Paul is telling Timothy what he needs to know and says “…be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” (NIV 2Tim 4:2) It’s a verse I’ve heard many times of course but this last week was, for me, a pretty extreme example of its reality and application. I was on the road to San Francisco on business and spent four days in and around the convention center. I wasn’t carrying a sign or anything that would draw attention to myself or my faith but God had some adventure in mind. In those few days I was engaged in a half-dozen deep, technical, personal conversations about God and “all of that stuff.” There was the genetic cancer scientist on the plane down. There was the Harvard lawyer, ex-hippie AND ex-Christian at the fire pit. There was the Orthodox Jew computer programmer. A very dear and old friend who was a believer back in high-school but now joins the eclectic “us” of atheists. And then there was the very kind older man with a broad smile eating sausages who happened to be a genuine occultist…it was a strange week.
Without question these conversations, none of which ever turned nasty, kept me on my toes like I’ve never been in my life. Any one of those conversations would have been exciting and fun and required something form me but all in a few days…in hindsight it feels a little like a test.
The Holman Bible renders this verse, “Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.” and it makes me think of another, 1Cor 9:19-23 where Paul describes the chameleon-like effort of meeting every person where they are, becoming all things to all people that you might win a few.
With the cancer-fighter, it was enough for her to meet a believer who wasn’t an anti-science luddite – something she wasn’t sure existed. For the lawyer, he found an unexpected fencing opponent, a Christian who knew enough history and scripture to earn his respect. For my dear friend, perhaps it was enough just to communicate that I certainly didn’t think of her as an enemy in anyway for changing her views and with my Orthodox friend, we discussed the subtleties of the creation account. But the most interesting, and the most divine, was the occultist.
On first glance he was a gentle looking man in his later years with arthritis in his hands and a generous splash of snowy hair but when he started talking about St. Germain and the civilization inside Mt. Shasta…well it’s fair to say we’d left ‘normal.’ Here was a man who took gnosticism, perhaps the first Christian heresy, very seriously and it would have been understandable for me to get creeped out, or offended or maybe combative. And I’ve have been able to find scripture to validate any of those responses but in moment I just heard God softly encouraging me to walk a while with this man. As he spoke, he shared the things his Spiritual Teacher had shared with him over the previous years. For my part, I recognized all of the teachings and was able to gently share the history, pedigree, or with appropriate scripture, the fallacy of many. Never in an aggressive way but always with gentleness and patience because I saw in this man not a warrior for the occult but a man honestly seeking truth. His claw-like hands, i learned, were not the result of arthritis but rather a genetic disorder and as he shared bits of his story I saw that he was really looking for healing, just about the most understandable motive in the world. When I learned that, the conversation was able to take on a different tone. Healing, as providence would have it, was something I happen to know a little bit about and by the time we’d parted I was able to pray or him, for his physical healing, and also to let him know about Bill Johnson’s church outside of Mt. Shasta where he could learn more.
I guess my point in this story is something like this – I’ve come to take Paul’s advice very seriously in the last several years and this week would have been very different if I hadn’t. There was a time when I treated the Bible a lot like I think about exercise: something that is supposed to be good for me, but if I’m honest I just don’t care enough to get into it. But a SEAL who knows he’ll be deployed shortly takes pushups seriously – something fairly likely to save his life in the field. While I wasn’t in any danger over this week, if I really believe what I say claim to then the stakes were very high. But it’s not scripture only, it’s a study of the life, and the giver of life that scripture describes. Clubbing these folks over the head with verses would have accomplished nothing, but mixing knowledge with love is a powerful thing. But more to the point, it’s what I am commanded to train in and master.