Transparency is Hard

With the beginning of a new year, I have started trying to journal some of my thoughts. Just two days in, this is what I wrote in my journal. It made me think that I needed to start my blog back up again.

12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. – 1 Timothy 4:12-16 (ESV)

This passage was part of my Bible study this morning. Verse 15 stopped me in my tracks. “So that all may see your progress” was the phrase that caught my attention. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Progress, journey, improvement, or the theological word “sanctification” are all words use to describe that time in our life after we are saved, and before we die: that time where God is in the process of making us look more and more like Christ. God uses many varied circumstances in our life to accomplish this purpose. Some days are easy. We have time and energy and motivation to spend time in prayer, and Bible study, and with people of faith. We “feel” closer to Him. Then the other days come. The tough days. It might be circumstances that cause suffering for us, watching our loved ones suffer, or some person who makes us want to lash out in anger and frustration. Either way, those are the days that show us the real progress that we are making on this journey to be more like Christ.

What caught my attention about the passage in 1 Timothy is that this progress is supposed to be where everyone can see it. Wow! I don’t know about anyone else, but I certainly don’t like the idea if everyone seeing me make this progress, because that means they are going to see me struggle and fall. They might see the ugly pride and selfishness that still tries to hide in the corners of my heart.

I want to wait for the results of the progress, and then let everyone see it. Let them see just the good, that part if me that God has already molded to look like Him. After all, if they see the other parts, won’t they think that I am a hypocrite. What will they say about Christianity? Will they see my behavior and conclude that Christianity doesn’t work? Will they give up on “organized religion” because I or others can’t live up to the standard that we have set for ourself?

But then I see 1 Timothy 4:15 – “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” Paul’s advice to the young leader, Timothy. I hope I am still young enough to take this advice.

Lessons in the Storm

We had a storm with very strong winds in our area this past week. As I watched the winds blow the trees around before the rain came, some random thoughts came to mind.

I first noticed the storm coming in, because of the movement of the trees in the backyard. The wind was blowing harder than I had seen it blow in some time. Also, the trees were bending back and forth, which we don’t see very often. I saw that we already had a broken limb that had come out of our maple tree, and was hung up on a limb on a nearby pine tree. That pine tree is about 60 feet tall, and the top 20 feet or so was swaying back and forth about 45 degrees from vertical each way.

The trees fascinated me. That a large pine tree could bend so far and not break amazed me. And yet, the maple tree already had a broken branch. It reminded me that I can bend with the winds of life, or I can break. But, how do I make sure I am bending, and not breaking?

Pine trees like to grow straight. I also have a direction¬†that I like to grow. It may be¬†a particular way of life or standard of living. It may be a church or ministry in which I have invested my time and talents. Whatever it is, I certainly don’t enjoy it when the winds of a storm blow me away from that direction.

If I refuse to bend, like the brittle maple branch, I am in danger of breaking. However, if I give up my pre-conceived notions about my life and bend with the winds, I can survive the storm unbroken. When the storm was over, the pine tree continued to grow straight. Many times after the storms in my life, I have been able to continue growing in the direction that I started.

However, even when I believe I have bent, a storm has permanently changed the direction of my life. I trust that these new directions are where God wants my life to go next. I think part of the bending process is the willingness to stay bent. For me, the hardest part is not knowing whether the bending is temporary or permanent. I struggle to trust God that He knows how much bending that I can handle before I break.

And sometimes I have broken. But thankfully, God is faithful to repair the damage like an expert arborist. Like the maple with the broken branch, I will always bear the scars of the breaks. However, like the maple I will continue to grow and flourish. Unlike the maple, I can learn and change, and become better at bending in the further.