2 Timothy 2:8-13 – The Hound of Heaven

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. Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

Here is a trustworthy saying:

If we died with him,
    we will also live with him;
if we endure,
    we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
    he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
    he remains faithful,
    for he cannot disown himself. (NIV)

C.S. Lewis once described God as the Hound of Heaven.  By that phrase he meant that God doggedly pursued him and would not let go.  Lewis came into Christian faith, in his own words, “kicking and screaming” as God’s faithful pursuit won out in his life. 

The Apostle Paul reminded his young protégé Timothy of some basic theology to keep him on track and encouraged in a tough ministry.  Paul gave Timothy a trustworthy saying that he could easily remember and say to himself day after day, especially when the going got tough: 

If we died with Christ,
    we will live with him.
If we don’t give up,
    we will rule with him.
If we deny
    that we know him,
he will deny
    that he knows us.
If we are not faithful,
    he will still be faithful.
Christ cannot deny
    who he is. (CEV)

The beauty, wonder, and distinction of God is his amazing grace. There is no ambiguity with God. The Lord is not fickle but loves and holds tight even when we are unlovely and practice avoidance. When God pursues, God finds; when God holds on, there is no letting go.

This trustworthy saying of Scripture is a good, short, solid expression of theological truth to memorize, meditate upon, and say to ourselves repeatedly.  We belong to Jesus Christ.  God is with us.  The Hound of Heaven will always sniff us out and bring us to himself.

Lewis likely got his phrase “Hound of Heaven” from an English poem of the same name by Francis Thompson (1859-1907). Thompson was a tortured soul who flirted in and out of depression, opium addiction, and suicidal thoughts for much of his adult life. Yet, he understood, perhaps better than most, that a loving God never stops pursuing a wayward heart. The poem’s beginning and end says this:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter….

How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alas, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come.
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.

Theology is not an impersonal affair. Personal religion still exists. The individual’s wax and wane between faith and faithlessness shall never negate divine grace. The Lord of the universe loves you. There is a deep Divine desire to shower grace upon you, to shelter and protect you. There is no need to run. Yet, if you do, God remains steadfast in his dogged pursuit. The hunt will continue….

Thank you, O God, for your great faithfulness, even to me.  I believe. Help me in my unbelief! I give unceasing praise and undying devotion to you for your grace of being the One who never lets up, through Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.

The Parable of the Talents

The Parables of Jesus by Argentine artist Jorge Cocco Santiago, 2018

What would you do with a million dollars?…  Maybe you would pay off some debts, finish some work on your house, or quit your job and take a vacation. Perhaps you might invest a good portion of it. However, your investment is only as good as your level of trust.   

When I worked at a senior citizen healthcare facility, there was a resident with an apartment in independent living, but he still owned his house. During one conversation, the old man admitted to me that over the past sixty years he owned his house, he had secretly bored holes in every door jamb of the house and had stuffed away $100,000 dollars in cash!  This dear resident had personally experienced the run on banks which began the Great Depression in 1929. He had zero trust for investment banking. 

A “talent” in Christ’s day was a monetary denomination.  A talent was worth 6,000 denarii, and one denarius was worth a day’s wage.  So, in Christ’s parable of the talents, Jesus was talking about millions of dollars (in today’s money) with the master who gave his servants five talents, two talents, and one talent. (Matthew 25:14-30) 

As Jesus was telling his parable, one of his chief points was to communicate that God is gracious and generous.  The three servants responded their master’s generosity according to their view of him.  Two of the servants regarded the master as gracious and generous, and so, freely took their talents and confidently invested them to create even more money.   

The two faithful servants took risks and acted with the idea that they were secure in their relationship with their master.  However, the third servant’s perception of his master was different.  This servant discerned his master as stern, serious, and angry, so therefore, he did nothing with his talent – he was afraid. 

The man was fearful because his view of the master was off.  If we consider God as primarily an angry Being, then we will almost certainly not use the gifts he has given us, for fear of messing up and experiencing his wrath.   

However, the truth is, God is gracious and generous.  The Lord has mercifully gifted everyone and expects us to use those gifts and not hide them away in a door jamb!  God wants us to actively display grace and generosity – which will require addressing our fears. If we want to hear the Lord Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” then taking initiative is necessary. 

Fear is perhaps the greatest block in preventing God’s people from being productive Christians in serving the church and the world.  Beneath our fears are powerful feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and an inner conviction that we are not enough. Oftentimes, a low view of self can come from a low view of God. 

Fear paralyzes our potential to serve God’s kingdom.   

Being continually afraid, drains our energy and lessens whatever impact we could have for God in the world, diminishing our resolve to act and leaving us ineffective in service. 

Fear destroys our dreams and godly desires.   

We are meant to enjoy the gracious and generous God, and in our enjoyment of the Lord, godly dreams will be placed within us that God is pleased to fulfill: 

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4, NLT) 

Our enjoyment of God gives us the security and confidence to act upon godly desires and produces a generous harvest of righteousness and peace. We then can share the bounty with others, as a way of giving back to God.   

Yet, if fear gets thrown into the mix, it dilutes and destroys everything.  Fear paralyzes us, and we do nothing, like the third servant in the parable.  What is more, fear can force us into hiding, just like the servant hid and buried his talent.   

In the Old Testament book of Numbers, the Israelites were immobilized by fear.  God had a grand vision and a big dream for the people to enter the Promised Land.  But ten of the twelve spies who came back after checking out the land were paralyzed by fear.  “The land has giants, and we are like grasshoppers!” they nervously said.   

Caleb and Joshua, however, had a different view of taking the land because they had a different view of God.  They didn’t see giants – they saw a gracious and generous God who could easily take care of whoever might be in the land, and they wanted to act on the faith they had in a mighty and merciful God.  The God of the other spies wasn’t big enough to handle the giants.  Their low view of themselves as grasshoppers betrayed their low view of God. (Numbers 13:26-33) 

We might wrap a lot of our fears in morbidly sanctified self-belittling.  That is, we might feel good about feeling bad and wrap ourselves with a blanket of secret shame. As a result, those self-deprecating feelings stop us from exploring God’s dream and vision for us.   

We could use some bold God-sized dreams!  We can speak and act in the world with confidence because we serve a God who sees giants as gnats. 

Some of the greatest fears that hold back people from exploring their faith is: 

  • Fear of criticism – being afraid of what others may think or say.   
  • Fear of taking a risk – being afraid of going outside the comfort zone of how something has always been done.  
  • Fear of ourselves – being afraid to explore our vast inner world with its guilt, shame, insecurity, and mixed motives. 

Fear snatches away God’s dreams for us.  If you once had a dream and you think that dream is dead because of your sins and bad habits, you are misguided.  Dreams evaporate because of fear, by being duped into believing that we are not enough, and never will be. So, we end up doing nothing. 

Fear ruins our relationship with God and others. 

Living a spiritual life, meanwhile always looking over our shoulder to see if God is going to sneak up on us and rap our knuckles with a ruler, is no way to live.  I think the hardest people to get along with are those who have a low view themselves.  Because they do not like themselves, they do not like others. They continually wonder if God is upset with them about something.  The man in the parable blamed God for his own lack of investment.  Yet, blame shifting is really our own fear and insecurity seeping through onto others – it helps no one, especially ourselves.   

God wants us to bloom with the talents given us.  God wants us to shine and succeed. God is on our side, has our backs, and wants us to live a good life. 

Fear sabotages our service. 

“I can’t!” is the cry of the person locked in fear.  I cannot stand up in front of people, meet strangers, sing, serve like that other person can or love like Jesus did.  I cannot because I am afraid, and I only have one talent!   

Perhaps you have observed that God typically uses tongue-tied people, worriers, and those with a sordid past – and not superstars – as servants commissioned with a set of talents. The less a person has, the more God shows up and shows off with generous power and gracious ability through that person. 

Nothing sabotages serving more than being afraid, worried, and believing we have so little. Give God a chance!  Step out.  Take a risk.  Act on that dream. 

Conclusion 

Once in a small village in India, a farmer brought to the open-air market a whole covey of quail, with a string tied around a foot of each bird.  The other end of the string was tied to a ring on a central stick.  The quail were all walking in a circle because of the strings on their feet.  As the day went on no one seemed interested in buying the farmer’s quail.   

Finally, an old man came and bought every one of the quail.  After he bought the quail, the old man told the farmer to cut the strings and set all the quail free.  So, the farmer did.  But none of the quail flew away.  They kept marching around in a circle as if they were still tied to the string.  Finally, the farmer had to shoo them away to get them to move, and even then, the quail landed somewhere else and just started marching in a circle again. 

God has freed and forgiven us.  Yet, we can so easily remain tethered to imaginary strings and march around in vicious circles of fear, afraid to venture into the unexplored world God has for us, to spread our wings and be free. 

God loves you.  God has wonderful plans for you.  God created you with your unique personality, gave you unparalleled experiences, and gifted you with uncommon abilities. God wants you to tap into that passion and dream placed down deep in your heart to serve the world.   

What would you do with a million dollars?  You already have it.  Now, go and invest it. 

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 – Always and Forever

My Lord, you have been our home forever and ever.
You were God before the mountains were born,
    before the earth and the world were made.
    You have always been and will always be God!

You bring people into this world,
    and you change them into dust again.
To you, a thousand years is like yesterday,
    like a few hours in the night.
Our life is like a dream that ends when morning comes.
We are like grass
    that grows and looks so fresh in the morning,
    but in the evening it is dry and dying.

Lord, come back to us.
    Be kind to your servants….
Fill us with your love every morning.
    Let us be happy and enjoy our lives.
For years you have made life hard for us and have given us many troubles.
    Now make us happy for just as long.
Let your servants see the wonderful things you can do for them.
    And let their children see your glory.
Lord, our God, be kind to us.
    Make everything we do successful.
    Yes, make it all successful. (ERV)

Holy Scripture is first and foremost a collection of writings about God. There are times we may become too focused on ourselves – our fears, inadequacies, weaknesses, failures – and lose sight of God’s huge immensity. Today’s psalm helps reorient us back again to the grand Sovereign of the universe. There is a decidedly theistic worldview espoused and embedded in the psalm. It is a cosmology dominated by the largeness of a Creator who is pictured as completely in control of creation.

When it comes to us, our lives are often a weird and complex concoction of fear and joy which could combust at any time. We swing from high to low, and low to high. If we are on an even keel, it is often only because we are currently in the middle of swaying from one extreme to another. Even the seemingly consistent introverts know this – it just happens to all take place inside their vast inner world instead of on the outside for all to see.

Psalm 90 grants us a grand vision of God to anchor and steady us through the vicissitudes of life. The high and transcendent God is also close and imminently near. Because of divine transcendence and immanence, nothing gets by God. The Lord Almighty always knows the score. And God is ready to graciously dispense kindness, mercy, and steadfast love to us in daily need of it.

The appropriate response to such a God is to number our days so that we may become wise. When we appropriate and incorporate a healthy theology into our lives, we learn to measure ourselves in fresh ways and live consistently moral lives with wholeness and integrity. Therefore, a regular regimen of the psalms is important to always have before us a stout view of God who always and forever exists as our heart’s truest home.

Mighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, satisfy me in the morning with your constant love so that I might rejoice and be glad all day, every day. Let your favor rest upon me and establish the work of my hands for the glory of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign as one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 99 – The Holy Helper

Welcome, friends! Just as we need a strong physical spine for good health, equally necessary is a healthy spiritual spine with good strong theology holding us up. Click the video below and let’s worship the Lord…

And, here is Psalm 99 put to song and performed by the Sons of Korah…

Psalm 99 by the Sons of Korah

May you be strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience. Amen.