Kathy and I have been thinking a lot about maps recently. The other day, I was trying to figure out how to get from Fithian, Illinois to San Antonio, Texas through Abilene, Kansas. For the life of me, I could not close my eyes and remember where in the world Abilene, Kansas could be! I had to look it up on a map.
I have a friend who used to have a huge wall map of the world sitting in his breakfast area. I have been thinking a lot about that map because we’ve been thinking about framing a map of the world for one of our Sunday School Class rooms. Two weeks ago, I was in a mission meeting listening to a report about world missions. I was amazed at how many places there were in the world that I could not close my eyes and imagine where they are!
Without some idea of where you are and where it is you are going, it is really hard to plan a trip. The same thing is true of life. Unless we have some idea of where we are and of where we intend to go in life, we have a lot of trouble getting anywhere. One problem in our world is that a lot of the old road maps for life have changed, and people have a hard idea formulating any idea of who they are, what they were created to be, what changes are needed to be who they were intended to be, and how to get there.
Many people in our culture have a sense of rootlessness. That is to say, they live day in and day out acting on the impulses of the moment. They do not feel particularly connected to the past of their families, communities, our nation, or our culture. They are making up life as they go along. The result is often misery.
The Importance of Scripture.
Our text is from Second Timothy. This is one of Paul’s last letters, if not his last letter. He wrote it from captivity, probably in Rome (2 Tim. 1:8). The letter is to Timothy, his “son in Christ,” protégé, and assistant (See, 1:2). In it, Paul gives Timothy the best advice he can, knowing that it may be the last advice he can give to him. Here is a part of what he says:
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:10-17).
Prayer: Word of God: This morning we come to a teaching that is at the center of our faith—the authority of your Word and its importance in our lives. Come by the power of your Holy Spirit that we might hunger for the wisdom only you can give. In Your Name we pray, Amen.
A Story that Leads to Christ
Last week in this blog, we visited about worship and about the Jewish temple. This week, we are visiting about another aspect of Jewish culture that is just as important to Christianity and to us—the fact that Jews and Christians are both “People of the Book.” When the Jews were taken into captivity for the second time, this time in Babylon, the temple was destroyed. In any case, it would have been a trip of hundreds of miles to visit Jerusalem, a trip no captive slave could possibly take. Therefore, the Jewish people had to maintain their heritage without the aid of temple worship. It is at this time that the Jews began to create synagogues, diligently study scripture, and compile commentaries on their Scripture. Their worship, which could not include Temple sacrifices, became centered on Scripture.
When we teach one year through the Bible studies, one thing that amazes first time readers is the extent to which the first five books of the Old Testament, what the Jews call the “Torah” or “Law,” aren’t law at all. They are the story of the history of the Jewish people up until their entry into the Promised Land. The story Scripture tells continues right up until the people return from captivity. All this time, the prophets were writing and so were the wise men. By the time it was all over, the Jews had a scripture almost identical to our Old Testament containing their national story, their hymns and songs, their wisdom teachings, and the words of those who warned them against disobedience to God. In those writings was embedded the idea of a Messiah, a Savior who would come to free them from captivity and bring them into a time of renewal.
When the early Christians read the Old Testament, they immediately began to see in the story of the Old Testament and in all of its teachings a foreshadowing of Christ. They saw Jesus as the one who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). They saw in Jesus the Suffering Servant of Isaiah (Isaiah 53). The life, death and resurrection of Jesus made sense of the human condition and of God’s intention for human life. The same thing is true today. The Bible, the written Word of God, has a purpose, and its first purpose is to lead us to Christ, to the Word of God in human form. We do not primarily read our Bibles for head knowledge, but to have a heart relationship with God. The first and most important role of Scripture is to lead us to God and to Christ.
A Story that Leads to Self-Understanding.
We find in the story the Bible tells a way of making sense of our personal story, the story of our family and friends, and the story of our world. It is a story of a people created in God’s image, but fallen and prone to err. It is the story of God’s love for every human being. It is the story of God sending his Son to free us from the past, and give us new life. It is a story that can, as Paul says, make us “wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15). The power of the Bible is such that it can lead us to God and lead us to behave and be changed into more Godly people.
Paul goes on to say that the Scriptures are useful for teaching and for rebuke (2 Tim. 3:16). In other words, an important purpose of reading the Bible is to allow us and cause us to come to a better self-understanding. The Bible leads us to Christ, but it also exposes our need for Christ by exposing who we really are. And, of course, when it does this we learn that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory God intended for us (Romans 3:23).
When I was younger I taught marksmanship and archery for a while. In teaching archery, I learned an important fact. Bent arrows do not fly straight. Each early summer when the counselors got to camp, we would look at last year’s arrows, some of which had gotten damp and warped. (This is before composite and aluminum arrows.) We threw them away because no one could shoot a crooked arrow straight.
This is theologically interesting. One Old Testament word for sin connotes an arrow that has gone astray and missed the mark.  It is as if our lives are like arrows fired by our parents and God. Unfortunately, we are crooked arrows. We are all a bit selfish and self-centered. We are all a bit bent morally and spiritually.
A Word that Leads to Correction and New Life
Worse yet (and to change metaphors), all of us have bad sights. We all aim our lives more or less away from God’s perfect intention for us that we live lives of wisdom and love. The result is that we all like sheep, go astray (Isaiah 53:6). Therefore, we all need a bit of rebuking and correcting. In a word, we need to get back on the straight road.
I am not a very good shot, and I don’t know a lot about guns. Recently I have been trying to learn to shoot. When you purchase a new weapon, you have to see if the sights are correct. If the sites are not correct, you won’t hit the target. You also have to learn to aim the weapon properly. If you do not aim at the target, you won’t hit it. Getting your sights right and getting your aim corrected are really important if you want to learn to shoot well.
Every day, I read the Bible. It is a rare week when I do not feel myself condemned by some portion of Scripture I am reading. I don’t always like this aspect of reading the Bible, but I do think it is good for me because it leads to correction. You can only read so long about the need for wise speech before you begin to speak more wisely. You can only read so often about the importance of hard work before you begin to work harder. You can only read so often about saving money before you start saving money. You can only read so long about loving others before you begin to love others.
Those in Memphis who have been in Disciple Bible studies, and more recently in the new discipling study Kathy and I are leading, know that God has been working on my heart concerning discipling people and changing the emphasis of our Bible studies. We do not primarily read our Bibles to gain new information. We read them to correct our vision and attain a new kind of life characterized by wisdom and love—God’s wisdom and love. What is important is not so much how much Bible do I know, but how much Bible am I putting to work in my life. The big question is, “Am I being corrected and living a new, different, healthier, less self-centered, less selfish, less broken, less sinful life?”
A Word that Leads to Good Works.
I have been working our way through one single sentence of Paul. Paul says that “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, for rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (I Tim. 3:16-17). Those two little words, “so that” mean that God inspired Scripture, he allows it to teach us, rebuke is, correct us, and train us for a purpose. This purpose is that we are properly equipped for every good work.
This summer, I plan on doing some hiking. My plan was to put on my old running shoes and hike. The person with whom I am going hiking pointed out to me that this was a bad idea. Running shoes lack lateral support and are built for short exercise periods, not hours and hours of walking day after day. He told me I needed new equipment if I want to hike with him. The fact is most work requires some kind of equipment. One important purpose of the Bible is to equip us for the work and life God has for us.
In Ephesians, Paul says the following:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-9).
We are not saved by our works, that is, by doing good things; however, we were saved for good works. God has a plan to undo all the sin and all the violence and all the greed and all the misplaced passion in the world. He has the idea that people need to be respected, loved, saved from darkness, allowed to lived better lives, converted from sin, taught to live joyfully and healthily.
God saved us all right. But, let’s think back a bit: someone communicated God’s love to us. Someone shared the Gospel. Someone treated us with dignity. Someone helped us up when we were down. Someone shared an insight that helped us solve a problem. Someone invited us to church, or youth group, our Bible study, or an AA group. Someone did something when God saved us.
There is a movie I like called Pay It Forward.  It is the story of a young man named Trevor who has a terrible life. His mother and father are both dysfunctional. One day in class his teacher challenges them to do something to change the world. A few days later, Trevor decides to do something big for three people who really need it, with the understanding that each will pay it forward with three good deeds of their own. In Trevor’s vision, the whole world will be changed for the better as people pay good deeds forward.
It so happens and Trevor and God have the same idea. God saved us from our brokenness, and in response, he desires us to pay it forward.
Copyright 2015, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 One of the many words for sin connotes missing the mark, as if an arrow missed its intended target. This is not the only connotation, for there are many Hebrew words used to connote sin. If the target of life is to live wisely in community with others, then sin is anything we do to miss this target of life.
 Leslie Dixon wr., based on the novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde, Pay it Forward dir. by Mimi Leder, starring Keven Spacey, Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment (Warner Brothers Pictures, October 20, 2000).