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.

So it was natural that their faith would become his. Paul later reminds Timothy, “from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Jewish boys began their formal study of the Scriptures when they were five. But Timothy’s mother and grandmother started him in God’s word even earlier, when he was just an infant. And over time, their faith became his faith.

So when the apostle arrived again in Lystra, early in his second missionary journey, he found this spiritual “son” he didn’t know he had. The spiritual offspring of his ministry to Timothy’s mother and grandmother. And the two would change the world together.

All because his mother named him “one who honors God.” Twice.

How to name your child

Where did you get your name? Your spiritual name, for good or for bad? To whom do you owe your identity of significance?

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: of the 69 kings of France, only three were truly loved by their subjects. They happened to be the three raised by their mothers and not tutors or guardians.

Napoleon was right. An aristocratic lady, sitting by his side at a great dinner, asked him, “My Emperor, will you tell me what it is France needs most at this present hour?” He turned to her and answered quietly, “France needs most of all mothers.” Does America?

Aurelius Augustinus would have made the cover of People magazine weekly, if it had been around in 354 AD. He had two mistresses, the first when he was only sixteen. He fathered an illegitimate child, and ran from one scandal to another. But his saintly mother Monica wouldn’t give up on her wayward son. Where he moved, she moved. While he sinned, she prayed. Finally, at 33 years of age, he came to faith in Jesus. He was ordained a priest, then a bishop; he wrote sixteen volumes of the greatest theology since Paul, and is considered the most brilliant Christian since the New Testament.

To whom do we owe Augustine?

Susannah Wesley was the 25th child of her father and the mother of 19. She taught each of her children to recite the alphabet by his or her fifth birthday; when they turned six, she spent six hours each day teaching them Christian theology. Two of her sons, John and Charles, would in time found the denomination known as Methodist. John Wesley later said, “I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians of England.” To whom do we owe him?

Is the pattern clear?

C. I. Scofield published the famous Study Bible which bears his name. His mother died at birth, her last prayer that this newborn child would be a preacher of the gospel. His father didn’t tell him about his mother’s prayer until he had answered it.

The great expositor G. Campbell Morgan said, “My sermons were Bible stories which I had first learned from my mother.”

The remarkable evangelist Dwight L. Moody admitted, “All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”

The greatest Baptist preacher ever, Charles Spurgeon, agreed, “I cannot tell how much I owe to the solemn words of my good mother.”

John Newton’s mother prayed for her wayward, sinful son, until he came to the Amazing Grace of which his hymn testifies.

Erma Bombeck was right: children do emulate their mothers. Mrs. Campolo was accurate: you are “socializing homo sapiens.” So reflect today on two requests.

First, would you choose the example you want your children to follow? They will become what you are. What spiritual model are you giving to their souls? What model do you want to give to them?

And second, would you make their spiritual development your highest priority? Our society values their grades, their athletic achievements, their social status. God values their souls. One day, so will they. But before they can, you must. What are you doing for your children’s souls today?


It’s never too late to be Lois and Eunice to your Timothy. This grandmother had spiritual influence worth recording in the record of God’s word. So did this mother. So can we all.

If you don’t have a child, find a Timothy anyway. Ask God for someone you can mentor, some soul you can help to mold, someone to pray for, someone whose eternal destiny you can help shape.

And whether you have a child or not, you have a mother. To the degree you can, honor her today.

And as you honor your mother, worship your Father. Trust in Jesus as Lord; live fully and passionately for him; and you will bring the greatest honor to your mother it is in your power to give.

Hear Temple Bailey’s famous essay:

“The Young Mother set her foot on the path of life. ‘Is the way long?’ she asked. And her guide said: ‘Yes, and the way is hard. And you will be old before you reach the end of it. But the end will be better than the beginning.’ But the Young Mother was happy, and she would not believe that anything could be better than these years.

“So she played with her children, and gathered flowers for them along the way, and bathed them in the clear streams; and the sun shone on them, and life was good, and the Young Mother said, ‘Nothing will ever be lovelier than this!’

“Then night came, and storms, and the path was dark, and her children shook with fear and cold, and the Mother drew them close and covered them with her mantle, and her children said, ‘Oh, Mother, we are not afraid, for you are near, and we know no harm can come,’ and the Mother said, ‘This is better than the brightness of the day, for I have taught my children courage.’

“And the morning came, and there was a hill ahead, and the children climbed and grew weary, and the Mother was weary, but she said to her children, ‘A little patience, and we are there.’ So the children climbed, and when they reached the top, they said, ‘We could not have done it without you, Mother.’ And the Mother, when she lay down that night, looked up at the stars and said, ‘This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned fortitude in the face of hardness. Yesterday I gave them courage. Today I have given them strength.’

“And the next day came strange clouds which darkened the whole earth—clouds of war and hate and evil, and the children groped and stumbled, and the Mother said, ‘Look up. Lift your eyes to the light.’ And the children looked and saw above the clouds an everlasting glory, and it guided them and brought them beyond the darkness. And that night the Mother said, ‘This is the best day of all, for I have shown my children God.’

“And the days went on, and the weeks went on, and the years went on, and the Mother grew old, and she was little and bent. But her children were tall and strong, and walked with courage. And when the way was hard, they helped their Mother; and when the way was rough, they lifted her, for she was light as a feather; and at last they came to a hill; and beyond the hill they could see a shining road and golden gates flung wide.

“And the Mother said, ‘I have reached the end of my journey. And now I know that the end is better than the beginning, for my children can walk alone, and their children after them.’ And the children said, ‘You will always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the gates.’ And they stood and watched her as she went on alone, and the gates closed after her.”

The children were right: she will always walk with them. All mothers do.

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?

If this young king could preach today’s message, he would challenge high school graduates and the rest of us to take three actions. First: ask God to make your life significant, no matter your age.

David was a boy when he killed Goliath and saved Israel from the Philistines (1 Samuel 17). Joash was only seven years old when he became king of Judah and “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 24:2). Joseph was 30 when he saved Egypt from famine, and Israel with her (Genesis 41:41). Mary was 13 when God chose her to bear his Son. When Timothy became pastor in Ephesus, the largest church in Christendom, he was of such an age that Paul had to warn him, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Bill Gates wrote his first computer program when he was 13, started Microsoft when he was 20, and became a billionaire when he was 31. Steve Jobs invented the Apple computer when he was 21. Bob Mathias won the Olympic decathlon in 1948 at the age of 17. Yehudi Menuhin was hailed as the most gifted natural violinist ever to have appeared on the concert stage, at the age of 11.

On the other hand, Moses was 80 when he led Israel out of Egypt, and Joshua was 80 when he led the people into the Promised Land. It is never too soon, or too late, to ask God to use your life for something significant.

Second, ask God to make your life significant, no matter your circumstances.

Josiah’s father has been assassinated, and he finds himself in charge of a nation on the edge of extinction, at the age of eight. He is surrounded by pagan priests and idolatrous people, with wicked Assyria breathing down his neck. But this young man saved his nation, by the power and grace of God.

The circumstances our youth face today are no less discouraging. Most of us have no idea how tough their lives can be. During the Leave It To Beaver generation, teachers were asked to describe their top disciplinary problems. Their answers: talking, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, wearing improper clothing, and not putting waste paper in the trash can. In the Beavis generation, the same question was asked, with these answers: rape, robbery, assault, burglary, arson, bombing, and murder.

Nearly half of our nation’s 20.7 million middle and high school students drink alcohol every week. Alcohol-related car crashes kill nine teenagers every day. At least 15 Highland Park High School students have died in alcohol-related accidents in the last ten years.

45% of high school seniors say they’ve tried illegal drugs. Between 1992 and 1995, the number of eighth graders using illegal drugs doubled; among tenth graders, it jumped by two-thirds; among seniors, by half.

On every side, our youth are assaulted with violence, immorality, and despair.

Every school day at least 100,000 students take guns to school. Gunfire is the second-leading cause of teenage deaths.

40% of America’s teenagers are sexually active. One teenage girl out of ten becomes pregnant every year in this country. 40% of all girls will be pregnant before they reach the age of 20. Three million teenagers are diagnosed with a sexually-transmitted disease each year. 20.1% of America’s teenage girls have had an abortion.

2,000 teenagers commit suicide every year. And for every suicide, there are 350 failed attempts.

But you don’t have to become what your culture is. Like Josiah, you have a choice. You can ask God to make your life significant, no matter how much pressure our society puts on you, no matter how unpopular righteousness is.

I found this week a powerful statement: to lead the orchestra, you must turn your back on the crowd. Make that choice, today.

Last, ask God to make your life significant, until it is done.

Josiah’s end was tragic. His astounding spiritual and political successes birthed in his soul the self-sufficiency and pride which always lead to ruin. The king whom all the pagan priests and Assyrian warriors couldn’t touch was killed by a single Egyptian arrow.

If he could stand here today, he would plead with every one of us: ask God to make your life significant, until it is done. You are not finished serving God until he calls you home.

In 1946, the National Association of Evangelicals published an article on men who were “best used of God” during that organization’s first five years of existence. The article highlighted the ministry of Chuck Templeton. Billy Graham was never mentioned. But five years later, Templeton was out of the ministry and no longer even believed in the divinity of Jesus Christ. And God has used Billy Graham to touch more lives than any person in Christian history.

His secret? I asked that question this week of Dr. Sterling Huston, a member of Dr. Graham’s leadership team for 35 years. Dr. Huston says that Dr. Graham has never lost his sense of inadequacy, his knowledge that he must depend on God for his life and work to be significant. Dr. Graham’s greatest fear is that, at the end of his life, he will do something to bring disrepute on the cause of Christ. And that is why he never will.


I have prayed this week that God would do no less than raise up another Josiah among us today. That the Holy Spirit of Almighty God would so stir our minds and inflame our hearts that the next Josiahs would be raised up from this congregation. Josiah has been gone for 2,610 years. Billy Graham is 83. Who will be next?

Would you have the courage to ask God to make your life significant, to use you to shape this culture and even this world for Christ? Would you ask God to use your life no matter your age, or your circumstances, until you are done?

I close with the famous words of Henry Varley, preaching to a packed church building in England: “The world has yet to see what God will do with, and for, and through, and in, and by, the man totally dedicated to him.” From the balcony of that auditorium, an uneducated shoe salesman named Dwight Moody stood to his feet and said, “I will be that man.” And 100 million heard the gospel through him.

For this generation, who will be that man? That woman? Will you?