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It's time to stop being cool

Updated: Nov 13, 2020 into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim 1:6-7)

We're going to start feeling the sting of the cold, people. The world has set itself against the kingdom of God and against the kingdom of his Son. The world is a Spirit-quenching, faith-choking, life-draining place. You will not survive if you simply let nature take its course.

I like to be alive. And the effects of spiritual life (joy, faith, love, etc.) are hands-down preferable to the effects of spiritual death (bitterness, shame, envy, etc.) That's why I want to fan my life, this gift of God, into flame - whatever flicker of joy, love, hope, wisdom, or purpose God sparks in me - I want it to crackle and burn. And hot joy (can I please have that on a t-shirt?) is the only good reason anyone else should want to imitate me, too. If my fire doesn't invite people into life, warmth, energy, and a cup of hot chocolate with a story and a friend, then I need to ask what kind of fire I'm stoking in the first place.

What Paul seems to suggest in 2 Tim 1:6-7 (see above) is that fire-stoking is to be done in a certain frame of mind, with a certain attitude, and for a certain purpose. The single Greek word that is translated "fan into flame" is anazopyreo. Not that I know Greek, but that's one intense word, not unlike its definition: "to kindle up, re-enkindle, inflame one's mind." Synonyms: "strength, zeal."

Unfortunately, fire can burn out of control and zeal can lead to ungodliness. We saw this earlier in the year when people's passion for something very righteous consumed their ability to be rational and they became the very thing they were speaking out against: violent, uncaring, and, ironically, cold-spirited towards other fellow human beings. Paul's purpose in telling Timothy to stoke his spiritual heat isn't to burn down anyone's house (or store). The purpose of godly zeal is to equip and embolden us to stand in a world that will inevitably cool us down to the temperature of the evil one. All he has to do is get us nice and cool, and the kingdom of Christ stops advancing.

For a long time, we've replaced authentic spiritual heat with coolness. Not coldness, mind you - it's obvious that religious coldness is offensive to the world. But religious heat can be, too, and so we've solved the problem by being cool. Like Goldilock's favorite bowl of porridge. Not too hot, not too cold, just right.

Religious heat can be offensive. I agree - But I'm not talking about religion, and neither is Paul. Christians who spout Scripture to people like flame-throwers and wave their banners of judgment over anyone who doesn't see things just like they do. While it's true that's not cool, I'd like to argue here that it's also not the true flame of God. Religious piety and judgmentalism is not the heat Paul is telling us to stoke.

I don't think Paul's admonition to Timothy is a call to political zeal or even to religious zeal. The thing Paul is telling Timothy to do is to stoke the flame of the gift God has given him. He's not asking Timothy to get out there with picket signs in holy zeal and change the world (1 Tim 2:24-26). He's not asking Timothy to get into hot debates and change everyone's mind (2 Tim 2:14). He's not asking Timothy to fight for Christian rights (2 Tim 3:11). Timothy's healthy spiritual fire is not to burn for any of these reasons.

The fires of our faith burn for one reason alone, and this is what we need to get hot about: the death-crushing, hate-conquering, fear-blasting good news of God's gracious salvation and life-giving power extended to us through Jesus Christ. Here's how Paul explains his admonition to stoke the fires:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Tim 1:8–12).

It's been a rough year, people. I know I've watched more news this year than the past ten years combined. But new aside, the church needs to reorient - through the word of God - to what God is doing in the world. We need to keep pursuing the vision God has set before us in the person and work of Jesus Christ, King of heaven and earth. When we get stoked about the gospel, we let go of the fear of not being relevant or cool, acceptable, effective, protected, or correct. The release of the fear of man paves the way of the Spirit of power, love, and self-control. And when we enter this realm - the realm of the gospel word that God uses to give life to the dead, that's when Satan loses.

It's time to stop being cool about the gospel. If you've been getting zealous about what's going on in the world, you're going to eventually get tired...and after that I am fairly certain you'll eventually get discouraged, because God has not promised to build our nation, or any system of government, economy, entertainment, or education that is of this world. That isn't what he's doing. God is building the kingdom of the Son - that and that alone is what God is doing, and that and that alone is worth our heat, our love, our lives.

It is only in the realm of the gospel - not by any political rights - that God promises to give us power.

It is only in the realm of the gospel - not by any racial protests - that God promises to show us how to love beyond ourselves.

It is only in the realm of the gospel - not by any economic security - that God promises to make us self-disciplined.

The structures that are crumbling down around us even as we speak are not where true power, genuine love, and the unstoppable strength of self-control emerge. These emerge out of faith that burns off fear and steps into the work of the gospel with the attitude that this and this alone is what God is building.

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