Erma Bombeck Was Right

Erma Bombeck Was Right

2 Timothy 1:1-7

Dr. Jim Denison

Erma Bombeck was above all a mother. Here’s how she describes Mother’s Day breakfast in her home: “A mixer whirs, out of control, then stops abruptly as a voice cries, ‘I’m telling.’ A dog barks and another voice says, ‘Get his paws out of there. Mom has to eat that!’ Minutes pass and finally, ‘Dad! Where’s the chili sauce?’ Then, ‘Don’t you dare bleed on Mom’s breakfast!’ The rest is a blur of banging doors, running water, rapid footsteps and a high pitched, ‘YOU started the fire! YOU put it out!'” And breakfast arrives.

“Later in the day, after you have decided it’s easier to move to a new house than clean the kitchen, you return to your bed where, if you’re wise, you’ll reflect on this day. For the first time, your children have given instead of received. They have offered up to you the sincerest form of flattery: trying to emulate what you do for them.”

Erma is exactly right—your children will emulate you. Though bleeding on Mom’s breakfast is not the image I hope you remember from this message.

Tony Campolo’s homemaker wife was attending a faculty gathering at the University of Pennsylvania with her professor husband. A sociologist confronted her with the question, “And what is that you do, my dear?” Here’s her reply: “I am socializing two homo sapiens in the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be instruments for the transformation of the social order into the teleologically prescribed utopia inherent in the eschaton.” Wow.

That’s what mothers do—they “socialize homo sapiens.” Not just intellectually or emotionally or physically, but spiritually. It’s this latter role which I want us to explore for a few minutes today. Here’s my one point: every Timothy has a Eunice, and probably a Lois. Let me show you what that sentence means, and why it matters enormously to your life and mine.

Where Timothy got his name

Timothy was the son Paul never had. He partnered with the apostle through most of his second missionary journey and all of his third. He traveled as Paul’s representative to Thessalonica, to Corinth, and to Philippi. He was at Paul’s side during his imprisonment in the Roman dungeon. After the apostle’s release he became pastor in Ephesus, the largest church in all of Christendom. He returned to Paul’s side as he faced execution by Nero (2 Timothy 4:9).

Listen to the various ways the apostle describes the young man: his “beloved and faithful child” (1 Corinthians 4:17), “my fellow worker” (Romans 16:21), “God’s fellow worker” (1 Thessalonians 3:2), “faithful in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:17), “brother (2 Corinthians 1:1), “my son” (1 Timothy 1:18).

In Philippians 2 the greatest of all apostles pays young Timothy the supreme compliment: “I have no one else like him” (v. 20). He adds, “Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel” (v. 22).

Sort of makes your resume and mine pale by comparison, doesn’t it?

His name means “one who honors God.” How did he grow into it? Let me assure you, it wasn’t easy.

Timothy grew up in Lystra, a Gentile country town in the central region of modern-day Turkey. His father was a Greek, a Gentile and a pagan; his mother Eunice was a Jewess (Acts 16:1). And so theirs was a mixed marriage, both racially and religiously. This marriage was illegal in her religion, and disparaged in his.

Timothy was technically a Jew, as the son of a Jewish mother. But his Gentile father forbade his circumcision and thus kept him from entrance into this faith tradition.

By the time Paul met the young man, during his second missionary journey, Timothy’s father was most likely dead and his mother a widow. He is a young man with no financial support and no faith community, the son of parents despised by their culture and shunned by their society.

And things hadn’t gone well for Paul in Timothy’s hometown, either. During his first visit to Lystra three years earlier, the pagan populace tried to worship him as a Greek god. Then some of Paul’s Jewish opponents showed up “and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead” (Acts 14:19). But Paul “got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe” (v. 20). No wonder.

Just the sort of career every young man wants to emulate, wasn’t it? Imagine yourself in Lystra twenty centuries ago. You know Timothy and his shunned family. You were eyewitness to Paul’s earlier travails in your city. Now you watch them meet for the first time. Could you have guessed that this despised young man and that persecuted preacher would change the world together?

How did it happen? Paul tells us the secret to Timothy’s soul: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice, and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5).

His faith is “sincere,” a word which means “without hypocrisy.” A “hypocrite” was technically a Greek stage actor who played many roles, wearing different masks to hide his true identities. Some of us never take ours off, but Timothy never put his on.

This faith “first lived” in his grandmother and mother. The Greek syntax means that it was theirs before it was his. They most likely were won to Christ by Paul during the brief days he spent in their city three years earlier.

And this faith “lived” in them—Jesus moved into their lives, took up residence in their souls, and could be seen at all hours of the day or night. He looked out their windows, built on rooms of spiritual growth, mowed down weeds of sin and neglect, greeted the neighbors, and generally ran the place. He was their Owner, their Landlord, their Master.


Leave It to Beavis

Leave It to Beavis

2 Chronicles 34:1-8

Dr. Jim Denison

In May of 1993, a television show premiered on MTV whose name I cannot repeat in a sermon. You know the title: Beavis and . . .

Beavis and his “associate” aired through 1997, though reruns are still being shown. The show dealt explicitly with teenage issues such as drug abuse, sexual identity, and violence at school.

Contrast Beavis with Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, the star of the Leave It To Beaver show. This now-classic sitcom aired from October 4, 1957 to September 12, 1963, and has been in reruns for 40 years. The parents were Ward and June; the brother was Wally. Friends were named Eddie, Larry, Whitey, and Lumpy. The Cleaver family dealt with problems such as bullies at school and getting a date for the prom.

Which is more true to life today, Beavis or Beaver Cleaver? What does God’s word say to our “leave it to Beavis” world?

This weekend we honor our high school graduates, as do churches and communities across our nation. Youth number more than one billion in our world. And theirs is one of the most significant seasons of life.

The psychologist Erik Eriksen described eight stages of human development from birth to death. In each stage, a person is confronted with a challenge unique to that stage. Eriksen called stage five “puberty and adolescence.” The primary task in that stage, according to Eriksen, is to develop identity, to define who we are.

This process does not end when we leave high school. We spend the rest of our lives determining our identity, our basic purpose in living. So here’s my question for our graduates in particular and the rest of us with them: who will you be when you’ve become who you are?

I want to offer you a role model this morning, with the passionate prayer that you will follow his example today.

What God can do with just one person

In the year 640 B.C., Josiah became king of the nation of Judah when he was eight years old. His father, King Amon, was so corrupt that his own court officials assassinated him in his palace, and put his young son on the throne in his place. Not an encouraging start to one’s administration.

But young Josiah made the right self-definitional decisions, setting a direction for his life which would change the destiny of a nation.

As a child, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David” (v. 2). He chose to follow the example of his godly ancestor.

Then, when he was sixteen years old, “he began to seek the God of his father David” (v. 3). This phrase means that he made his faith personal. He chose for himself a passionate commitment to Jehovah God.

And when he was twenty, he put his faith into courageous practice. Despite overwhelming popular sentiment, he purged the nation of the idols and pagan images which had polluted its soul (vs. 3-4). He banished the idolatrous priests which had corrupted its spirit (vs. 4-7). These moves infuriated the mighty Assyrian nation which threatened Judah’s future, but the resolve of this young king could not be shaken.

And even more significant greatness lay ahead.

At age 26, in the year 622 B.C., Josiah commissioned a massive renovation of the Temple in Jerusalem (vs. 8-13). The Temple chambers, so long neglected and in ruins, were cleaned out and repaired.

In the midst of the work, Hilkiah the priest found the “Book of the Law of the Lord that had been given through Moses” (v. 14). We call this the book of Deuteronomy. Written in 1406 B.C., it had been lost and forgotten for most of 800 years. Imagine finding a part of the Bible which had been for the most part ignored since the time of King Arthur.

When King Josiah read this rediscovered book, “he tore his robes” in personal repentance (v. 19). Then he acted boldly on this repentance.

The king sent his priest to consult with the prophetess Huldah, who warned them of imminent divine wrath because of the nation’s unspeakable sinfulness (vs. 22-28).

In response, this young king called together the leaders of the entire nation. He climbed up to the rebuilt temple and read Deuteronomy to them personally (vs. 29-30).

He pledged his personal obedience to this revelation from God: he would “follow the Lord and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul” (v. 31).

He led the entire nation to pledge themselves to this covenant with him (v. 32).

The result? “As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their fathers” (v. 33). And the nation was saved.

But this young king wasn’t finished. In gratitude for God’s forgiveness, he led the entire country in observing the Passover, a religious ceremony which had been neglected for generations. Here’s how successful he was: “The Passover had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; and none of the kings of Israel had ever celebrated such a Passover as did Josiah, with the priests, the Levites and all Judah and Israel who were there with the people of Jerusalem” (v. 18).

Unfortunately, Josiah’s life did not end well. In self-sufficient pride he led his army into battle against the Egyptian Pharaoh, and was killed by an archer’s arrow.

But here’s how the nation felt about their young king: “…all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him. Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah, and to this day all the men and women singers commemorate Josiah in the laments” (vs. 24b-25).

When Israel remembers her history and her greatest kings, among her most revered leaders is the young man who saved his nation. This is the story of Josiah.

Now, what does his story say to ours?

Who will be Josiah today?