Committed To The Bible
Lynn Anderson tells a story about a group of settlers who first came to our country. I am not sure if it is a true story or just one of those preacher stories. You know what a preachers story is don’t you??? It’s a story that has a little bit of truth in it, but enough fiction to make a good point. So I am not sure if this is a preachers story or a true story, but I wanted to start with it today because I think it will help us set the groundwork for our sermon this morning.
Back in 1620 a ship arrived on the Northeast Coast of America filled with men and women who longed for a better life in the new world. In the first year they established a town; the next year they elected a town government. The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness. That’s when the people decided it was time to overthrow their new government. I mean why would they need to waste the money and supplies to build a road five miles westward into a wilderness. I mean they were in a new country and they had everything they needed. After all who needed to go there anyway?
That’s probably a preachers story, but I like it because that attitude is seen more places than just history books. Here you have a group of people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome great hardships to get there. But in just a few years they were not able to see even five miles out of town. They had lost their pioneering vision.
We all know people, and are a bit guilty ourselves, of making the decision to admit we are not perfect, reaching out to God and accepting the beautiful gift of His grace. We allow our faith to become a verb by putting Christ on in baptism only to come out of the water and think we have somehow arrived. We believed that baptism was as far as we need to go, and we just kind of pitch our tent and settle in. We might show up to services, because we don’t want to be guilty of forsaking the assembly, but we have somehow confused the act of baptism as the end of the journey, instead of merely the beginning.
In the same way we would expect these settlers who traveled three thousand miles across the ocean to continue westward, we expect folks who have put on the name of Christ to move forward. Last week I said, before we can move forward we must establish a clear vision of what Christ wants us to do in this community and who He wants us to become. Once we establish that vision then no ocean of difficulty is too great. But without it, we rarely move beyond our current boundaries. This is important because we need to understand that spiritual growth is intentional, not automatic.
The advantage we have over those first settlers is that we are not headed out to move through uncharted territory. We have been given a map, and an example from those who have traveled this path before us. We need to spend time with the map, or we will end up in a place we don’t want to go.
That’s why the bedrock of my vision for us as a community of believers is that we will be a people who are committed to the Bible. The most basic essential for any healthy church is a commitment to hearing, learning, and applying God’s Word. In the text that was read for us this morning we get a snapshot of a group of people who were committed to the Bible. If we want to grow to be the people God created us to be, it must start by getting deeply involved in the Word of God.
There is a great struggle with getting into the Word, because we just assume that it will be automatic. You are a Christian, you believe in God then you just automatically get this desire to dive into the word. Or we grew up going to church, and learning those wonderful stories on flannel graph boards, and sang all those songs, so we just assumed we knew what God wanted. Then we grow up and we struggle to find the time or desire to get in the Bible we feel like a failure as a Christian.
There have been so many times when I have looked at a mature believer and wished I could be like him or her. There have been times when I thought it would be great to know the Bible, or know how to pray, or to be able to lead people to Christ, or have joy and peace but not really know how to get there. We all want Christian maturity and we want it now. But it never works that way. We forget that behind a godly life is a person who has gone through struggles and trials.
So, I want to start with a little confession this morning and admit that being a follower of Christ is difficult. I just want to get that out there and be honest with the struggle. If it were easy, then we wouldn’t have to talk about it, it would just happen. I mean no one has ever had to teach me about how to breathe, or how to swallow, or how to make my heart beat. God took care of those things for me. But my relationship with God and maturing in that relationship takes work. So let’s talk about that today, and let me share some things that are helpful for me.
First, I find great encouragement in the fact that God not only wants us to mature in our faith, but He makes it possible.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: I planted the seed and Apollos watered it. But God is the one who made the seed grow. So the one who plants is not important, and the one who waters is not important. Only God is important, because he is the one who makes things grow.
Over the last 2,000 years human nature has not changed a whole lot. We still seem to get a little interested in who we are allowing to teach us, and who we learn from. One of the things people seem to always want to know is what authors do I enjoy reading, what podcasts do I listen to, or what types of lectureships do I attend. In essence, what they really want to know is who am I learning from? And while I understand that different people bring out different flavors or a different essence of the scriptures, the truth is that we grow because God wants us to grow.
God wants me, He wants us, to hear His voice. Now this is totally my opinion, and remember rule #2, but I truly believe that God talks to us in different ways if we are only willing to listen. Of course He talks to me through His written word, but sometimes He talks to me through songs, or other Christians, or even through prompting in my mind and heart.
I know that it is a little bit difficult to figure out; Is this God talking to me or not? But I believe the more time we spend with Him the easier it is to hear his voice. Think about it this way, over the past few weeks we have been in full moving mode. Sometimes I am here in Anniston and the Boys are in Fayette. In the evenings when I call them, I don't have to say, "This is Jeremy Houck, your Dad." I just start talking to them and they know my voice. In the same way when the boys call me they don't have to say, "This is Trafton, or this is Rylan your son" I know their voice. Why? Because I have a relationship with them.
Over the past few years I’ve had several folks tell me, God never talks to me, and I never hear His voice. The first question I ask them is, are you in the Bible every day? I am amazed at how many folks who never hear God voice, refuse to get into the scriptures. God speaks to us through His word, and if you are not reading it then your phone is off the hook.
Some of us struggle to hear God because we don’t have a relationship with Him. I mean we know a lot about God, but you don't know Him. Some of you know about Jesus, but you don't really know Him. You have a religion, a set of rules that need to be followed, but you never entered into a relationship. You may have gone to Sunday School as a kid and you're here in church every week but you don't have the relationship that Jesus died to provide for you. And without a relationship it’s hard for you to trust Him. And God is worthy of our trust.
In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul says "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Paul is asserting that the Bible is absolutely reliable. I mean what else in our world can claim 100% reliability? When we first moved to Texas I bought Trista a GPS hoping that would alleviate some of her concerns about driving around Houston. I checked online and asked the lady at BestBuy and found what was considered at the time to be the most reliable GPS on the market. But do you know the first time we used it, we got lost?
The Bible is the only thing in this world that is 100% reliable. It can be counted on to guide you, correct you, comfort you, and help you. But if you never get in it, how can God talk to you? This is why it's so important to have a daily quiet time where you set down for 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes, it doesn't matter the amount of time, and let God talk to you through His word. If you're not doing that on a daily basis, then God is limited in how He can talk with you.
God wants to meet with you, and He’s available where ever and when ever. You can do it in your own back yard, sitting at your coffee table with a cup of coffee, in a big Lazy-Z-Boy chair with your P.J.s on. He is waiting. The creator of the universe wants to have a conversation with you on a regular basis, You need to get into God's word if you want to hear His voice. If the only time you open your Bible is when you are in this building, you're going to miss a whole lot.
If we want to hear God speak to us, there are a few things we need do:
First the Word of God must get into your Head.
I am the first to admit that the Bible can be an intimidating book. I mean how many other books do you know that are bound in leather? How many other books have a number before each sentence? That's kind of strange. And if you use an older translation you have to deal with all of the thee's and thou's and lots of words you don't understand. Plus have you seen some of those names? What kind of momma would name her baby Abishag? It’s not just the names, but there are all of those strange places, foreign words, and customs it’s hard to get it to make sense. The Bible can be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. The more time we spend with it the more comfortable we become with it.
The best way to get the Bible into your head is to be exposed daily to its truth. While we have evolved so much as a culture, and made great strides in the areas of medicine, and technology, there is no shortcut to getting to know God. You have to spend time with Him and His word.
If you have tried this before and struggled with it, know that you are not alone. Everyone I know, has struggled at one time or is now struggling getting into the word. Here is my opinion and suggestion; find a translation of the Bible that you can understand. I have 27 different translations in my office and 31 different translations on my computer. And some of them are a bit difficult to read, but every one introduces me to the will and nature of God. I suggest that you find a translation that you can read and understand and use that as your primary Bible, but also invest in some different translations from time to time and vary your reading. This year our family is reading the Common English Bible, last year it was the New Living Translation and the year before that we read through The Voice Translation. Buy using these different translations there have been a lot of doors opened for us.
Another suggestion is don’t start in Genesis and try to read through it. You’ll get stuck in Exodus and never make it out. Rather I would suggest you start with the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; Personally I think Luke is a great Gospel to start with. See what they have to say about our Savior. Then read the book of Acts and see how the early church acted, and loved, and showed compassion. Then read the book of James, and see what Christianity is supposed to look like. This finish with Romans, and see what Paul has to say about sin, grace, and faith. If you are ready for the next step you can do what we do. Monday through Friday we read a chapter from the New Testament. If we miss a day we catch up on Saturday and Sunday. It takes a little over 11 months to read through the entire New Testament.
Getting the word in your head takes intention and time. I mean what would happen if you didn’t eat for six days and then on the seventh day you pigged out? You'd have a horrible case of indigestion. In very much the same way some of us suffer from spiritual indigestion. We starve ourselves Monday through Saturday, and think that only being in the word on Sundays is sufficient. We need to fill our minds with the word of God, we need to find something that lasts, something that matters.
Secondly we need to work on getting the Bible into your heart.
Getting the information from the Bible in our heads is not enough. It’s a good starting point, but we can’t stay there. We must move from information to transformation which takes place in the heart. The challenge we all face is how do we allow the information we gain from reading the scriptures transform the way we live and the decisions we make. Truthfully some of us can can get so familiar with the Scripture that it no longer impacts us.
Before we can change our actions we need to change the way we think. I truly believe that we don’t sin because we think about sinning; We sin because we don’t think about it enough. Let me unwrap that; someone doesn’t have an affair because they thought about having an affair. They have the affair because they didn’t think it all the way through. They never thought about all of the pain and heartache their families would have to endure. They never thought about the public shame their families would have to endure, or how their choice would affect their husband or wife, or their kids, or their relationship with God. The more time I spend in the scriptures, the greater my ability to think through what I am doing.
Finally we need to work on living it out with our lives.
This inward transformation then leads to outward reformation as we determine to live out what we know in our heads and what we believe in our hearts. The Bible is not just a textbook to be studied; it is what God uses to change hearts and lives. No one cares if you can answer all of the Bible Questions in Jeopardy if you live like everyone else in the community. God wanted us to have His written word not so that we could fill our heads with useless knowledge, He wants it to be lived out.
Remember Paul says the Bible is living, breathing, and active. But we have a part in that, it’s participatory. Think about it this way, what is more important to be able to quote Mark 12:31 or to actually love the people that God loves, including the creepy people? There’s a moral element to all this. It’s not just what we know, it’s what we do with what we know. The Bible must affect how we live. The Bible must affect how we show love, grace, forgiveness, and hope.
Jesus called you to be the light in this dark community. You are called to be salt to help preserve this world. You are called to be the body of Christ. The sad truth is that it doesn’t mater how much of the Bible we know, if we are not committed to live out our faith in this place.