Friday, October 16, 2015

Lamp to My Feet (II Tim.3:14-17; Psalm119:103-105) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

I read a story about an elderly man who was facing terminal cancer.  The man told a story about his grandfather who was a Christian.  At his wedding, many years prior, his grandfather gave him and his bride a wedding present, an expensive leather bound Bible with their names printed in gold lettering.  The man left it in the box and never opened it.  For years afterward, his grandfather kept asking if he liked the Bible.  He simply said “yes” it was fine.  Meanwhile, the box continued to collect dust.

Finally, after many years, the man grew curious enough to open the Bible.  "The joke was on me," he said.  Now I know why granddad kept asking me if I liked the Bible.  I found that he had placed a twenty-dollar bill at the beginning of the Book of Genesis and at the beginning of every book in the Bible … over thirteen hundred dollars in all.  He knew I'd never find it."  What's the moral of the story – you never know what surprises await you in the Bible.

The B-I-B-L-E - yes that’s the book for me, I stand up high with the word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.”  Have you ever heard that song?    What about: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  
Time for a pop quiz:  What does the word Bible mean?  Who wrote the Bible?  How many books are there in the Bible?  How long did it take to write the Bible?   What languages was it written in?  How is the Bible relevant to our lives?   What is the oldest book in the Bible?  Of course there are fun questions like: Who is the shortest man in the Bible?  Where is baseball mentioned in the Bible?   Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?  How many of each species of animal did Moses take on the arc?  See me later for the answers.   

The Bible is truly an amazing book.  It’s the world’s most read book.  Nearly 5 billion copies of the Bible have been printed since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century.    No other book, not even The Lord of the Rings or The Harry Potter series, comes close to the Bible’s influence in people’s lives.  The Bible or some books of it have been translated into 2,800 languages.  Do you read the Bible?

We all know that words have power and the Bible has power because it’s God's Word.  It has the power to change lives.  The power is not that it's a magical book, but the power is in the Holy Spirit who inspired and inspires it.   God's Holy Spirit acts in and through the Bible to influence the minds and hearts of people.   If this were not true, if people were not afraid of its influence and power, if people did not think it was a dangerous book, why is the Bible banned or severly limited in countries like Afghanistan, North Korea, Saudia Arabia, Iran, Libya and numerous others today?

The Bible is a sacred record of God’s revelation in history, of God's actions, words, deeds and at the same time it’s God’s personal letter or message to you.  God has reached people over the centuries and God wants to reach you and me in the Bible.  It’s a book through which God has spoken in surprising and profound ways: inspired, comforted, encouraged and changed lives down through history.  

Is the Bible simple to understand? No.  Questions arise when you study it.  I’ve studied it for many years and still have questions.  Do believers always agree when they read and interpret the meaning of passages in the Bible?  No.  But believers do agree on the over-arching themes and truths of scripture.   Believers do agree the Bible is essential reading for the Christian life.

The Bible is a fascinating challenge and that's why churches have Bible studies.  We at PBPC have Bible studies weekly and monthly.  We come together to hear the truth of the scripture and in our times of discussion and sharing, the words of scripture become the word of God.  Must you always agree with the pastor when reading the Bible?  Is the pastor always right in interpreting a verse or passage?  Let me think about that for a moment.  That's a tough one.  Actually, the answer is no.  We hear and discern God's word together. 

I try to read the Bible from a contextual perspective, by looking at the verse or verses in relation to the whole book or to the whole Bible as a way to understand what the Bible is saying. Yes, reading the Bible takes time, effort, thought, and discipline.  But ask people who regularly read and study it and they will tell you it’s worth it.  It is well worth the energy and effort to hear God’s word.  Many Christians will readily tell you studying the Bible is central to their faith, people like Kurt Warner, Deborah Norville, Tim Teebow, Mary Lou Retton, Dave Robinson, Justin Bateman, Lee Strobel, George Foreman and the list goes on.

The Bible is still a public book.  Presidents are sworn into office and oaths in court are taken on the Bible.  Politicians and presidential candidates quote from the Bible in speeches.  Christians have struggled against secular attacks upon prayer and the Bible around the world.   Yet, the Bible continues to be a force in our culture and around the world and the Church continues its important work of translating it into new languages and distributing it to people across the globe.  

At its core the Bible is a story.  It’s the story of God’s revelation in history over some 2000 years.  It’s God’s story of creating the world and humanity and calling out and forming a people, Israel and decisively intervening in their life.  It‘s God’s story of entering our world personally in His Son Jesus Christ and bringing salvation and hope to the world.  It’s God’s story of establishing the church at Pentecost and the expansion of the church’s mission.   It is the story of God’s sovereign rule over history, over all nations, and God’s plan to bring a new heaven and earth.  It's a story about God's plan of salvation for humankind.  It’s a story of lives that were dramatically and radically changed when they encountered God.

Is the Bible great literature and poetry?  Yes.  Is it fascinating history?  Yes.  But it is far more.  It is a lens through which we see God, ourselves, the world and the future.  It is the book which inspires and strengthens faith    It is the book which we read and which reads us as we discover that we are persons created in God’s image and loved and valued, forgiven and transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It’s the book which guides us in the new spiritual life God calls us to live.  It’s a book which declares our hope and assurance for life after death. 

In the Bible we meet the living God and the living God meets us, we encounter God and God encounters us.  We hear God’s commands:  “Love God with your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”   “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.”   We hear God’s promises: “If God is for us, who can be against us.”  “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.”  “Cast all your anxiety upon him, for He cares about you.”  “Nothing, not yesterday, today or tomorrow, not even death itself, can separate us from the love of God.”   Those promises have lifted my soul and the soul of millions over the years.

I remember at a very low time in my life when I read and meditated upon a verse in I Timothy:  “Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”  It truly lifted my spirit and instilled hope.  I remember when I felt confused about where I was heading, I didn't know which path to follow and I read: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not rely on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  And God did fulfill his promise and made straight my paths.

In reading, you may feel convicted to repent and turn away from some sin or destructive habit.  Or you may hear a forgiving and reassuring word like:  “Lo, I am with you always,”    “Come unto me, all you who labor and are over-burdened and I will give you rest,” and “The Lord is my shepherd, He leads me beside still waters, He restores my soul.”  I have felt my soul restored from reading scripture.  How about you?

The Bible tells us its purpose.  In II Timothy we read:  “The sacred writings are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus!”  The Gospel of John says: “But these words were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.”    In Romans we read:  “All scripture is inspired by God, and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

The Greek word translated “inspired” literally means “God-breathed.”  The Bible is on the one hand a human book, written by human beings in a cultural context, in the Jewish, Greek and Roman cultures.  But at the same time it’s a divinely inspired book, the story-tellers, poets and writers were inspired by God.

Scripture is useful for teaching, teaching truth about God, faith and salvation, Israel and the church, human nature, sin, morality, values, justice, good and evil, Jesus, the future and life’s meaning and purpose.

It’s useful for reproof, for convincing you or me of the error of our ways and for pointing us to the right way.

It’s useful for correction, for testing other beliefs, ideas, teachings, precepts, and philosophies against the teaching of the Bible.   Many competing and conflicting voices vie for your and my loyalty and allegiance today.  The Bible has power to bring clarity amidst the cultural confusion.

It’s useful for training in righteousness, that is, for shaping our minds and hearts, our thinking and feeling, actions and behavior, for forming us morally, that we might become loving, compassionate, caring, good, faithful people.

You must read the Bible in a spirit of faith and prayer, and when you do, God’s Holy Spirit inspires you today as well.  The purpose of the Bible is to bring us to faith in Christ, inspire and empower us to mature in Christ, and guide our lives as Christ's witnesses along our spiritual journey.  We study the Bible to make ourselves useful to God.

There are many other devotional books out there that can be helpful to our spiritual life.  But they should never be become substitutes for the Bible itself.  Amy Carmichael wrote: “Never let good books about the Bible, take the place of the Bible.  Drink from the Well, not from the streams that flow from the Well.”

Our Christian faith says: “The Bible is the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ and God’s word to you.  No other sacred writing, according to our Christian faith, has the authority and power as does the Bible.

I urge you, I challenge you, to read the Bible if you are not doing so.  I invite and encourage you to join one of our Bible studies.   You may feel a little intimidated about joining a Bible study.  I assure you that you will not be embarrassed.  You will be welcomed and you will learn and grow in your faith. I close with the words of the psalmist:  God’s word is: “A lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.   Amen!

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