“The Breath of God Brings Life” (Part 2)

Human understanding of the lung has changed greatly over the years. At one time, the lungs were believed to be cooling agents to offset the heart. Later, although perhaps relatedly, they were thought to help suppress anger which stemmed from the heart. In the 15th Century, Da Vinci was able to accurately sketch the lungs, although his understanding was far from what we know today.

Over time, the understanding of the function of our lungs has changed significantly. Most recently, the focus has moved from merely understanding the function of lungs to creating artificial ones. Granted, the lungs have only been tested on pigs, but this kind of testing always begins on animals and people soon reap the benefits. In this case, over 100,000 people, just in the US, are awaiting a lung transplant.

How did this come to be? Well, researches used what was known, developed new ideas, tested those ideas, and made corrections – over and over again. In fact, in one article, a researcher said it was a paradigm shift that allowed the progress to be made. They were looking at the lung as a whole and then trying to create the smaller pieces, but once they began with the smaller aspects of the lung and worked to the larger aspects, significant progress was made. It took fifteen years to get this far, but listen to her words, “We learned so much from this study. We know what we’re doing right, what we’ve done wrong, and how to make it so much better.” – Joan Nichols, Researcher at the Galveston National Laboratory, University of Texas (1)

Nichols words are about the trial-and-error process of science, but I believe they fit well with the verse we reviewed two weeks ago, and that we will continue to review, only in its larger context this week. That verse was 2 Timothy 3.16 which begins: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable…. How is it profitable For teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. And why is that important? Verse 17 gives us the answer – that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Let’s dive into each of these four areas and see how Paul instructs Timothy, and therefore, us using the idea of Scripture’s profitability.

Teaching Prepares Us to Be Right

Right is a relative word here. We must realize that if we are taught the wrong things, then we may do them right according to the teaching, but they may be wrong. For instance, someone who is taught to excel at crime is learning how to do crime the right way, but crime itself is wrong.

But our goal is to not just to do things right, but to be right. And that is one of the ways Scripture is most profitable. Let us review the text.

2 Timothy 3.10-11

Paul mentions that Timothy has followed his teaching. He reviews all that has happened to him and notes that Timothy is aware of all of these aspects of Paul’s life (vv. 10-11). Timothy has certainly learned from Paul actually teaching verbally, but also by observing Paul’s conduct, his purpose, his faith, his patience, his love, his steadfastness (steadiness), as well as by Paul suffering through persecution.

Thus, one aspect of teaching is to be reminded of the past. We can learn from the examples of others and be encouraged by their response to various situations. This is exactly what Paul is doing for Timothy – preparing him to be right based upon the lessons observed in the past.

In verse 14, Paul notes that Timothy has learned, but the lessons are not complete because he must continue to follow the example that has been set. By following the example of Paul, who followed the example of Christ, Timothy would become right, not just by what they have done, but because of what Scripture teaches (v. 15) which Paul and Christ followed. Then, Timothy would be competent and equipped for the work he was called to do. Therefore, Timothy could do right…but more importantly, he would be on the path to being right.

Reproof Prepares Us to Fix What Is Wrong

2 Timothy 3.13-15

After Paul encourages him to remember what has been learned, the attention is turned to that of reproof. Now, we need to understand that reproof is showing disapproval in something. It is an admonition or even a warning. In other words, a reproof, or rebuke as some translations read, requires judgment. Again, judgment is biblical, regardless of what our culture might say. But it is God who judges, and it is the Bible which serves as His witness. As Paul wrote in verse 16, Scripture is profitable for reproof.

But reproof is not fun. It is not easy to be admonished, and when done from the perspective of love, it is not fun to admonish others. But again, the Bible is profitable towards this end. And, truth be told, we would much rather be admonished (lovingly) by others in our midst, than to not know we are doing anything wrong, and face the fullness of judgment before the throne of God.

The challenge is that most people judge based upon preference rather than Scripture. Or they interpret Scripture to their aims instead of God’s purposes. But even if Scripture is used properly, people will rebel against being rebuked. Notice that Paul says that those who are evil or imposters (of the faith) will turn from bad to worse. That is, they will ignore the rebuke and not only continue in sin, but dive deeper into it. Furthermore, Paul warns Timothy (and us) that if we are true to the faith, we will be persecuted. Why? Because people do not like to be rebuked. It happened to Jesus. It happened to Paul, and Paul states clearly that all who desire to live a godly life will face persecution as well. How’s that for a biblical promise? A gospel of health and wealth does not mention this truth!

But Paul makes certain Timothy understands this principle as part of the process in his learning. And, as verse 15 says, Timothy is aware of this from his previous reading of Scripture, but Paul is making certain he clearly understands the implications of trying to fix what is wrong.

Correction Prepares Us to Make Things Right

2 Timothy 4.1-5

The next step in the process is that of correction. We must understand that reproof and correction can be related, but a distinction certainly exists. Reproof is showing what is wrong; correction is showing how to set matters right. For instance, reproof would be to talk (hopefully not yell) to someone who has made a mistake, while correction would be to show how to fix the mistake or to do it again with the person.

That last sentence provides a lot of information about how we approach reproof. You see when people make mistakes, we need to help them realize the mistake before it can be fixed. But in reproofing them, we can talk to them, or we can yell at them. We generally do what has been modeled for us (by our parents, friends, etc.), but the reality is that maybe we need reproof in order to stop yelling and start having a conversation.

In any case, Paul then shares with Timothy what is necessary to correct others. He needs to preach the Word. That is, He needs to proclaim Scripture. Why? Because people will stop listening over time. Teaching the Bible will not mean anything. People will desire to listen to people to make them feel good. That is, teach me, but do not rebuke or correct me. Of course, we live in such an age, but this is not the only time in history this has been true. In fact, as much as people want to talk about the faith of the Founding Fathers, they lived, and were heavily influenced by such a time – a time-period known as The Enlightenment.

So, Paul charges Timothy to put forth the truth before it will be further rejected. In fact, in verse 2, notice Paul says to reprove, rebuke, and exhort – but do so with patience. Why patience? Because correction is not as easy as merely rebuking. Anyone can tell someone else they are wrong, but it takes someone competent, and equipped (3.17) and patient (4.2) to take the time to show others the right way to live. And then, once people are on the path to correction, they are ready for the final step – training in righteousness.

Training in Righteousness Allows Us to Be Better

2 Timothy 4.6-8

This passage is quite often quoted, and fairly well-known. The same is true for 2 Timothy 3.16. But I do not believe I have ever heard anyone speak about them in the same thought process. This is remarkable given that the verses are only seven (7!) verses apart.

Like the word “right” in the first point, the word better is also relative. I chose the word better because of the quote I shared from the medical researcher earlier. But in this case, better is not something we can obtain on our own. The better here relates to being like Jesus. And Paul ends this portion of his letter with an appeal for Timothy to take his training to the highest level afforded by Scripture – becoming righteous. This is not self-righteous, where we crown ourselves as good and proper; rather, it is receiving the reward from our Lord, the true judge (v8), who provides the faithful with a lasting crown of righteousness.

Notice the idea of training for righteousness in Paul’s words to Timothy.

I have fought the good fight. A fighter must train to be successful.

I have finished the race. Whether a sprint or a marathon, a successful runner does not simply show up and win. It takes hard work and training to finish the journey.

I have kept the faith. Paul saves the hardest for last. Along the way, he learned Scripture. He was rebuked – by Jesus Himself. He was corrected by Barnabas, by the apostles, etc. And, in turn, he did the same. But, in the end, the goal was righteousness, and Paul has made it.

Ultimately, our ability to become righteous is not about what we may do, but about what Jesus has already done. We become righteous because we gain His righteousness when we receive the gift of life He offers. But that does not mean that our journey is through; rather, as Paul shares with Timothy here, that training which included the teaching, the reproofs, and the necessary corrections must continue to be a part of our lives until the end. And all of this is possible through Scripture which is profitable. See, the Bible is not just a compilation of sacred writings (3.15), it is practical for helping us live (3.16), and to understand that we can also rejoice at the return of the Lord someday (4.8).

Like Paul, we too must press on trusting that Scripture is profitable because God breathed life into it. And thus, we must seek to learn from Scripture until our final breath has passed.

CONCLUSION

And one day, we will breathe our last. Of course, one day the artificial lung may be fully functional and allow people to breathe – and thus, sustain their lives – when they otherwise would not be able to do so.

But true life comes from God. That is true for humanity and it is true of His Word. It is a magnificent realization that when Paul wrote this letter, he could not have known that his very words endorsing Scripture would later be included as Scripture. He was referring to the Old Testament, and perhaps, one or more of the Gospels. Certainly, Paul was guided by the Holy Spirit, but he was simply writing a letter to a young man who needed encouragement. But all of Scripture is profitable, and God knew we could profit from Paul’s words as well. But while God’s Word does not return void (Isaiah 55.11), what makes it truly possible is when what we learn turns to action. Therefore, our…

 JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

A question that is sometimes asked is: If no one listens, did teaching occur? It is a fair question, but I think that teaching does happen even if no one pays attention. It does not have to be listening, but learning does require observation – seeing, tasting, hearing, smelling, or touching – and then taking the time to think about what has been observed. For instance, Jesus said, anyone who has hears, let him hear. Thus, Jesus was teaching, but not everyone would learn from what He taught.

How can we know we are learning? Not by what we do perfectly, but by what we attempt to observe. Jesus said to His disciples to make disciples not by merely talking to others, but by teaching others to observe all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28.19-20). Thus, doing what we have learned, and doing what we are learning, and doing what we will learn is important. Why? Because Jesus said so. My number one motto for life is “When you stop learning, you start dying.” But again, learning is not just about taking in information…true learning requires us doing something with that information. And that is why Observe is our JOURNEY letter for the week.

PRINCIPLE:  Learning is a process which requires teaching, reproof, correction, and additional training throughout our life.

QUESTION:  If Scripture is profitable, then shouldn’t it be our primary source for the process of learning?

OPPORTUNITY:  Choose one part of the passage today and focus your learning on observing the part of the process (teaching, reproof, correction, and training for righteousness) that you need most.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:  Re-read 2 Timothy 3.10-4.5 and identify an area in your life that needs to be improved through the learning process. Write that area down as a matter of focus this week. Seek other areas from Scripture (all of which is profitable!) to find what Scripture says to do.

LIVE:  Begin to OBSERVE what Scripture says from your research in the LEARN step. Take time to record any progress along the way.

LOVE:  As you begin to OBSERVE the process, seek to understand how growing in this area will help you fulfill the Great Commandment – to love God and love others – better.

LEAD:  Over time, share your progress in this area of growth to encourage someone else to embrace a similar process.

 

(1) https://aabme.asme.org/posts/artificial-lungs-could-offer-real-hope-to-future-transplant-patients

 

Hub Sunday – “Fruit Bearers”

Since July, on the last Sunday of each month, we have focused on what we have done and are doing related to mission work as a church. As I have mentioned before, this idea was sparked during a conversation between Roger Martin and myself, and the term originated after Roger discussed the concept at a deacon meeting a week or so later. The idea, and the term, is now known as Hub Sunday.

Most Hub Sundays we have reflected on something to do apart from gathering together. For instance, tomorrow night, several of us are going to Maryville to serve a meal to college students and several others who cannot go are helping by providing food and/or desserts that we will take with us. But rather than discussing the spokes of the hub today, I want to focus on the need for the hub itself.

I will cover this idea beginning with the Parable of the Sower in a below, but first I want to remind us that in 2019, we are focusing on the church as the Body of Christ and doing so by reviewing each of the major systems of the body. In January, the system of emphasis is the reproductive system, and last week we saw that the first recorded commandment God gave to humanity (be fruitful and multiply) is essentially the same commandment Jesus gave the disciples before He departed (make disciples), which is only a different context of being fruitful and multiplying.

And, to be fruitful and multiply it is imperative to be in fellowship with one another on a regular basis, as I will share today. With the ability that technology affords, it is entirely possible to believe that you are a faithful saint of God and never attend a church. I say believe you are faithful because it is not truly being faithful to the intent of God.

People “attend” church on Facebook or get teaching via the television, radio, or over the internet via podcasts. Some of the teaching is excellent; some is heresy. But what we cannot overlook is that the Bible is written to a group of people, not to an individual. The OT was written to the people of Israel. The New Testament was written to the Church. In both cases the audience is plural, not singular. And the reading today from Hebrews is a strong command to not cease meeting together. Why? Because, in that context, we must spur one another on – that is, without some measure of accountability, none of us will remain true to what we intend. But in the greater scheme, we are reminded that meeting together is important because “it is not good for man to be alone.” And, as the Body of Christ, no one part of the body can function properly without the other parts.

So, let us turn to the text, and see why the Parable of the Sower is important to us on this Hub Sunday.

The Word of God Impacts People

Take a moment to read Matthew 13.1-8 and 18-23.

The only constant in this parable is the Word of God. All four types of soil have seed scattered on it. All four types begin to impact the soil, but three do not last. Why? Because no root develops. Why doesn’t a root develop? Because the seed does not have time or a place to truly take root and grow.

In the first type of soil, the birds devour the seed before it can truly get planted. Jesus said in verse 19 that the seed did start to get sown into the person’s heart, but then it was snatched away. How? Well, Jesus says the birds represent the evil one. Please understand that Satan knows that God’s Word is impactful, so he comes to steal, kill, and destroy any chance of that seed truly taking root.

The next type of soil was rocky. Notice the seed did produce something. The plant looked like it was going to grow, but it did not. Instead, the soil was shallow. Per Jesus, in verse 20 and 21, the seed was received well, but when challenges came to their belief, the people fell away.

The third type of soil was infested with thorns. The seed made into the soil, but was choked off by the thorns. Jesus interpreted this as someone who “hears the word” but is more concerned with the affairs of the world. Again, the seed begins to grow, but does not have a chance to truly live.

The last type of soil is the one that yielded fruit. Why? Well, the soil was right, and that makes a difference. But I will argue that cultivating the soil is not only important before the seed is planted, but tending the soil is important after the planting. Only then, can a harvest be properly expected. How do we tend the soil? The same way we prepare it – the Word of God.

In each case, the seed represents the Word of God. Jesus says this clearly so that should not be in dispute. What is disputed is whether or not the seed in the first three soils represents people who become Christian or not. Honestly, I have been back and forth on this for years, but more recently, I have become convinced they are not. I am not dogmatic about that because a lot of debate exists on this issue and I realize the arguments against my position. But the Bible is clear that only those who persevere are truly saved. And thus, I have come to believe that only the final soil truly represents a Christian.

What we must understand is that the Word of God does impact people. And the enemy fully knows the power of that impact. Thus, Satan tries to minimize that impact (stealing away the joy, choking it out, making us more concerned about worldly matters, etc.) so we will not reproduce. Because a healthy seed not only grows itself, but that seed will then produce more seeds. That is, it will reproduce. Now the Word of God itself is not reproduced, but its effect is reproduced in others. Thus we can say that the Word of God will produce fruit.

Let’s look at this fact briefly before returning to the focusing on our hub.

The Word of God Produces Fruit

Take a moment to read John 15.1-11.

In this instance, the Word of God is not the written or spoken Word, it is the Living Word – Jesus. Jesus says that those who abide in Him WILL bear fruit. If not, you will be cut away, gathered with other non-bearing branches and burned (v6). Those who remain, those who abide, those who are truly with Jesus will bear fruit. This is not some wish that Jesus makes, it is a fact. Notice a particular word of Jesus in verse 8. We prove we follow Jesus when we abide and bear fruit. We prove we are abiding by following God’s commandments (v10). And the blessing of our abiding is having complete joy in Jesus (v 11).

So, in Jesus words, a disciple (a follower) is one who hears the Word, who receives the Word, and who abides with the Word. If you believe what Jesus spoke, these three statements cannot be disputed by what these passages have revealed. The question, then, is how does this relate to our church being a hub?

The Church is God’s Design for Produce

Let me transition to the idea of our church (any church, really) being a hub by asking a question. What is the name of the section at the grocery store where you can select fruit and vegetables? The Produce Section, right? Why is it called the Produce Section? Because the food was produced. It was planted, it was tended, it grew, it was harvested. But each step happened so what was produced could either be eaten or reproduce seeds for the next iteration of produce.

Well, we are not meant to be eaten, but the seed planted within us is to reproduce. And that reproduction begins within the context of church – not the place, but the people. However, the people need a place in order to be tended, and to grow. That is, if we are to be fruitful and multiply, if we are to reproduce, it is not something we can do on our own, we must do it within the context of the church. After all, Jesus said, “I will build my church.” As I have mentioned many times, this instance of Jesus saying church is only one of three times Jesus used the word church – so He must have meant something by it.

So, the church is meant to grow (being built). And thus, the people in the church are to reproduce. That is, we are to bear fruit. And, as we have seen in the passages earlier, bearing fruit is dependent upon the Word of God. And, where else will you get a steady stream of the Word of God? And that is why the church is, and should be, the hub!

Consider for a minute the idea of a huddle in football. Everyone comes to the huddle so they can be on the same page about what is to happen on the next play. Of course, sometimes, the players see a play developing differently (like the receiver breaks out instead of in and the pass is incomplete or intercepted), but they come back to the huddle to get the next play. It doesn’t matter how good of a player you are or how well you know the playbook, if you don’t know what to do in a certain moment, and are not participating as part of the team, you are not helping.

The church, also known as The Body of Christ, is the same. And a weekly service is like a huddle. Of course, a football team might call three or four plays in a huddle during the 2-minute drill, but the church, like a football team, needs to constantly be together, to constantly be reminded, to constantly be abiding in God’s Word, in order to know what God would have each one do – not just individually – but as a team. Thus, the football huddle is like the church as a hub. The huddle provides direction and understanding of how the team’s playbook will help overcome the opponent during a certain part of the game. The hub provides direction and understanding from God’s playbook (the Bible) will help us abide, help us grow, help us serve as well as encouraging one another (Hebrews 10.24-25) during the process at any given part of our life.

But the church in America is in decline. In the Southern Hemisphere, especially in Africa, it is growing FAST. But, if the church is the only place where most people consistently hear the Gospel, then the attendance at our churches matter. So, let me give you some thoughts and statistics that related to church attendance in America. These stats are a little dated (about a decade ago), but matters are only worse now.

The Church in America is Shrinking

1. Fewer children per family

My mom was one of 7 and my dad was one of 3 (only one to survive childhood), yet I was their only child together. The sheer math says that the number in church will go down from one generation to the next.

2. The Halo Effect

People think they are going to church, but in reality, they are not. Surveyors asked: “Did you go to church the previous week?”

Perception

In 1939, 41% of people said Yes

2002-2005, 40-44% consistently said Yes

*keep in mind, shortly after 9/11 churches saw an increase

Actual Numbers of 2002-2005

About 1/3 to ½ of that amount is true. So, 14-22%.

(Source, The American Church in Crisis, David Olson, p. 26)

Imagine it this way, if 40% of Fairfax was in church, then approximately 200-250 people would be filling the four churches in the area EVERY WEEK. Of course, some people go to other towns, but some people from other towns come here as well. If we look at Atchison County, then approximately 2200 people attend church every week.

Active Participants (3 times over 8-week period, i.e. more than once per month)

23% are active participants (p 29-30)

12% (about one-half of the total) are evangelical – typically considered as Bible-believing

7% Catholic – who must go to receive grace through the Eucharist

3. People are not making disciples.

If we were doing what Jesus said and making disciples 30, 60, 100-fold, then when we would be exploding. Of course, not all people would come here – and that is ok. I am making more disciples elsewhere than I am here. The focus is to make disciples. I do it here, but I go there as well.

Again, church attendance matters because it is the only place where most people hear the Gospel on a consistent basis. And, although I have strong feelings regarding the importance of church membership, membership does not equal commitment like attendance does. However, true commitment is not to a church; our commitment is to be the Lord. Being a part of a church is part of that commitment, and so is making disciples.

CONCLUSION

So, we need to be a hub! Because it is in the context of the hub that disciples are made. It is in the context of what Jesus is building that disciples are made. Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that disciples can only be made at a church, but I am saying that disciples can only be made by someone connected with a church. And, if we are to be disciples, and make disciples, then we are to be connected, and active in the ministry of the church.

We cannot separate Jesus from the Church! Why? Read and re-read this quote from Henri Nouwen:

“The Church is the Body of the Lord. Without Jesus, there can be no Church. And without the Church, we cannot stay united with Jesus.”

So, to not be active, and to not attend, is to not be a part of Christ!

In light of the parable I read earlier, if it is the Word of God that brings the fruit and someone is not consistently present with the Word, then how can they return 30-, 60-, or 100-fold? And, it is in the context of church that the Word is most often heard/read/studied by most people. Thus, attendance is critical for the believer.

Many will talk about numbers in a church, but it is fair to ask how a church should be measured. The ultimate answer is faithfulness, and numbers do not necessarily equate to being faithful to God. But attendance is one mark of a faithful follower, so numbers do have a place in helping to know how faithful the people are…not just those who are coming, but how many disciples they are making when they go. And, while here, the measure will partly relate to our unity of body, unity of faith, and unity of service. And that is why…

The JOURNEY letter for today is: UUNITE.

As we wrap up the focus on reproduction, let me make one more comparison between the church and the reproductive system. I do this because I realize that people can be followers of Christ without a specific church home. But again, without being a part of the huddle, are they fully equipped, week after week, to fulfill their ministry, whatever that may be?

It is like in vitro fertilization. It is possible for reproduction to take place this way, but the egg must still be inserted into a home for life to grow as it should. Likewise, a person might be saved apart from the church, but needs a place to grow and be nurtured. And thus, Jesus said, I will build my church – the idea where that growth and nurture happen.

PRINCIPLE: The Word of God should be central in a church which produces fruit. To produce fruit, we must be part of a church engaging often with the Word of God.

QUESTION: If a person is not present with the Body of Christ, then how can s/he function within the Body of Christ?

OPPORTUNITY: Reproduction begins, and continues, with being present. We have a chance to be present, and we have the opportunity to help others be present as well.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN: Make a list of any reasons why you choose not to be in a church setting on a weekly basis. Putting it on paper will help determine any real issues that should be addressed by you, or by the church.

LIVE: Make a commitment to be actively involved within the Body of Christ so that you will be more inclined to share life with the Body of Christ.

LOVE: Bearing fruit requires us to abide with Jesus. When you find it difficult to love others (including the church), focus on loving Jesus and realize the church is the current expression of Jesus to the world – whether we do things right or wrong.

LEAD: Listen to others to determine why they believe church is not for them. Help them to see the truth of this parable and today’s teaching. Without the Church, we do not have Jesus. Without Jesus, we have, and are nothing.