Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Encouragement for Anxious Times

If you find that times seem anxious for you lately, know that you are not alone.  The pace of change in our world has left many people behind, as the world they once knew seems to be relegated to distant memory.  In our own area of the county we have seen profound changes economically, technologically, socially, politically, demographically, culturally, and morally.   There appears to be people who are comfortable with and excited by these changes, as well as those who are threatened by them.  If you are like me, perhaps you are a bit of both. There are some things you think are wonderful and there are some changes that are keeping you up at night.   If you find yourself dealing with the anxiety of the times then I recommend reading 2 Timothy.

2 Timothy is one of the Pastoral Letters of the Apostle Paul.   Some of Paul's personal letters made it into the Bible and Christians have found them inspirational ever since. He wrote these letters for several reasons. 1 Timothy and Titus were written to lay out some ground rules for the early Christian communities.  Philemon was sent to deal with a critical issue.  2 Timothy was written to help him and the members of his community get through some anxious times.   This is why when the world seems crazy, 2 Timothy is one of my go to pieces of scripture.  Paul writes:

For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:6-7 (NRSV)

I love that Paul brings Timothy back to an intimate and physical moment of prayer, or perhaps even his baptism.  The memory of the word of God connected with the touch of Paul's hands upon the head are the fuel to rekindle the faith of one who may be in doubt because the times are uncertain.  This faith leads to empowerment, or what social scientists are calling "agency" these days.   Paul is reminding Timothy that he is not helpless.   He can show love to others and discipline himself.  Just because the times are hard does not mean one need to give into despair.   Paul does not sugar coat the problems that are going on his world or ours. He writes:

For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them! 2 Timothy 3:2-5 (NRSV)

When I read these words I feel that the more things change, the more they stay the same.   The self centered nature of our sin is something that every generation must deal with on its own terms as it becomes uniquely manifest in every age.  Paul is writing to Timothy to remind him to place his trust in Christ who is more powerful than the forces of the world that beat the faithful down.  He continues:

The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him; 2 Timothy 2:11-12 (NRSV)

The heart of the matter for Paul is to encourage Timothy to hold on the the most precious thing we have, the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   Our life is secure in Christ, so why would one want to throw it away?  At times anxiety can cause us to make silly decisions, and we might hold onto the wrong things while throwing away that which actually will help us thrive.   That is why the Holy Spirit sends people into our lives to remind us what is truly important and what will really help us navigate living in a broken world.   He encourages Timothy and his sisters and brothers with these words.

Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us. 2 Timothy 1:13-14 (NRSV) 

Guarding the good treasure given us can be a way to explain what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  The word translated "guard" (φυλάσσω) is also commonly translated as "watch", "keep", or "obey".   Living a life of discipleship in Jesus Christ involves all of these things.   We guard or protect the heart of our proclamation that Christ died for all no matter how the world classifies a person.   We watch the Gospel work in the lives of the faithful and witness what we see.   The stories of God at work that result can open the hearts of those in need.    We keep a commitment to prayer and reading God's Word to help keep us centered and to ask God to help others.   We listen to the voice of God through worship, prayer, and witness so that our relationship with Christ may stay strong.   When facing a challenge it is good to know one is not facing it alone.   2 Timothy reminds us that Christ is with us, even in anxious times.

Be blessed,
Pastor Knecht