The Gospel Unchained, Part 12: Hope in the Midst of Hardship (2 Timothy 4:9-22)

What would you like your final words to be? When it comes time for you to leave this life and enter the next, what would you wish to say to those who remain behind? The Apostle Paul’s last words to the church can be found in 2 Timothy 4:9-22. 

In this passage he chronicles the kinds of earthly hardships he endured throughout his ministry (i.e., the pain of seclusion, desertion, deprivation, opposition, and isolation). But he also sets forth the kind of support he received—and believers can expect—from God, even as they follow in his footsteps. To paraphrase, Paul reminds the church, “God will supply you, God will strengthen you, and God will save you.” 

In short, Paul instructs the church to overcome earthly hardship with heavenly hope. He reminds his readers that the earth cannot take them when God is keeping them, and the earth cannot keep them when God is taking them. He is sovereign over the lives of his people and the unfolding history of the world.

Paul then bids farewell with a blessing: “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you” (2 Timothy 4:22). After this, we hear nothing else he says. After this, we read nothing else he writes. After this, we learn nothing else he thinks. His martyrdom is imminent, so these are the final words of Paul to the church. What does he want believers to remember as he signs off? What does he want ringing in their ears until Jesus comes back? 

Paul wants the church to remember the presence of God (“The Lord be with your spirit”) and the powerof God (“Grace be with you”). Grace, of course, is the unmerited favor of God that can captivate a terrorist like Paul. It’s also the unlimited power of God that can convert a terrorist like Paul and use him to change the world in Jesus’s name. What could the grace of God do through you?

Sermon Resources:

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The Gospel Unchained, Part 11: Fight to the Finish (2 Timothy 4:1-8)

The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest conflict of the Civil War. Nearly 7,800 people were killed, 27,000 were wounded, and 11,000 were captured or went missing. The North defeated the South in that 3-day battle. Had they not done so, it’s likely that today the United States would not be united. In fact, most historians regard Gettysburg as the turning point of the war. 

One of the heroes to come out of that battle was Joshua Chamberlain, a professor of theology and rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Maine. On July 2, 1863, the second day of battle Col. Chamberlain defended the left flank of the Union on a hill called Little Round Top. Had he failed to hold that position, the Union line would have collapsed, the battle would have been lost, and the Confederates would have marched on Washington and overtaken the White House. 

But Chamberlain and his men from the 20th Maine held firm. With great courage and tenacity, they repelled wave after wave of attack late into the afternoon. Even after his men ran out of ammunition, Chamberlain refused to retreat. Instead, he ordered that famous bayonet charge down the hill, which put the Confederates to flight and ended their plans to penetrate the Union line.

What’s not so famous, however, is a crisis that Chamberlain faced just two days before the Little Round Top incident. Chamberlain inherited 120 insurgents from the 2nd Maine. That regiment had folded because there were so many casualties in it. Naturally, the survivors assumed that when their unit ended, their term of service had ended, too. But not so, according to the military brass. They had to be re-assigned. Understandably, the men of the 2nd Maine were furious, so they dropped their muskets, and they refused to fight. 

They had seen enough war. They had seen enough death. And some of them were wounded themselves. They were emotionally drained; and they just wanted to go home. But they were rounded up like cattle and marched at gunpoint over to the 20th Maine. Now, put yourself in Col. Chamberlain’s boots for a moment. You’re preparing for your next campaign just north of where you are now, when suddenly, 120 grumpy, burned-out insurrectionists are dropped into your lap. What are you going to do with them? How are you going to get them on board? 

How do you motivate a group of wounded and weary soldiers to keep fighting the good fight? Chamberlain gets them on board with a speech—a stirring exhortation that is almost as powerful as the Gettysburg Address itself. After promising not to shoot the insurgents—which he had every right to do—Chamberlain talks to them with respect. In short, He reminded them that their purpose far outweighed their pain, and their prize far outweighed their price.

When it comes to Christian service, that’s a message believers need to be reminded of on a regular basis because ministry can be hard. Kingdom work is exhausting. Volunteer ministry can sometimes be discouraging, dispiriting, or disillusioning. Certainly, there are moments of great joy and celebration, but Christian service has a way of wringing us out like a wet dish rag. Paul’s burden in 2 Timothy is to light a fire under his young protégé to fight like a good soldier and keep fighting, even when the battle gets fierce. To that end, Paul tells Timothy—and he tells believers today—to press on in view of both the pain and the payoff. In short, he says fight to the finish, and receive your crown from Christ.

Paul, the old war horse, now in chains, sitting in the shadow of execution, just weeks away from martyrdom—what’s he concerned about? What’s foremost on his mind? The continued sharing of the gospel after he’s gone. It’s no time to go AWOL on the gospel, says Paul. He tells God’s people to fight well as a service to Christ (4:1-5), and finish well as a sacrifice to Christ (4:6-8). Just as he did.

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The Gospel Unchained, Part 10: Navigate the Last Days (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

Here’s a black and white photo that doesn’t look like much, but it tells an amazing story:

It’s an SAR—a Synthetic Aperture Radar— image of Hurricane Ike as it approached the coast of Texas in September 2008. Ike was the seventh costliest Atlantic storm in history, leaving about $38 billion worth of damage in its wake.

If we look at the picture carefully, we can see within the well-defined eye, near the right side toward the bottom, a tiny white dot. That dot is the 584-foot Cyprus bulk freighter Antalina, which got caught in the storm when its engines failed. 

There were 22 souls aboard the vessel when the storm hit. The wind was so severe, the Coast Guard had to call off its rescue attempt. The ship and the crew were forced to ride it out—inside the fury of the storm—hoping against hope that they wouldn’t be swamped or capsize. The satellite image shows the ship still safely afloat as the eye passes over them, giving them a brief respite until the southeastern wall pummeled them again.

Happily, the Antalina made it safely through the storm, and a tugboat pulled it safely to port after it was all over. All 22 crewmen survived, and the ship was undamaged. Quite significantly, the crew always knew where they were. Even though their engines had failed, they had a map and a compass to navigate the adventure. Better yet, the Coast Guard never lost sight of them. They were always on the radar, and officials always knew exactly where they were. It’s disorienting to be in a storm, but the tools of navigation have a way of keeping crew members tethered to reality—even when they’re getting pummeled by a hurricane. 

Can you imagine what kind of storms will visit us in the last days? Can you imagine how disorienting it will be when all hell breaks loose and unleashes its fury one last time prior to the return of Christ? We have hints and glimpses in Scripture of what those days will be like, but the intense depravity and deception will swirl around God’s people like never before. Jesus said it would be so bad, he put the question like this: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). In other words, the hurricane of depravity and deception will be severe. 

On another occasion, Jesus described these days like this: At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13).

But how do we stand firm to the end? How can we be saved in the storm? Paul tells us in this passage to navigate the last days by the map of God’s word, the compass of God’s workers, and the North Star of Jesus Christ. It’s not a specific battle plan, but a general one, and believers do well to implement it now. We can do so by emulating God’s faithful workers (vv. 10-14) and examining God’s faultless word (vv. 15-17).

Indeed, the launching point for believers is always the inspired, God-breathed Scriptures because: (1) they are the sacred writings; (2) they are the source of saving truth; and (3) they are the spoken word of God. Thankfully, God has not left his people without a map and compass to navigate the storms of life. As Vance Havner once said, “A Bible that’s falling apart is usually owned by somebody who isn’t.” Best of all, God never loses sight of his people. They’re always on his radar.

Sermon Resources:

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The Gospel Unchained, Part 9: Mark the Menace (2 Timothy 3:1-9)

Hedviga Golik was born in Croatia in 1924. One night she made herself a cup of tea, sat down in her favorite armchair in front of the black and white television, and then watched her favorite programs. There she stayed—for the next 40 years! True story. Her lifeless remains were found sitting in front of the same TV four decades after she was reported missing.

Croatian police said she was last seen by neighbors in 1966, when she would have been 42 years old. The neighbors all thought Hedviga had moved away, but she was found by police who finally broken into her apartment. Fortunately for their noses, the windows had been slightly open all those years.

A police spokesperson said: “So far, we have no idea how it’s possible that someone reported as missing so long ago was not found before this, in the same apartment she used to live in.”

When the officers got there, they said it was like stepping into a place frozen in time. There was tea still in cup. There was moldy popcorn still in the bowl. Nothing was disturbed. There were just lots of cobwebs everywhere.

Neighbors were shocked by the discovery. Jadranka Markic was just 9 years old when Hedviga vanished. She said: “I still remember her. She was a quiet woman who kept to herself but was polite. We all thought that she had just moved out and gone to live with relatives.”

There was much soul searching in the community over this discovery. The recurring question was, “How did we miss this? Have we been so inwardly focused, so self-absorbed, so inattentive that didn’t even know she died in our midst? How could we have been so selfish not to see this?” Keith Green—who was something of a musical prophet from the early 1980s—had a captivating line from one of his songs: “It’s so hard to see when my eyes are on me.”

A major characteristic of the last days is selfishness. In fact, Paul’s message here is this: The last days are filled with people who are filled with self. And here we are in the “selfie” generation. Our culture features a magazine called Self. And we’re all living on this side of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—the highest of which is “self-actualization.” Indeed, it really is “hard to see when my eyes are on me.”

This message looks at the ways and the wiles of the proto-gnostics Timothy encountered in Ephesus in the first century, drawing parallels to the similar ideologies in our day. “Last days” people enthrone the sinful self, he says, and they aren’t bothered by it. It leads to a distortion of the gospel called “antinomianism.”

Archbishop Trench once said the selfish person is like a hedgehog which, “rolling itself up in a ball, presents only sharp spines to those without, keeping at the same time all the soft and warm wool for itself within.” Ultimately, the question raised in this message is not, “Who are the people I know who fit the description of a selfish person?” The question raised is, “To what extent do I fit the description of a selfish person?”

John Stott has said, “If a man is proud, arrogant and swollen with conceit, of course he will never sacrifice himself to serve others. God’s order, as plainly declared in his moral law, is that we love him first (with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength), our neighbour next and our self last. If we reverse the order of the first and third, putting self first and God last, our neighbour in the middle is bound to suffer.” Just like Hedviga Golik.

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The Gospel Unchained, Part 8: Be Useful to God (2 Timothy 2:20-26)

A man used to visit the old general store out in the country. The owner of the store had a clerk named Jake, who seemed to be the laziest man in the whole world. One day the man noticed Jake was gone, so he asked the owner, “Where’s Jake?” “Oh, he retired,” said the owner. “Retired? Then what are you going to do to fill the vacancy?” The owner replied, “Jake didn’t leave no vacancy.”

That may have been bad grammar, but it was an astute observation. Because Jake was incredibly lazy, he wasn’t very useful to the owner, and, therefore, he wouldn’t really be missed. We do well to ask ourselves the challenging question: “What kind of vacancy would there be in God’s kingdom if we left?” 

Scripture indicates wants all his people serving Christ in some way. In fact, he’s given gifts to each believer to be used in his service. And yet, for so many who claim to know Christ as their Savior, their faith is like football—an occasional Sunday spectator sport. They’re not serving Christ day by day. But those who truly know Christ can’t be happy sitting in the stands. We want to be in the game.

We may need to sit out from time to time to catch our breath. We may need to go to the trainer’s room once in a while if we’re hurt. We may even need to be on the injured-reserve list for a period of time, until we get healthy. But our desire is to get in the game and be of some use to our team and our coach.

The teaching in 2 Timothy 2:20-26 reveals the kind of person God loves to use. We might think God uses only people who have impressive gifts and abilities. Spiritual gifts certainly play a part, but they’re not the main feature in being used by God. Paul tells us in this passage God loves to use those who are cleansed, kind, and committed.

The apostle uses two more images or metaphors to make his point—the “vessel” (v. 20) and the “servant” (v. 24) The calling of the vessel is to be cleansed to be useful to the master. The calling of the servant is to be kind and committed so that some will be saved and delivered from their bondage. When it comes to God’s calling on our lives, believers are not to leave any vacancies.

Sermon Resources:

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The Gospel Unchained, Part 7: Watch Out (2 Timothy 2:14-19)

Somebody once said, “The main thing in life is to keep the main thing the main thing.” That’s true in Christian theology, too. Jesus once spoke of “weightier matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23), meaning some things in the Torah are more important than others. Likewise, the Apostle Paul spoke of “disputable matters” (Roman 14:1), meaning some things in the Christian life require no ecclesiastical positions or pronouncements. The Early Church called such things adiaphora, meaning “matters of indifference.”

The fact is, certain aspects of the Christian faith are never worth disputing (2 Timothy 2:14, 16-18a), while certain aspects of the Christian faith are always worth defending (2 Timothy 2:18b). The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (along with his followers at the end of the age) is in this latter category. That’s always doctrinal hill to die on—so much so that Paul devotes an entire chapter to it in 1 Corinthians 15. Without the resurrection, he says, there is no Christianity.

Paul tells us in this passage that when it comes to haggling over WORDS, cut it out (2 Timothy 2:14, 16-18). However, when it comes to handling THE WORD, cut it straight (2 Timothy 2:15, 19). He instructs young Timothy—and he instructs Bible teachers today—“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). 

The image is rich with practical insights for today’s teachers. Our calling is to be faithful to what God has revealed in his Word, a task that requires hard work, courage, and living primarily for the approval of the One who inspired his Word to be written down for our instruction. 

Moreover, we should want the apostles and prophets of old—were they sitting in the front row of our classrooms or sanctuaries—to hear our sermons and lessons, and nod in agreement after we teach, saying, “Yes, that’s what I meant. You were faithful to the message I wrote down about God and his ways many years ago, and you demonstrated its relevance for God’s people in your day.”

In short, Paul’s message for us is: Watch out for Bible teachers who make much of what is little and little of what is much. What we need to make much of in our day is Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, and his gospel of salvation for all who believe.

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The Gospel Unchained, Part 6: Remember the Gospel (2 Timothy 2:8-13)

Adoniram Judson was the first overseas missionary sent out from America. In the early 19th century, he and his wife went to India. A short time later, he went to Burma, where he labored in gospel work for nearly four decades. After 14 years on the field, Judson had a handful of converts and had managed to write a Burmese grammar. 

During that time, he suffered a horrible imprisonment for a year and a half, and he lost his wife and children to disease. A man who had been incarcerated with Mr. Judson described their prison conditions as he re-called them:

“The only articles of furniture the place contained were these…a gigantic row of stocks, similar in its construction to that formerly used in England…[only these were stocks for the feet, not the head and hands]. It was capable of accommodating more than a dozen occupants, and like a huge crocodile opened and shut its jaws with a loud snap upon its prey…. The prison had never been washed, nor even swept, since it was built… This gave a kind of…permanency to the odors… 

“As might have been expected from such a state of things, the place was teeming with creeping vermin to such an extent that…the greater portion of my dress was plundered. Surely it was enough for Mr. Judson to be shut up in the hot, stifling stench of a place like this without having his ankles and legs weighted with…irons, the scars from which he wore to his dying day. 

“He could say with the Apostle Paul, ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ When Mr. Judson was subjected to these indignities and tortures, he was in the very prime of life—36 years old.”

There’s nothing like a good missionary biography to illustrate how small our sacrifice for Christ often is by comparison. Adoniram Judson suffered greatly for his Christian commitment. But, like the Apostle Paul, Judson considered his work for Christ to be infinitely more important than his own personal comfort. 

Where does that kind of inner strength come from? It comes from the grace standing behind what Paul writes to Timothy: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:8-9). In other words, you can endure anything when you remember the gospel is everything.

Looking back on his life, Judson wrote these words: “If I had not felt certain that every trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings.” Like Paul, Judson believed that no suffering is too great if it brings about the salvation of those who place their trust in Jesus Christ—a trust that leads to “eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). Or, as Martin Luther put it:

Let goods and kindred go
This mortal life also
The body they may kill
God’s truth abideth still
His Kingdom is forever

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The Gospel Unchained, Part 5: Endure Hardship (2 Timothy 2:1-7)

Early in the 20th century, there was an ad in a London newspaper that read as follows: “Men wanted for hazardous journey: small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, and constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.” That’s not a very compelling invitation, is it? Except for the fact that it was signed by Sir Ernest Shackleton, which caused thousands of men to respond to the ad. 

That’s because Shackleton (1874–1922) was one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. He was the great expeditionary hero who got closer to the South Pole than anyone else history up to that point. 

For that achievement, Shackleton was knighted by King Edward VII on his return home. No wonder thousands of men responded to his ad. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a great adventure with a proven leader on an expedition that had a great chance of succeeding?

The Christian Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe once said that if Jesus Christ had advertised for workers, the announcement might have read something like this: 

“Men and women wanted for difficult task of helping to build My church. You will often be misunderstood, even by those working with you. You will face constant attack from an invisible enemy. You may not see the results of your labor, and your full reward will not come till after all your work is completed. It may cost you your home, your ambitions, even your life.” Not a very compelling invitation, either, is it? Except for the fact that it’s signed by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords himself—Jesus of Nazareth.

Millions of people all over the world still respond to such an invitation. That’s because Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, who came right on time in fulfillment of scores of OT prophecies. He lived in the 1st century during the days of King Herod. He healed the sick, cast out demons, taught God’s Word, loved the outcast, revealed the Father, and died on a bloody cross. On the 3rd day, he rose again.

For that achievement, Jesus was declared both Lord and Christ of the universe on his return home to heaven. No wonder millions still respond to his call, difficult though it may be. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a great adventure with a proven leader—a resurrected leader—on a missional adventure that cannot ultimately fail? Yet, many people do resist that adventure, and it’s not hard to see why.

In this passage, the apostle Paul calls Timothy—and by extension, he calls all believers—to be willing to endure hardship for the gospel. That’s a tough sell in our comfort-driven culture, isn’t it? But that’s Paul’s message to the church: To be an effective, contagious Christian, suffer now for the sake of future gain. What a challenging message!

How many of us show the dedication of a soldier (v. 3-4)? How many of us show the discipline of an athlete (v. 5)? How many of us show the diligence of a farmer (v. 6)? These are the illustrations Paul uses to motivate Timothy—and his church—to ensure the gospel baton is passed to the next generation. Who’s ready to sign up?

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The Gospel Unchained, Part 4: Take Care (2 Timothy 1:13-18)

When Abraham Lincoln died in 1865 at the hand of an assassin’s bullet, nine newspaper clippings were found in one of his pockets. Every article concerned some notable accomplishment of the late President. One clipping highlights a speech by the British statesman John Bright, noting that Lincoln was one of the greatest men of all time. 

That’s not news for those who live a century and half later, but in 1865, the jury was still out. The nation was divided, and Lincoln had fierce critics on both sides of the war. Life was often difficult for “honest Abe,” and he needed encouragement. Whenever something nice was printed about him in the newspaper—which wasn’t very often—he would clip it, read it, re-read it, and he keep it for a while.

Most people, especially leaders, need encouragement. Life is tough, and it’s even tougher when you have to lead. That includes the Apostle Paul, sitting in Roman a dungeon 2,000 years ago. It is dark, damp, depressing, and lonely. Thankfully, a man called Onesiphorus visited Paul as often as he could. Each time he did, Paul was refreshed in body, mind, and spirit.

Maybe that’s why Paul wrote such powerful letters from prison. It’s very possible we have people like Onesiphorus to thank for that. Yes, Paul was led by the Holy Spirit when he wrote, but he was lifted by Onesiphorus before he wrote. 

Do you have an Onesiphorus in your life—someone who blesses, refreshes, and encourages you? Better yet, are you an Onesiphorus to somebone else? If so, you could very well be assisting the spread of the gospel, as discouragement is one the enemy’s greatest weapons against believers. Paul’s message to Timothy in this passage is the same message for us today: Take care of God’s word and God’s workers. Why? So more people will know him. And people will know him more.

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The Gospel Unchained, Part 2: You Got It (2 Timothy 1:1-7)

Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” That raises the question, “Are we living the abundant Christian life Jesus intended? Specifically, “Are we living the abundant Christian life such that others can tell that we are vitally joined to Jesus, and we ourselves know that we’re fulfilling God’s call upon our lives?” How would we know? Can you say with all sincerity:

  • I am where God wants me to be.
  • I’m doing what God wants me to do.
  • I’m serving where God wants me to serve.
  • I’m advancing the kingdom of God.
  • I’m sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • I’m walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • I am fulfilling my Christian calling.

If not—why not? What’s holding you back? What’s preventing you from being all that God wants you to be? We know for sure it’s not God who’s holding you back. It’s not your circumstances or life situation, either, because God is sovereign over those. It’s not even Satan who’s holding you back because he’s on a divine leash. The opening section of 2 Timothy gives us insight into the question.

As we’ve seen, this letter is Paul’s farewell exhortation to his young apprentice, Timothy. Paul is going to be executed soon, and he knows it. So, in this correspondence, he begins to pass the baton of ministry to his dear son in the faith. To do that, he’s going to issue 25 commands or admonitions about priorities in ministry, spiritual landmines to avoid, and dangers to guard against. Twenty-five exhortations in a 4-chapter book!

But before he issues any commands, Paul is going to motivate Timothy by reminding him of what he already has. By extension, he’s going to remind us, too. His message to believers of all ages is this: God has given you everything you need to fulfill your Christian calling. The message is not unlike what Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

This message looks at seven treasures believers have now, all of which can be pondered or cultivated over the course of one’s Christian life. Like Timothy, maybe you need to draw on the resources you’ve already been given in grace. Or, like Paul, maybe there’s someone in your life you can encourage in the faith. You have what you need to do it.

Sermon Resources:

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The Gospel Unchained, Part 1: My Dear Son (2 Timothy 1:1-2)

Goodbyes are not easy, but sometimes they are necessary. What we say in those moments often captures what’s most important to us in life—and what we think will most benefit the other person. For example, what do we say when we drop our children off at college, and we won’t be able to see them for several more months? 

What do we say when we bid farewell to our children who depart for military service abroad, or move a long way away from home after they get married? Or what do we say to a loved one whose life is nearing its earthly end? At those times, everything seems to come into focus, and only important things are said—things of value, things of love, things of eternity, and things of God.

Second Timothy is Paul’s goodbye letter to his young apprentice, Timothy. Paul is going to be executed soon, and he knows it. What is on his mind at that moment? What claims his attention? What does he regard as most important for the sake of his dear son in the faith? The letter we call 2 Timothy tells us. And that’s why it has often been called, “Paul’s last will and testament to the church.” It’s his “swan song,” his final message, his parting words. Believers, then, do well to lean in and listen to what he has to say.

When the letter is written (ca. 67 A.D.), Paul is lonely, cold, and in prison—again. Timothy needs instruction, counsel, and encouragement—again. And Paul is preoccupied with the gospel of Jesus Christ—again. Broadly speaking, his charge to Timothy, and to the church at large, is centered around the gospel:

  • Guard the gospel (2 Tim 1:14).
  • Endure hardship for the gospel (2 Tim 2:3, 8-9).
  • Continue in the gospel (2 Tim 3:13-14).
  • Share the gospel (2 Tim 4:1-4).

What is this gospel that the author is so passionate about? It’s the gospel that had the power to convert a former terrorist (“Saul”) to Jesus Christ and become a worldwide evangelist and writer of a significant portion of the New Testament (“Paul”). Simply stated:

The gospel is the good news announcement that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived the life we should have lived, died the death we should have died, and rose again from the dead, sharing his life with all who believe in him. He ascended into heaven, taking our humanity with him into the Trinity, and now stands vindicated by his Father, reigns triumphant over the powers of darkness, and works to make all things new in the great restoration of the cosmos.

Paul wants young Timothy—and the church universal—to know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is unchained and unstoppable. Indeed, around the world today, approximately 190,000 people will put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That is, every two seconds someone comes to faith Christ. That’s over 60 Pentecosts every day! Quite significantly, 40,000 will be in the People’s Republic of China; 30,000 will be on the African continent; and 25,000 will be in India. Moreover, around the world today, 500 new churches will be planted, and 40,000+ Bibles will be distributed.

If you’re part of the church of Jesus Christ, you are part of something that cannot and will not fail. There may be setbacks and persecutions along the way—just like in the book of Acts—but the destination is guaranteed. As Woodrow Wilson once said, “I would rather fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.” The gospel will not fail.

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158 Years Ago Today: The Civil War Maggots That Saved a Soldier—and Our Family

His name was Michael Link.

• He was a Private in the 151st Pennsylvania Volunteers regiment.

• He came from a family of German coal miners who immigrated to the United States in the early 1800s.

• He was a blacksmith by trade, but he was also an excellent musician. He played the French horn, the violin, and the accordion.

• When the Civil War began, Michael enlisted. He was a 24-year old bachelor at the time.

• On the first day of the battle, July 1, 1863, the PA 151 was involved in the fight at McPherson’s Woods—where General Reynolds was killed by a sharpshooter.

• Michael Link’s unit saw their beloved leader carried from the battlefield that day, mortally wounded.

• A few hours later, Link himself was shot—right in the face. A bullet entered his left eye, went under the bridge of his nose, and then exited his right eye. The blow knocked him to the ground, leaving him unconscious for several hours.

• When he finally came to, he made the horrifying discovery: “One of my eyes had run out, and the other was hanging down my cheek.” 

• “The last thing I remember seeing,” he said, “was the rebel flag, and I was shot just as I was leveling my gun to fire at the enemy.”

Michael’s hometown newspaper gave this account of his ordeal:

“There in that field, under the hot sun, with his eyes shot out, Private Link laid for two days. Initially he prayed for death to relieve his agony, but soon enough he found the strength to go on, even though he was sightless, delirious, and near death’s door. Rebel soldiers passed him, but they thought he was a corpse. His damaged eye sockets had been eaten away by maggots as he lay helplessly on the battlefield. Then on the third day some Boys in Blue came along. They heard Link’s groans and conveyed him to the field hospital.

“Weeks later, upon being discharged from a Philadelphia hospital, the former blacksmith returned to Reading. Undaunted by his disability, Link gained admission to an institution for the blind to obtain training and vocational skills. With his full pension of $72 per month, Michael built two 3-story brick homes on Penn Street. At one of these locations, he opened a shop where he cane-seated chairs. He never gave up, and he never quit. Instead, he entertained his friends by playing his music.”

Several years after the war, Michael got married to Margaret Krebs. Mike and Margaret had a baby girl by the name of Rosa. Here’s how the rest of the family tree unfolds:

Yes, Michael Link was my great-great grandfather.

Had he thrown in the towel on hope as he lay there on the battlefield, had he dropped out of life when recovery from those terrible wounds was long and hard—I wouldn’t be here today.

Do you see the importance of perseverance, of pressing on when you feel like giving up? Generations not yet born are affected by the decisions we make right now—whether to fight to the finish or to throw in the towel. I can’t help thinking of St. Paul’s final words to the church: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7a).

Remember those maggots? The doctor told Link that the maggots had actually saved his life. Those disgusting, filthy maggots that made him want to give up—they had eaten away the infection that otherwise would have killed him.

Got any maggots in your life these days? Any nasty worms chewing on your heart? It might be a difficult person. It might be a family challenge. It might be a terrible situation. It might be a broken dream.

Could it be that those maggots are designed by a loving God to cleanse your soul of spiritual infections and conform you to the image of Christ?

Could it be that “what the maggots meant for evil, God meant for good” (cf. Gen 50:20)? Paul reminds us: “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Fighting to the finish—come what may—is our heritage.

May it be our legacy as well.

Image Credits: Some pictures from gettysburgpa.gov; others from personal collection.

Taking Out the Garbage of Self-Righteousness

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9).


The dictionary definition of self-righteousness usually goes something like this: “Confidence in one’s own goodness or virtue, especially while being smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.” That’s not a bad place to start, but it’s more descriptive of the symptoms of self-righteousness than the underlying disease. The deeper problem is legalism—the notion that we could somehow generate enough righteousness on our own to make ourselves acceptable to God for salvation. The idea is ridiculous on its face because it makes us partially our own saviors. 

Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector specifically to “those who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else” (Luke 18:9). The pious leader in Jesus’ story assumed his acceptance with God was based on his own actions, while the tax collector recognized there was nothing in him by which he could commend himself to God; he was totally dependent on divine grace for his salvation. Quite significantly, it was the despised tax collector who “went home justified before God,” according to Jesus, not the religious leader (Luke 18:14). Repeatedly in the Gospels, Jesus warns his followers about the dangers of self-righteousness, emphasizing that without him, they could do nothing (cf. John 15:5).

The problem with self-righteousness is that it doesn’t feel like sin. Most of the time it feels like holiness. Most of the time it feels like something God should be pleased with—something that should make him smile. To do our good works, and catalog our achievements, and then present them all to God—that feels like something the Almighty should appreciate. After all, God is holy, and he demands holiness from his people, right? 

Yet everywhere in Scripture, that kind of a self-righteous approach to God is sharply condemned. It’s sharply condemned not only in Luke 18, but also in Philippians 3. In fact, not only is it condemned in that chapter, it’s severely ridiculed. Paul calls it “garbage” in verse 9. Other versions say “rubbish.” Those are awfully polite translations.

The problem with self-righteousness is that it doesn’t feel like sin. Most of the time it feels like holiness.

The original word is skubalon, which means “dung,” “manure,” “excrement,” and a few other words that preachers aren’t supposed to say. Why such colorful language? Why such a linguistic jolt in holy writ? Because there’s an important distinction to be made between presenting our good works to God as a gift and presenting our good works to God as currency. The gift says, “Thank you, God. I obey you because I love you.” The currency says, “Pay up, God. I’ve been good; you owe me.” The two approaches are light years apart. 

But what’s so terribly wrong with that second view? It sounds logical, doesn’t it? I do this, and God gives me that. Quid pro quo. Makes sense. But here’s the problem: Self-righteousness is offensive to God because it fails to take into account that—as fallen human beings tainted by sin—there’s something inherently deficient with even the good things we do. Just take an honest look at your motives and attitudes some time. Have you ever done anything with completely perfect attitudes or motives? Chances are slim. No one bats a thousand all the time, so without God’s mercy, we’re toast.

When one of my swim coaches was in college, he used to walk past the President’s house every day on the way home from practice. The university President had a horse, and my coach would stop by and pet it every day, feeding it apples and other treats. After doing this for several years, my coach developed a good relationship with the horse, so one day he just took it home with him. He stole the President’s horse!

Word went out over campus radio that someone had stolen the President’s prize possession. It was a major scandal since the man loved his horse. After several hours of not being able to locate the animal, the college began offering a sizeable cash reward for its safe return. When my coach heard about the monetary reward, he returned the horse…and collected the cash!

Now, we can probably all agree that it was a good thing that my coach returned the President’s horse. It was a good work. But I’m sure we can also agree that there was something very wrong with that good work. Here was the thief now cashing in on his own criminality! And so it is with fallen people before a holy God. Even the good things we do are tainted to a certain extent.

Self-righteousness is offensive to God because it fails to take into account that—as fallen human beings tainted by sin—there’s something inherently deficient with even the good things we do.

So, when we do our good works and present them to God, it must always be with the understanding that we’ve already stolen something from him. We already have a criminal record against him. And trusting Christ alone is the only way to get rid of our rap sheet against heaven. That’s what Paul argues in Philippians 3. Consider the “good things” he could point to in his own life that contribute nothing to our standing with God:

Religious ceremony cannot make us right with God.
“…circumcised on the eighth day” (5a)

Ethnic identity cannot make us right with God.
“…of the people of Israel” (5b)

Social status cannot make us right with God. 
“…of the tribe of Benjamin” (5c)

Orthodox tradition cannot make us right with God. 
“…a Hebrew of Hebrews” (5d)

Theological conservatism cannot make us right with God. 
“…in regard to the law, a Pharisee” (5e)

Spiritual enthusiasm cannot make us right with God.
“…as for zeal, persecuting the church” (6a)

Impeccable morality cannot make us right with God.
“…as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (6b)

It’s all skubalon, says Paul. Having seen Jesus for who he is and what he’s done for the entire human race on the cross, Paul abandons all reliance on a good resume to make himself right with God. Indeed, he fires a silver bullet into the heart of self-righteousness by telling us to reject all sources of self-righteousness, and trust in Christ alone for salvation. Or, to put it simply, Paul tells us to take out the garbage of self-righteousness. It stinks to high heaven, and it needs to be removed.

Why? As human beings created in the image of a good God, we were made to do good works—but there’s nothing meritorious about those good works. We don’t congratulate water for being wet. It’s supposed to be wet. Nor do we congratulate human beings for doing good things. We’re supposed to do good things. It’s how we’re made. As a result, we can never put God in our debt by doing good works. As Edward Mote put it:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name

Paul’s desire was to be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of his own that comes from keeping the law, but that which comes from trusting in Christ alone for salvation—“the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Phil 3:9). He took out the garbage of self-righteousness. We must do the same.

Image Credits: shutterstock.com; pexels.com; wv4g.org.

When You Have Eaten and Are Satisfied

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” – Cicero

“Ingratitude produces pride while gratitude produces humility.” – Orrin Woodward

“Gratitude bestows reverence…changing forever how we experience life and the world.” – John Donne

 “God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say thank you?” – William Arthur Ward

“It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.” – Anonymous


Prior to the Israelites’ entry into the Promised Land, Moses issued a call to his countrymen for the ongoing praise and remembrance of God for his miraculous deliverance from Egypt and his gracious provisions in everyday life. His call is really a summons to daily thanksgiving—a fitting reminder on this day of feasting in the United States:

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

 He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.”

Deuteronomy 8:10-18

The Apostle Paul echoes a similar sentiment in 1 Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” 

Israel’s many psalms of thanksgiving in the Psalter fulfill Moses’ call to the Israelites to express their grateful praise to God. Moreover, such is the abundant blessings of God to his people in all ages that Paul can instruct believers to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:18). As Nancy Leigh DeMoss has said:

“I have learned that in every circumstance that comes my way, I can choose to respond in one of two ways: I can whine or I can worship! And I can’t worship without giving thanks. It just isn’t possible. When we choose the pathway of worship and giving thanks, especially in the midst of difficult circumstances, there is a fragrance, a radiance, that issues forth out of our lives to bless the Lord and others.”

DeMoss is right. The latest lockdown has altered our plans for today, but we still have much to be thankful for. The table will be full and so will our hearts. We’ll eat and be satisfied, sharing the delights of the season, albeit with a smaller group than originally planned. And in the process, we’ll remember the Lord our God for who he is and what he has done.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all the readers of This New Life. Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to drop me a line if you have a need, would like to share a prayer request, or just want to chat.

May God richly bless you!

Image Credits: shutterstock.com.

The God of Yes: He Is There and He Is Not Stingy

Across the street from where I grew up in East Reading, Pennsylvania, there was a vacant lot where we used to play stickball every chance we could get. We lived in a middle-class section of rowhomes, and about eight of those homes featured backyards that lined up perfectly to serve as the outfield “bleachers.” Our goal, of course, was to hit the ball into one of those yards for a home run. (We always used soft rubber balls, so cracking a window was unlikely. It only happened once.)

Most neighbors would sit out on their porches and cheer us on as the game unfolded. If ever we hit a ball into one of their yards, they would simply get up, retrieve the ball, and throw it back to us, and the game would continue. Unfortunately, there was also a grizzled old dame in the bleachers—enshrouded in a bright babushka, and far too rickety to stand up straight—who would always pick up the ball, cuss at us in Pennsylvania Dutch, and then harumph her way back into the house, taking our ball with her. End of game. (It wasn’t even her window we broke that one time.)

Sadly, many people today picture God more like the crabby old lady with a foul mouth than the kindhearted neighbors who served as our cheering section. He’s in the heavenly stands with his arms folded and his hands fisted, always perturbed and glaring at us, eager to convey his divine contempt whenever we send one into his upper deck. We’re major league sinners in his book, and we always will be. If we strike out too much, he’ll send us down to the minors. Or worse. End of game.

Theologian Kosuke Koyama once said that Christians need to make a basic decision in our approach to theological questions: “[We] need to decide whether the God of Scripture is a generous God or a stingy one.”[1] The context of his statement was soteriology, but we can broaden it to include the entire sweep of Christian theology. 

When I first made that shift in my own thinking, it helped me realize how important it is that Genesis 1 and 2 precede Genesis 3. That’s a simple observation, yet it’s vital in the grand scheme of things. Life on planet earth was good—“very good” (Gen 1:31)—before it was ever bad. As such, my theology cannot start in Genesis 3; it has to start where the Bible starts. It has to start “in the beginning” (Gen 1:1). 

Specifically, to help us answer Koyama’s challenge, we can notice that God’s openhandedness is seen on the very first page of Scripture: “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food’” (Gen 1:29; emphasis mine). Right out of the gate, God is a giving God. We can safely conclude, then, that generosity is a prevailing attribute of his.

It’s not specified in the text how many edible plants and trees were available for the taking. Were there a hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? A million? We don’t know, but the scene is marked by lush and lavish provisions from the hand of the benevolent God who gave them. Indeed, Yahweh is portrayed as a God of abundance. He says to the first human, “Eat!” and only one tree was said to be off limits—“the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17). 

Trust the story. It tells us that God gave about ten thousand “yeses” to one solitary “no.” Read that sentence again. Don’t pass over it too quickly. God gave ten thousand “yeses” to one solitary “no.” Consequently, he’s not a stingy, crotcehtey God at all; he’s a God who overflows with blessings, provisions, kindness, and grace. And even the one “no” he gave was for our benefit, not our misery. Indeed, it was meant to prevent our misery.

God gave ten thousand “yeses” to one solitary “no.”

In the end, Jesus Christ is God’s full and final “yes” to every good promise he ever made (2 Cor 1:20). As Paul put it, Jesus is God’s “yes” and “amen.” That means he really is for us (Rom 8:31), not against us.

Is this the God you know—the one who cheers you on as you’re trying to find your swing? Or is he the god who cusses you out whenever you strike out? Is he the god who benches you after making an error in the field? Is he the god who tells you to hit the showers early when you’ve had a bad inning? If so, maybe you’re on the wrong team. In fact, maybe you’re playing for Baal instead of Yahweh. Ask to be traded.

Francis Schaeffer famously said of God, “He is there and he is not silent.” To that we can add, “He is there and he is not stingy.”

Image Credits: thoughtco.com; inklyo.com; depositphots.com; pennlive.com.


[1] Kosuke Koyama, as cited in Richard J. Mouw, “More Thoughts about Generous Orthodoxy,” NetBlogHost.com (March 29, 2011).