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Monday, February 24, 2014

Above All - the Bible (2 Timothy 4:9, 13, 16-21)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Imagine with you are in solitary confinement.  No human contact. You get three meals a day, but other than that it is you in that room with your thoughts.  Nothing else.  But, the warden says you may have one thing, any one thing of your choosing.  What would be the one thing you’d want?  You don’t how long you’ll be there.  You’re feeling like you are going crazy.  What one thing would get you through?
The Apostle Paul was in a lonely Roman cell.  Scholars supposes this was his final stop before being executed for saying that Jesus and not the Roman emperor was Lord and ruler of the world.  Paul would never relent.  So, he was probably executed.  While he waited, he was allowed visitors and he asked Timothy to come.  In 2nd Timothy 4, he writes, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.”
He wanted those papers.  Why?
Today we conclude an 8-part series of talks about entering the world of the Bible.  We want to get into the Bible.  We want to get the Bible into us.  Ultimately, we present ourselves to God so that God might shape and mold us.  One of the ways we know how God is working on us, around us, and in us, is in our meeting God in the Bible. 
To be formed by what the Bible says, we have to know what the Bible says.  Each of us reads differently.  For this reason, I have proposed different pathways into scripture.  Some may not be helpful for you.  Others might be just what you needed. 
The final Bible pathway I recommend is based on the people we meet, the characters in the Bible.  Select someone whose history we know through their place within the Biblical story, and go into detail in studying that one’s life.  For example, you might decide to read up on King David.  Where is his story found?  You’d want to read 1st & 2nd Samuel, the opening chapters of 1st Kings, and 1st Chronicles.  You’d read the Psalms.  You would go to the New Testament to read all the places New Testament authors refer back to David.  After reading the texts, you might enjoy reading a commentary, either popular or academic.  This will help you understand in depth the individual you are researching and it will help you learn about God as you research David.  If Moses is your choice, you’d begin with Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  It doesn’t have to be a favorable character.  We learn just as much about God from the antagonists.  Maybe you want to study up on Judas Iscariot.  You’d read the four gospels and then commentaries.
The pathway into Bible I commend this morning is to enter the Word through study of a particular person. Moses, David, and Judas Iscariot are examples.  There are dozens of others.  The Apostle Paul is a good one.  He was the main figure leading the spread of Christian faith in the decades after Jesus’ resurrection.  In the closing chapter of 2nd Timothy, we find an aging, tired Paul who is near the end
Many experts believe a second generation of believers wrote 1st & 2nd Timothy and also Titus, and the scholars offer reasons for arguing that Paul had nothing to do with these letters; the letters were written in his name but by someone else, long after his death.  I believe 1st & especially 2nd Timothy are from Paul.  Whether they are composites of several things Paul taught, said, and wrote over the years, or he originally penned the letters, I cannot say.  But I believe the content of both 1st and 2nd Timothy is originally from the Apostle Paul.  The sentiment in the last chapter of 2nd Timothy is too personal to not be.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

6As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

9Do your best to come to me soon,

13When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.

16At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 19Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20Erastus remained in Corinth; Trophimus I left ill in Miletus. 21Do your best to come before winter.

          Paul says in verse 3 people have “itching ears.” If people today don’t like a church, they search until they find one that makes them comfortable.  If church doesn’t do it, there are other religions.  If they can’t find one they like, they can come up with their own. 
This everything-fits, take your pick, all-you-can-eat-buffet approach to religious truth was driven home to me several years ago.  I was alone, driving on the West Virginia turnpike.  I picked up a hitchhiker.  The guy had a back pack and sleeping mat.  He was grateful that I stopped.  His body order suggested it had been a while since he had showered.  It was a sunny summer day, we were cruising through the beautiful mountains of West Virginia, and I mentioned to my passenger that I was a Christian.  He wasn’t interested in the topic at all.  His tone changed.  He did not want to be evangelized.  He said, “I worship God in my own way.”
What does that mean?  I have heard other people say that.  “I worship God in my own way.”  Does the person create his own God?  That’s how Paul saw it.  He told Timothy, “They will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths” (4:3-4).  That’s the world Paul saw Timothy working in.  That’s where Timothy was to be God’s man, and it is where you and I are to be the people of God. 
So what does Paul advise Timothy?   “5As for you, [Timothy, and us, 21st century disciples] always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully” (4:5).  It’s not’s easy, but it is what we are given.
Worship God in my own way; Paul could not imagine such blasphemy.  He laid out his life to do things God’s way.  By the time we land at the end of 2nd Timothy, Paul knows his life’s mission is near the end.  “7I have fought the good fight” Paul says.  “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:7).  The apostle is exhausted, but not discouraged.  He is charging to the end, embracing his chains, and rejoicing that he is privileged to suffer for Jesus.  He will stay rooted in the scriptures which he believed were completely fulfilled in Jesus.  For Paul, word and Jesus were connected and he, Paul would always do things God’s way, not his own way.
However, the apostle who displayed so much bravado, at the end, felt vulnerable.  Three times, he begs Timothy to come. 
9Do your best to come to me soon,

13When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.
21Do your best to come before winter.

It was cold and lonely and Paul was out of strength.  He was scared.  Even as he anticipated his Heavenly reward, which he didn’t doubt, he still had an earthly need – companionship.  In that moment of weakness, he didn’t play the hero.  He called out to his friend, his son in Christ, his closest tie besides Luke to the Christian community he had given his life to.  He called out and said, come.  I need you.  Come. 
And he did not want Timothy to show up empty-handed.  “Bring the cloak that I left … also the books, and above all the parchments.”
In ancient prisons there was not much provision for the inmates.  In freezing weather, they froze.  Without visits by friends bearing food, they often went hungry, even to the point of starvation.  Paul does not mention a need for food to Timothy.  Maybe another friend was providing that.  He does ask for his cloak.  But, above all, he says, bring the parchments. 
These were likely scrolls that contained the Psalms and probably the Pentateuch – the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  Maybe the parchments included the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  Remember, in the first century, they did not have bound books as we do.  They had scrolls.  Paul wanted the word of God with him as he whiled away the days in the dark, cold, damp cell.  Another cloak would be nice, but above all, bring the parchments.  Paul needed the Bible. 
Paul always had the kingdom in view, and accomplishing things of kingdom value is what he stressed to Timothy (and to you and me).  He said from the outset, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you” (v.1).  He gave everything he had to serve Jesus, trusting that when he was completely empty God would fill him.  All those summons to Timothy, the request “Come,” – it comes from Paul when he was empty.
In following Jesus, you and I will experience power like we’ve never imagined when we are filled with the Spirit.  There will also be times we come up empty.  Those are the moments to lean on one another and dive into the word.  If I could stress any one thing it is our need for scripture.  Christians don’t always see it.  We go along, attending church, not really reading the Bible much at all.  And our faith is impoverished.  And the church – the local church and Christianity worldwide – suffers for our lack of Bible awareness. 
We need each other and we need the Word.  Paul was shaped as a disciple by the word, as his reading was guided by the Holy Spirit and his living of the word happened both in the context of fellow disciples and in the world to which he was called to preach.
You and I are not “Apostles” in the way that Paul was.  We have jobs and go to homes.  We do not travel about where Christianity has never existed.  We live where people have heard of Jesus.  There are churches on every corner.  We are secular and ordinary compared to the great apostle.  But Jesus does not see it that way.  In Jesus’ view, you and I are as important as Paul was.  The things that made him who was in Christ are what define us as people of God –individuals and a church body.  We are every bit as called as Paul was. 
Paul was not great because of his preaching skills.  He was a great orator but others were too.  Paul was not remarkable due to his incredible intellect.  He was truly a genius, one of the geniuses of history.  There were others.  Paul was not great because of his indomitable will.  His will was unbreakable.  But we could say the same of General Patton.  Paul had incredible focus and drive.  So did Hitler.  What distinguished Paul was his commitment to God’s kingdom and his recognition of his own absolute dependence upon God. 
Food?  Sure, that would help.  My cloak, please, bring it.  But above all, bring my parchmentsI need the Bible.  I need to go into it in this, my weakest moment, my time of failing. 
Do we see it?  Do we look into our own lives and see our strongest and weakest moments?  Do we experience the highs and especially the lows?  In examining our lives, do we see how much we need God?  Are we aware of how short we come without God’s word?
We live in the age where we can get the Bible in a dozen versions, with annotations and notes.  That is a gift we must use.  Above all, turn to the word.  Read it with your family, every day if possible.  The daily repetition shows your children how important it is.  Read with other friends, fellow disciples.  Read it in solitude.  Read when times are going well.  Read when you feel depressed.  Read it in large chunks, getting the flow of the story.  Read just a verse, the same verse, over and over and over, hearing and feeling the depths of divine wisdom. 
We close with an adaptation from the Gospel of John that reiterates the truth; God has given the Bible as a gift and when we accept and enter into this gift, we become new people, blessed people.
John 20:31 - “[This Gospel] is written so that [upon reading] we will put our faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. If [we] have faith in him, [we] will have [eternal] life.”


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