now that Jesus has come on the scene?

Well to the first response—feeling hard done by—I’d say that Jesus Christ was hard done by, but you never heard Him complain about it. He never blamed others for the problems in His own life, He never complained of being accused of things He didn’t do. He did expose the problem in thinking when people accused Him of things that weren’t really wrong (see Matthew 12) but He never gave up on His mission because of others. The Gospel—by telling me of Jesus’ life—helps me to see that I’m not the most important person in my life, and that injustice done toward Jesus is the reason I can be saved, and as a consequence, suffering injustice is a way I can share in Jesus’ suffering.

To the second—fear (and particularly that of exposure)—fear was never something useful. What I mean by that is that through the Bible, you hear God saying, “Fear not.” He didn’t say (to use the clichéd inverse approach) “just get over your fear.” He gave the command not to fear altogether. But the Gospel abolishes my fear of man by showing me that I’m already approved by the only one from whom I need it—God Himself. It shows me that I can move forward confidently because there’s nothing I can lose on this earth that can matter, be that money or reputation. Not only that, but the areas in which I feel incompetent now are areas in which I can learn or improve. As in, since I’m free from the bondage of fearing others, I can learn the process of dealing with mechanics or making painful phone calls that I’d normally dread.

Hopefully this can be a revelation for you, and you can notice in yourself when you respond to things in a fallen fashion instead of a Gospel-redeemed manner, and ask God for grace to respond differently.

1 and 2 Timothy were written for me.

Not just me, though.

I’m a son. I have been called to ministry from a young age (16) and it has been a process for me. I remember the first time I was allowed to speak toward the end of a youth group meeting, and I was so ecstatic that I had no regard for how my approach may affect others (my sister said I may have upset our youth pastor by commenting on how little time I was left); I remember when I was first joining worship team and I e-mailed all of the youth worship band and asked if I could play “background bass,” as in bass behind the already existing bass player, as if bass wasn’t complimentary enough! I remember leading worship for the first time, leading a life group for the first time, and preaching for the first time (and second, and third, and fourth…)

In all of this, I’ve had a man who’s been nothing short of a father to me (I’m no longer willing to say that someone is “like” family to me. If they’re like family, they’re family.) Every time I read 1 or 2 Timothy, I hear the words of Paul to Timothy (a father in the faith to a son in the faith) in his voice, as if he were talking directly to me. Here are my favorite passages from each chapter of 1 and 2 Timothy.

1 Timothy 1:12-18

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.[d] Amen.

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare…

1 Timothy 2:1-6

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man[a] Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

1 Timothy 3:14-16

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He[e] was manifested in the flesh,     vindicated[f] by the Spirit,[g]         seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations,     believed on in the world,         taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 4:6-10

If you put these things before the brothers,[a] you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive,[b] because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

1 Timothy 5 (specific instructions, less theology)

1 Timothy 6:11-16

11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before[d] Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

2 Timothy 1:13-14

13 Follow the pattern of the sound[d] words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.

2 Timothy 2:8-13

8 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! 10 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. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom[a] you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

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: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound[a] teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

July: Forming New Habits

I lose track at times of what I post in blogs and what I don’t, and while I could easily go back and re-read them, I’m not going to bother.

I know this is elementary and shouldn’t be such a profound revelation, but I’ve finally begun to learn this:

Your priorities are directly reflected by what you spend your time doing.

That shouldn’t be groundbreaking, but it’s true.

I’ve found myself writing in my journal (complaining, really) about how there’s a person I am and a person I’d like to be, and they don’t always agree. The person I want to be is consistently in God’s word, takes care of his body, spends his time reading and using his mind to its fullest, doesn’t waste money on useless stuff, etc. He’s a reader, a writer, and a thinker.

But Jeff right now reads scarcely, writes rarely, and thinks uselessly.

Let me switch gears for a second and then I’ll combine points.

I think time is a funny thing for human beings—we like beginnings and endings. New Years is a perfect microcosm for this tendency of ours—so many of us believe that everything that went wrong for the last 365 days can be forgotten as soon as our calendars turn from December 31 to January 1. We think that it’s the perfect time to start new habits and make our resolutions, and that with a new year, we’ll be new people.

While I don’t necessarily think that that kind of thinking is accurate, ironically, I find myself subscribing to it. On my birthday last year, I made a list of goals to achieve and habits to form between the time I turned 22 and 23. I find myself wanting to start new weight loss habits or diet changes at the beginning of a week or month instead of in the middle.

That said, I’ve made some goals for July, and the reason I’m blogging them is because I ask you, reader, to help keep me accountable.

  1. No new books or movies in July.

Media is an area in which I can easily waste a lot of money when I’m not careful. The worst thing is looking back and seeing all the stuff that I have that I never use—all the movies I just HAD to have at one point and never watch, nor do I have the itch to watch. All the books I bought because I wanted to read them, and I never make time to do so. I have 200+ books, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read about 65 of them. Not a good ratio. Instead, I’d like to get some of those books read so that I could narrow that ratio.

2. Limit junk food to between 9 AM and 9 PM, and then keep it scarce.

Again, just a simple dietary change. As I was thinking this up, it was 10 PM and I was stuffing my face with cheez-its and chocolate covered popcorn, and I was disgusting myself. If I eat after 9 PM, it should be because I couldn’t eat before, and I need to eat dinner. Other than that, there’s no need.

3. Exercise 5 hours a week.

This much is simple: I just need to be deliberate about being active and staying in shape. 5 hours seems like a low figure, too, but sometimes when you work ten hours in a day, it can be hard to fit in time. Baby steps. Habits begin with choices.

4. Put the phone away during conversations.

I want to revive the art of the conversation. This is a bigger issue about which I could probably write an entire blog entry, but putting my phone away is, again, a baby step. It’s too easy to keep it out, to miss what someone’s saying, to try to hold two conversations at once.

5. Memorize a verse or passage of scripture once or twice a week.

I think that I simply don’t have a smooth enough navigation of the Bible. I’ll remember a part of a verse, but not the entire gist, or I’ll remember something but never know where it’s from. I simply want to remember.

6. No music outside of the car or apartment.

I know this sounds silly, but I always leave my headphones in, and I’m afraid of how that comes off. Mostly because I know that I don’t want to “interrupt” someone who has headphones in, and, for my part, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m unavailable or inaccessible. I’ve often gone to get the mail outside of my apartment with my headphones in, and ignored my neighbors doing the same, setting for a simple smile instead of a “how are you?”

These are simply habits I’m wanting to begin forming—I realize they take time, and I’ll slip up at times, but I think these are reasonable, achievable goals that are steps in a better direction.