Thursday, February 19, 2009

Stir It Up

I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

                        1 Timothy 1.6 (NKJV)

The Gift Within

Many ostracized believers abandoning traditions and communities that reject them run as far and fast from faith as they can. Anger and anguish drive them to cut themselves off from the things of God and all of His people. Sadly, this is a natural response. We often answer rejection by rejecting those who shun us, as William Congreve famously wrote in his 1697 poem, The Mourning Bride: “Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d/Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.” Scorn can launch anyone, male or female, into a lifetime of rage and fury. But there’s an added factor faith refugees seldom acknowledge or come to terms with. Many times, preachers, family members, or congregations who rejected them also led them to Christ and nurtured their faith.

I've heard dozens of alienated Christians, gay and straight, express their animosity toward “the Church” and “hypocrites” and “organized religion.” Beneath their hatred, though, there remains an undeniable tenderness, a longing to follow Jesus and please their Maker. The gift within, the faith-treasure deeply imbedded in them, can’t be lost, no matter how fast they run or how far they travel from those who injured them. This is true for all of us privileged to grow up in the company of Christian families and communities, whether or not they accept us now. At some point, they touched our lives in profoundly positive ways. They laid their hands on us, if you will, and imprinted God's gift forever in our hearts and minds. Because some of them later disappointed us or turned us away can’t tarnish or steal the gift within. It’s still there, will always be there, waiting for us to stir it up.

What’s Inside

Good or bad, we need to see fellow believers for what they really are—delivery personnel. They bring God’s gift to us. As with actual couriers, some handle the things of God with conscientious delicacy and discretion. Their sole concern is ensuring His message arrives intact and undamaged. Others treat godly matters with unnecessary roughness. By the time the gift reaches us, the parcel is so horribly mangled it looks nothing like what it contains. Finally, there are those who overstep their responsibilities. They take it upon themselves to decide who’s worthy to receive God’s gift. If we don’t meet their standards, they plaster a “Return to Sender” label on the gift and head back to the warehouse, withholding delivery. While there’s no excuse for mishandling God’s gift, too often we’re so outraged by its bungled delivery we forget what’s inside.

After exhorting Timothy to stir up the gift within, Paul describes its contents: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (1 Timothy 1.7 NKJV) Knowing what’s inside is important for two reasons. First, any gift packaged in fear or intending to instill fear does not come from God. We should refuse delivery immediately. 1 John 4.18 flatly says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” People who love us are just as likely as those who despise us to try to imbed fear in our beings. They may hope to scare us into conforming to their image of a Christian with threats and punishment. But we’re called to conform to Christ’s image, which is Perfect Love. If we live in fear, John says, we’re imperfect. We can't love. Thus, knowing what’s inside is most important for the second reason. It helps us reflect the image of Christ.

All Ours

Paul says we’ve received a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind. It’s all ours, resting within us, waiting for us to stir it up. This is mighty stuff we’ve been given. And as Paul’s statement plainly suggests, it’s intended to countermand any impulses or impositions leading to fear. Despite objections by intolerant fellow believers or cynical non-believers, power to follow Jesus is in us. Despite wrongs we suffer, capacity to love is in us. Despite how crazy and confusing our circumstances get, ability to think clearly and confidently is in us. Everything we possibly need to accept God’s acceptance, reject others’ rejection, and live lives that please and glorify our Maker is in us. How competently or poorly the gift was delivered has no effect on its contents and our possession of it. We carry it always at the ready to overcome fear and all its side effects. We’ll never defeat fear by defying those who drop it at our doorstep. Only when we realize what’s inside us and stir it up will we triumph.

Everything we need to succeed as followers of Christ--power, love, and sound thinking--is already in us. We simply have to stir it up.

(Tomorrow: Downsides of Dignity)

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