The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, October 3, 2010.  The text for this week’s message is 2 Timothy 1:3-7.
We are continuing our walk through 1 and 2 Timothy today with the opening of Paul’s second letter to Timothy.  Some time has passed since Paul’s last letter to Timothy, and the circumstances in which he and Timothy find themselves is drastically different.  Paul is in prison, as we see from verse 8 of the first chapter, and most likely, he is awaiting his trial and execution.  2 Timothy is the last of Paul’s letters.  In some sense, it is his last piece of advice to his spiritual son Timothy, and it stands as an encouragement for today’s Church.
For a guy that’s awaiting his execution, we may think that Paul begins this letter in a very unusual manner.  He says, “I thank God, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers.”  Even in the face of certain death, Paul is giving thanks to God.  It is odd to us because when we look at the world around us, we tend to forget to give thanks.  It seems like when even the slightest hint of trouble comes our way, we cry out to God and wonder why this is happening to us.  We start to question whether or not God even loves us.  But one thing that we learn over and over again as we read through Scripture is that there will be suffering; there will be pain in this life.  The presence of pain and suffering in this life is not proof that God doesn’t care about us.  It’s proof that we live in a fallen world.
Ever since Genesis 3, when sin entered into the world, we have been dealing with the results of a fallen creation.  Bad stuff happens.  It is a simple, yet unwelcome truth in a fallen world.  But, if we are to learn from the example of Paul, then we need to step back and give thanks in the midst of the troubling times.  We need to praise God for what He is doing all around us, even when the darkness is hiding it.
Notice what else he says here.  He thanks God “with a clear conscience” as he remembers Timothy in his prayers.  There is nothing between Paul and God as he prays.  He comes to God with a clear conscience, knowing that he is free from sin in his life.  Paul comprehends his standing before God, and it is one in which Paul has been faithful and obedient to who it is that God has called him to be – blameless because of the blood of Jesus Christ.
One question we must ask ourselves, when we come to God in prayer, is, “Do we have a clear conscience?”  Can we say that there is no sin in our lives that we haven’t already confessed before the Lord?  In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that when we come to the altar, we are to be reconciled with our brothers and sisters before offering our gift.  Because we can’t have hatred in our heart, we can’t be unreconciled people, when we come before the Lord.  Remember the line in the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  “As we forgive.”  That’s a dangerous prayer.  If we don’t forgive others, we are asking that we not be forgiven.
Paul prays with a clear conscience because he has forgiven others.  There may be some who held grudges against Paul, but his conscience was clean.  He had no animosity towards them.  Forgiveness is not about making sure we tell somebody that they have been forgiven by us.  Forgiveness is about letting go of the things that can make us bitter towards another.  Forgiveness is about a clear conscience, and we can have that because of Jesus Christ.  
In verses 4-7, Paul takes us on a little trip down memory lane.  He has already told Timothy that he has been remembering him in prayer.  And now, in verse 4, he says that he remembers Timothy’s tears.  While there is no specific reference as to what he is talking about, one thing it shows us is the depth of the relationship between the two.  
Paul spoke very highly of Timothy.  He refers to Timothy as his son, which shows level of their relationship.  It’s clear that this relationship was crucial for both of them.  Paul was a mentor and a father in the faith for Timothy, whose own father is not really mentioned, outside of Luke telling us that his father was Greek in Acts 16.
It is important for each one of us to have mentors in the faith.  It’s important that we have somebody we can look up to and learn from.  It is equally important that we mentor those whose faith is younger than ours.  I’ve talked before about faith being a journey, and that some are further along the road than others.  It’s important for us to learn from those who are ahead of us on their journey, and to help those who may not be as far along in their journey.  There is mutual joy in this type of relationship.  Paul says that he longs to see Timothy so that he would be filled with joy, and I think it’s fair to say that Timothy would like to see his mentor one more time as well.
The next remembrance to which Paul points is Timothy’s sincere faith.  Notice the adjective here, “sincere” faith.  One of the things I get to do as somebody going through the process of ordination in the United Methodist Church is psychological exams.  Let me tell you, they are a treat.  There have been three different times that I have had to do them, most recently just a couple of months ago. 
One particular test looks for psychological disorders that would require a special type of hospitalization.  In my follow-up interview, one of the things the evaluator said was, “You are either perfectly fine, or you want us to think you are.”  Apparently 85% of the people who take this particular exam answer in a similar fashion.  Now, I can guarantee you that I was not faking my way through that test.  I was sincere about my answers.
I think this is a good metaphor for our faith.  It’s hard to tell on the surface if somebody is sincere about their faith.  Are they putting on a front so people will think they are fine?  Or are they really who they appear to be?  Sometimes people seem sincere about their faith, but they really just want you to think that they are all right.
Paul knew that Timothy was sincere about his faith.  He knew about Timothy’s sincerity because he knew about his mother’s and his grandmother’s sincerity.  Faith is something that we can pass on from generation to generation.  There are no guarantees that your children will follow in your footsteps when it comes to faith, but there certainly are things that can be done to increase their chances.
Parents must be active in faith development of their children.  When I was in youth ministry, the most important message that I had to stress to parents was their role in their child’s faith development.  Because it didn’t matter how many activities a youth attended during the week, they typically came from home and went back home.  On a good week, I might see some youth for 4-5 hours.  That still left another 163 hours in the week.  Faith development begins in the home.
Timothy’s sincere faith began by listening to his mother and grandmother as they tell him about Jesus.  It continued when he saw it modeled in their lives each and every day.  We may buy into the popular sentiment that faith is personal and private, but the truth is, it’s not.  Our faith is shown to the world each and every day by how we live it out.
Finally, after remembering the relationship he has with Timothy and remembering Timothy’s sincere faith, Paul flips the remembering around on Timothy. Paul takes the opportunity to remind Timothy of something else in his own life.  Paul says, “For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you.”  When you start a fire, it’s important that the spark gets plenty of oxygen.  It is only then that the fire really begins to catch.  When you fan a flame, you bring a small spark into something significantly larger.
Timothy had a small spark in the gift of God within him.  Paul was encouraging him to fan the flame; to bring it to full fire.  We can’t give up when it comes to our faith and our gifts in ministry.  We have to press on, and carefully fan the flames so that they can grow into something significant.  How do we fan the flame of our faith in this life?  By attending to our spiritual lives.  
I truly hope that you have been working your way through the Bible this year.  Reading Scripture is one of the best ways to fan the flame in your faith journey.  Spending time in the Word allows you to hear from God in ways that are not possible if you aren’t reading Scripture.  Fan the flame.  Nobody can do it for you; you have to make the decision to do it yourself.  When you do that, you will find that the Holy Spirit is working in some mighty ways in your life.  You don’t do it alone, but you can’t do it at all if you don’t make the decision to do something.
Paul closes out this section of the letter by addressing an issue that was probably plaguing Timothy, as well as many other Christians at this time in history; and he does so by reminding Timothy of something else that is critical to his faith.  Paul says that we haven’t been given a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.
During this time in the Roman Empire, Nero was leading a persecution against Christians.  It was the same persecution that claimed the life of Peter, and would soon claim the life of Paul.  There was reason to be afraid for one’s life at this time, but Paul encourages Timothy to not have a spirit of fear.  
The word that is used for “fear” was often used in reference to soldiers who fled from battle.  Paul recognizes that this is a battle of sorts.  It is not a battle against the Roman Empire.  It is not a physical war against one’s enemies.  It is a spiritual battle.  It is a battle that centers around the soul.  Perhaps the most important thing for us to realize in this instance is that it is a battle in a war that is already won.  Through his resurrection, Jesus Christ has defeated death and the forces of evil.  The battles rage on in our personal lives, but we need to realize that the war has already been decided, and it is not evil that gets the final say.
The power of the Holy Spirit dwells within us when we decide to give our lives to Christ.  In 1 John 4, John tells us that the one who dwells within us is greater than the one who is in the world.  There is no need to fear when we realize the power of God resides in us.
The love of God is another reason why we should not fear, even in difficult times.  This same love is what caused Jesus to come and die for our sins on the cross.  This same love is the reason why we have an opportunity to have a renewed relationship with God, even though we are dead in our sins without Jesus.  God does not owe us anything, and yet, He has given us everything.  It is because of His love for us.
Finally, self-control.  In some translations, the word that is used here is translated “sound mind.”  It has to do with discipline and self-control.  It has to do with how we guard our minds against the things that have no worth to our spiritual life.  We must mentally prepare ourselves in the midst of difficult times.  We get worn down and beat up by the things of this world, and in doing so, we make ourselves vulnerable to spiritual attacks.  We make ourselves vulnerable to weaknesses that can hurt our faith.
When we face things in this life that bring us fear, we need to remember exactly what Paul is reminding Timothy of in this passage.  We need to remember the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God and to lead a disciplined life.  When these three things remain the focus as we fan the flame of our faith, we can live our lives confident that the grace of God will carry us through anything.
We get the sense in the opening portion of Paul’s second letter to Timothy that something is going to happen, and it is probably going to happen soon.  Persecution is on the horizon for Timothy and the Church of the first century.  Paul is writing so that they will be encouraged and prepared for what lies ahead.  Today, as we look at this passage, it would do us some good as well to remember.  Remember the story of Jesus.  Remember how it is that you came to know him.  Remember that your faith is not just about you.  We are called to reach others with the good news of Jesus Christ.  Remember that and live it out in your own life.