Sunday, February 20, 2011

In the Right Direction

Psalm 119:33-40
Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end.
Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.
Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared.
Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good.
How I long for your precepts! Preserve my life in your righteousness.

It seemed to happen every time we went on a road trip. Whether my best friend David was driving or I was driving, inevitably we would end up going the wrong way. When I say “wrong way” I don’t mean we got lost. I don’t mean we took a short cut or a long cut. We didn’t end up in bad neighborhoods or go to places our parents wouldn’t approve of. I’ll just tell you what happened. We were on Spring Break in Oklahoma, where we’d been offered college scholarships, but we had decided to take a side trip to Texas. On the way back to Norman, I stopped for caffeine. Somehow I got turned around and ended up on the wrong ramp – the exit ramp! Thankfully it was 1:30 am and nobody was coming, and I didn’t make it all the way onto the highway. David did something similar on our way to take the ACT – he turned the wrong way on a one-way street. I remember the oncoming traffic, and David shouting, “What should I do?” “TURN!”

Because of idiots like us, the department of transportation puts up every manner of “DO NOT ENTER” and “WRONG WAY” signs. Sometimes wouldn’t it be nice if we had some of those in other parts of our lives?

If you’re a teenager and you’re interested in dating someone, and they’re totally not the one for you, wouldn’t it be great if your ringtone was “NOT THE ONE!” Or if you’re having a rough time in your marriage and you’re thinking about just giving up on it, there would be signs all over saying, “Don’t quit!” You’re tempted to cheat on your taxes, and there’s neon blinking “Wrong way!” You’ve been clean and sober for a long time, but the stress is getting to you and you’ve “just happened” to drive down by that bar where you used to be a regular (by the way, that never “just happens”) and there’s a huge sign saying “Do Not Enter” above the door.

You can fill in your own struggles and sins, but wouldn’t it be great if God would provide us all with “Wrong Way” signs all around us, pointing us in the right direction and reminding us which way to go?
The Psalmist seems to believe that God has done exactly that. I started out by reading Psalm 119:33-40, part of an acrostic poem, each section taking a letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and each verse within that section starting with that letter. 

Today’s section starts (in Hebrew) with the letter He, and it points us in the right direction.
Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end.

A few years ago I went back to my high school and caught up with a couple of my teachers. In particular, I spent some time with my German teacher. We were talking about the things I loved about German class and he said they weren’t doing most of them anymore because the students just weren’t interested. He told me, “We don’t have any scholars any more. They aren’t interested in learning.” I remember being uninterested in learning; once my seventh grade teacher told me if I didn’t want to learn, I could leave - and then she got all mad when I headed for the door!

One of the problems we sometimes have is that we don’t know how the lessons we’re supposed to be learning will ever come in handy in the so-called real world. And there are times when the Christian rules seem pretty arbitrary.  So why would someone want to be taught to follow a list of rules? I can often remember asking “why” – maybe it’s just the way I’m wired, but I have always wanted to know why. Why is this the rule? Which way should I go? And why should I go this way? And sometimes, “What’s in it for me?”

I think the Psalmist knew that. That’s why he wrote: Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.

Even he wants to have understanding. And that’s key to keeping God’s law. If we just go in with the intent to follow rules, we’re missing the point. Rules don’t save us. Only Jesus saves us. Once we understand that, we can look into understanding the rules themselves – why does God give us certain rules? Whether you're a “rule follower” or a rebel, you have to admit that some rules are there to protect us. We aren't allowed to drive the wrong way on one way streets because it puts ourselves and others in danger. Parents aren't allowed to just leave their young children all alone, because it puts the children in danger. We aren't allowed to cheat on our assignments in school because it deprives us of the ability to think for ourselves and to figure out how to study, to apply ourselves, and to problem solve. God instituted the Ten Commandments to point us toward himself, to not waste our lives and eternity worshiping a false god, to show us how to get along with other people, and even tells us (commands us) to rest; our bodies need it!

But here's the thing; once you figure out that there are good reasons for God's rules, we are to follow the Psalmist: obey God’s laws with all our hearts!

This past week in our Bible study, we were looking at Colossians 2, where Paul was writing to the church in Colossae, a church that had gotten caught up in false teachings and legalism. The Colossians, much like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, were so devoted to following the rules that they missed the point of the rules themselves. I’ve found that following rules only leads to frustration, because you don’t get Christ by following rules.

I can be as nice as I want to be, and that won’t get me Jesus Christ. I can come to church every week faithfully, but that won’t get me Christ. But once we have Christ, we have freedom! Paul tells the Colossians Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17).

Remember that it's not about the rules themselves; they don't get us Jesus. But as we serve Jesus, we find delight in God’s commands. (Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.)  This is important, because of their purpose – they point us in the right direction. When we follow their directions, they bring us closer to Jesus Christ and they are delightful.

The thing is, most of us need guidelines to help us focus on Jesus. This is how it works for me; if I say to myself, “I'll spend time in the Bible whenever God leads me to” then I'm pretty much guaranteed that I won't get “led” to. But if I say, “the first thing I do when I get up will be my Bible study” then I end up in the Word every day. Some might say I'm being legalistic by setting aside that particular time every day, but that's not the point. The point is that by organizing my time, I make sure to actually get into the Word. In college, I became “legalistic” about staying away from the party scene; I wouldn't even be present in the fraternity house when there was a party. It was a guideline to help me stay closer to Christ. So often in our culture we take for granted what Paul called “fine sounding arguments” and “hollow and deceptive philosophies” - like the freedom of speech, no matter who it hurts, and the freedom to do whatever makes us feel happy. The Psalmist, however, writes: Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.

Is this your prayer? Are you willing to ask God to turn your heart toward his rules? I know I've been in places where I don't like God's rules. I don't want to follow them. I don't know how well you know me, but my general nature is rebellion. I don't naturally gravitate toward authority. If there's a possibility to disobey, especially while following the letter of the law, I will generally do it. The reason for this rebellion, simply put, is selfishness. I want to do things my way, when I want, and how I want. Anyone else feel that way?

Our culture tells us to do things our way; one of the saddest things I've ever experienced was a relative's funeral in which the special music was Frank Sinatra's “My Way.” Friends, “my way” never puts us in right relationship with God. Only God's way, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, does this. So when we turn our hearts toward God's rules, we're admitting that our way doesn't work. Our posture in prayer is important. When we cross our arms over our chest, we’re standing apart. When we kneel or bow, we are showing that we are subservient to God.

The Psalmist goes a step farther and calls our ways “worthless.” Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. Do you realize that everything apart from Jesus Christ is worthless? In Philippians 3, Paul tells the church in Philippi that his qualifications are much better than theirs; he was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, in regard to the law, a Pharisee [the holiness movement of their time]; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (Philippians 3:5-6). In other words, “I'm better than you.” But he goes on to say But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ... (Philippians 3:7-8). All our pedigrees, family names, church memberships, attendance history, seminary education, internships, pastorates, none of that matters at all. In fact, it's garbage compared to knowing Christ Jesus.

It can be a scary place to live in, fully depending on Jesus for everything. But God makes promises to us, promises to care for us, to preserve us, to always be with us. And God never defaults on his promises. Why not? Well, as Rudy put it last week, that's something God cannot do – it's is not in his nature to default on his promises. And when we see him at work, it draws us toward him. Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared.

As we finish up today, I want to focus on one of God's promises. Through the gift of Jesus Christ on the cross, God promises forgiveness. Everything you've done, every sin, every selfish act, God offers redemption.

Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good.
How I long for your precepts! Preserve my life in your righteousness.

This is no small matter. It's life and death; it's eternity. Maybe you have lived your life full of the disgrace and guilt and shame befitting your sins. God says you have freedom from them. You do not have to dread life – or afterlife. Guilt and shame are Satan's lies to keep you in bondage, but the prison door is open. Jesus' death and resurrection unlocked Hell, and each of us has the opportunity to walk out into right relationship with God through Jesus.

If you haven’t taken that step yet, don’t leave this place without taking it. You’ll never be in right relationship with God by any other means.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Why Unity?

Many of us remember the LA riots and the immortal words attributed to Rodney King “Why can't we all just get along?” It's an interesting question, one that the church has been wrestling with for some time. In fact, from an outsider's perspective, all we do is fight. I went to an awesome pastors' conference this past week in Minnesota (yeah, I know, who goes to a conference in Minnesota in February?) and made some good friends, but almost everyone there came from the Reformed tradition – not from the same sector as the United Methodist Church. I joked with some new friends about predestination and choice, one of the major differences between our theologies, but it made me think about denominations and what our differences demonstrate to the world. When people who aren't Christians see us not willing to get along with one another, what does that say about us? The reality is, we have lots of differences, not just between us and other denominations, but between us and us.

We just don't get along. Some of you are going to take immediate offense to that statement. Of course we get along. The truth is we don't. Some of you spend more time attacking one another than you do praying. You spend more time gossiping than you do evangelizing. You spend more time tearing one another down than you do building the Kingdom. And that's selfish and un-Christian, and it's got to stop.  If we're Christians, that is.

This is absolutely serious. I hear people complain about each other and threaten that they're going to leave the church and grumble and mutter and fuss. There are some people who seem to think their spiritual gift is complaining. That is not a spiritual gift! The Bible calls us to get along with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but that's not the goal. Getting along is the start line. Our culture preaches tolerance, though sometimes I wonder if we know what tolerance means. We've taken it to mean that we're supposed to accept and allow everything. That isn't tolerance. That is ridiculous. Tolerance does mean accepting other people right where they are, but it doesn't mean we have to accept that what they're doing is right. As Christians, we have submitted ourselves to the will of Someone Else and to the authority of the Bible. Which means we will be able to see the difference between right and wrong – it's clearly demonstrated in the Bible! So Christian unity and tolerance are two different things altogether.

Jesus himself has called his people to unity. Did you know that Jesus prayed for us, and that his prayer for us was recorded in the Bible? In John 17, Jesus was praying for his disciples, and he spoke these words (starting with John 17:20): “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,

Did you realize that Jesus was actually praying for you when he prayed this? We are the ones who believe in Jesus through the message of the apostles. So this is what he prayed for us: that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.

Jesus prayed for our unity. He prayed that we would be one, just as the Father and Son are One. This doesn't mean that we will just “get along”. It means that we will be one. Why is this important?

Let's keep reading in John 17. Jesus continues: May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Before I get to the unity part, did you get this: Jesus gives us his glory! This is amazing. Remember that when we started out with this series, we said that the reason we exist is to bring God glory? Well, now Jesus is saying that He gives his glory to us. So if someone tells you that the church is irrelevant or that they don't need to be a part of a church, Jesus counters that thought here. Jesus has given his glory to his people, the church. He has given us his weight and importance. The reason he did so was for our unity, because when we are unified, people will believe that God send Jesus and that He loves them so much! The goal of unity isn't for our happiness or our comfort. It's not for us at all! It's to fulfill what it means to be God's people. Our unity reveals Jesus to the world! Ever since Abraham, God called his people to be blessed to be a blessing to the nations. Jesus is showing us how that works.

When people in our community see how we interact with one another, when people who don't know Jesus look at what we're doing, will we give them ammunition against Jesus, or will they actually see Jesus in our unity? There are people who want to stir something up between MUMC and Millersport Covenant Church. A couple of weeks ago, Pastor Steve spoke here for our Sunday evening worship service. I actually heard (second or third hand, of course) someone questioning “What does Brian think of that?” What do I think of it? I asked him to come speak here! Why? Because I love him. Because we are brothers. Because it's never about one particular church or another. It's about showing people Jesus Christ!

The reason for life was to glorify God and enjoy him forever, and when we come together as Christian brothers and sisters, we glorify God. God desires our unity, not just for us to get along, but so He will be glorified.

If we're supposed to be unified, what is the cost we pay for that unity? One of those costs is the cost of self. In Matthew 16:24, we see that Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This is the ultimate price to pay, and many aren't willing to pay it.   Think of someone with a spear sticking out of him, asking a doctor to give him a pain pill. The doctor would start talking about getting that spear removed. “No, just give me something for the pain.” You're not going to get better if the spear is still sticking out of you!

And if you're not willing to follow Jesus' words, then you're not going to get better either. You're not following Jesus if you're not willing to deny yourself. There's no way around it. There are plenty of people in plenty of churches who are not Christians. They look like Christians. They dress like Christians. They know all the Christian buzz words. They're often polite, nice, and even kind. But if you're not willing to give up selfish desires, you have set yourself up to rival God, and you're not a Christian.

Today both of our services are meeting together. It's a great time for everyone to come together and celebrate being one body, that we are one church with two services, not two churches with one building. We get to enjoy fellowship with one another and we get to see people we don't see every week. There are a few people who are “cross-overs” who regularly come to either service, depending on (I don't know what factors). There are a couple who stick around after 9:00 to greet people in 11:00. But there are some of you who so dislike a certain style of worship that you couldn't think of going to the “other” service. You use words like “them” and “they” to describe people who attend the service you don't attend. You insist that “they” are wrong (obviously) and (of course) you are right. Why do you go to a particular service? Because it's the one you like. You never consider that maybe God might want you to go to a different one. God doesn't call his followers to comfort! He calls us to self denial. So a huge cost to unity is self. Whenever you're going to do something, don't first ask, “Will this make me happy?” Ask, “What will bring glory to God?” Or how about this: will this action or these words cause others to move closer to or farther from the Lord?

Aiming for unity for the sake of unity is aiming for a moving target. You will never hit it, because you can't please everybody all the time. I used to love reading the student evaluations of college instructors; you'd have one person say, “This was the best class I've ever taken. I loved the prof” while someone else, in the same class, would say, “This class was the biggest waste of time. The prof was horrible.” Who are we aiming to please? If we're trying to please everybody, everybody will leave unhappy. Today we are having a combined service; it's neat to worship together in one service. It's great to see everyone. After we did our combined service in October, I heard a lot of positive comments; most people seemed to enjoy the service. But  the purpose of our worship services is not about our enjoyment. It's all about God. Does God enjoy our services? And if not, why not? One thing God doesn't like is when we're not unified. This doesn't mean going to one service; it means having the same mind, the same heart.

What does that mind look like? What does that heart look like? It looks like God's mind. It looks like Jesus' heart. When Ezekiel was prophesying, God told him of a time when He would gather His people back from exile, when they would return to the land and clean it up of its idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)

And what does it look like when we have God's new undivided heart and spirit? Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:20) Is this what you want, or do you want something else? The only way to unity is to want what God wants.

Remember that unity just for the sake of unity isn't possible. If we're not united in Christ, we're not united at all. Paul writes to the church in Corinth, telling them not to be yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15). We can get along, but we're not headed in the same direction. It's like when we got a call from the Mid-Ohio Food Bank wanting to help give us food to distribute; we had to tell them no, because for us to receive their food, they would require us to adopt their rules, which include that we can't offer to pray for the recipients.

We can't just go along with that, even if it's “right” by cultural standards. That's not what God calls us to. God calls us to have His heart, and if we do, if we all do, then we have the unity that matters.

 In Ephesians 4, Paul is urging the church in Ephesus to live lives worthy of God's calling. He tells them to Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6) God calls us to unity because when we are unified, we accurately represent God to the world. We recognize that there is One God who exists in three Persons: Father, Son, and Spirit, always giving to one another, always loving one another, always unified in everything. The unity of the church demonstrates God's unity to the world.

People in our culture are highly individualistic while at the same time we long to belong. So from a very young age, we begin identifying ourselves by our belonging. I remember one day when I was little; I was playing on the sidewalk with a couple of neighbor boys and my sister. A man walking down the street said, “Hi, boys!” to us, and my sister, who was probably about 2 at the time, angrily huffed, “I'm a girl!” As we get older we identify ourselves in other ways. Every middle school and high school has groups. I had an ability to move about the groups, but when it came down to it, I was king of the nerds. In a town like Millersport, there is an in-group and an out-group (don't look shocked; you know it's here). In my last appointment, that was generally expressed by your heritage; if you were German and spoke the right Plattdeutsch in the home (or your parents or grandparents did), then you were probably “in.” If not, sorry about your luck.

We identify ourselves by our national heritage. We identify ourselves by our genders. By our hometowns or counties. We identify ourselves by what sports team we like – I'm sorry, but as a Chicago Bears fan, I just can't force myself to cheer for the Packers in the Super Bowl. Our definitions tend to divide instead of unite. I was talking to a fellow pastor in the hotel in Minnesota; I commented on his University of Kentucky hat. We talked for a while about UK basketball, but then he started bashing the Big Ten. I had to change the subject.

But all these divisions and definitions don't please God at all. Paul tells the church in Colossae You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Colossians 3:9-10). Then he tells us what that new self looks like. Colossians 3:11: Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

To the church in Galatia, he wrote There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Did you get that? All the other stuff that defines us really doesn't matter at all in Christ. The only thing that matters is Christ. So Paul writes on to the Colossian church:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, (that's who we are) clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Remember the context; that there is no difference between people when we are in Christ. There is no 1st service or 2nd service. There is no praise band or choir. There is no Boomer, Buster, X, Y, or Millennial. We are one in Christ. Because of that, we can together act with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, forgiving one another, and loving one another.

Love binds us together in perfect unity. And we get that love from God.

I want to finish up with a passage from Romans 15:5-6 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

Did you get it – that unity of mind and voice glorifies God? That's exactly what it does. Some of you need some work on this. You need a heart transplant and a mind transplant. If that's you, if you're living for yourself, you need to repent. Turn 180* and go in the opposite direction. As we celebrate Communion this morning, this is a chance for you to be reconciled with God and with one another. Do not waste your chance. Don't waste your life chasing after everything else.

Why the Bible?

Psalm 19:7-11 The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever.
The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous.
 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

The Bible is comprised of 66 books, written by nearly 40 authors over 1500 years, and it has been translated into over 2000 languages. It contains history, philosophy, theology, systematic thinking, poetry, letters, visions, wisdom literature, rule codes, prophecy, apocalyptical literature, parables, prayers, and sermons, among others.

There is no other book quite like the Bible. It is the best-selling book (and, according to a friend of mine who works at Lifeway, the most stolen as well), and it is available to some 98% of the world’s literate population.

Just in English alone there are numerous translations and paraphrases; I looked on my shelf and found ten different translations, and that’s not even close to being all of them. I am always telling you to read your Bible, to study it, to memorize it (hey, if our children can do it, there’s no reason we adults can’t), to meditate on it. Last year for Lent some of us read through the entire Bible in 40 days, and many of us have done read-though-the-Bible-in-a-year programs.

Though I sometimes preach topical sermon series (like I am doing right now), other times I preach through various books of the Bible or from certain passages. We meet together for Bible studies and tough our cell groups aren’t strictly Bible studies, they are encouraged to include the Bible in their meetings, basing their decisions and shaping their lives based on scripture. I will continue to tell you to check everything with the Bible; if someone makes a truth claim (including one from a pulpit or stage), it’s our duty as Christians to check it with scripture.

But we are making some huge assumptions when we encourage all this Bible reading, assumptions which bear some scrutiny. Why the Bible, anyway?  Why do we read the Bible? Why do we put so much stock in a book, especially a book that is 2000 years old?

Dr. D.A. Carson (Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) identifies the big issue this way ( has God disclosed Himself in words, or only in mystical experiences? In other words, we recognize that there are various ways that a deity might express itself; we as Christians affirm that God speaks different ways. We affirm that prayer is a two-way street; not only do we speak to God, but God, through His Holy Spirit, speaks to us. Right now, in Muslim countries, closed to the Gospel, Jesus is showing up in devout Muslims’ dreams, and they are being converted. God speaks in lots of ways. So why do we even need the Bible?

What it comes down to is this: If God hasn’t talked, there isn’t an issue. But if God talks, then the question is: are his words reliable? How can we know what those reliable words are? Does God speak the truth?  There have frequently been attacks on the Bible: it’s a 2000 year game of telephone. There are inconsistencies and translation issues. I can’t completely cover all of the attacks on the Bible in one sermon – Lee Strobel does a good job in The Case for Christ (and if you want some reading about the authenticity and veracity of the Bible, I’ll give you a copy), but the telephone game critique assumes a 1980s mentality rather than a 500 B.C. one; they were an oral culture who memorized scripture. They repeated it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. As for copying errors, yes, that happened. Humans copied the Bible. A couple of years ago, Rudy and I went to a National Pastor’s Conference, and while we were there, we got to be a part of a project called “The Bible Across America” where Zondervan was having people handwrite the Bible. We each got a verse to write. Rudy got 1 Chronicles 12:1 and I wrote John 8:40. We worked really hard to get every letter exactly right. As the scribes copied the scriptures, it’s inevitable that some copying errors occurred. If they found their mistake, they would destroy the entire page and start again. But some got through. Which is why when a Bible translation is made, scholars do not rely on one copy. If you look through your Bible, there are footnotes that will tell you that some manuscripts say certain things, but most agree in a certain way.

So the big issue comes down to this: Does the Bible make false historical, philosophical, theological, or systematic assertions? If so, we would have reason to believe we cannot trust this document. But if we look at the scriptures, we do not find those false assertions.

We live in a culture that affirms relative truth; if it’s true for you, that’s fine. But truth is truth. There are things that are true, whether you believe them or not. You can consistently affirm that 1+1=5, but just try to pay a $5 charge with two $1 bills. Wherever we find a truth claim in the Bible, the Bible is true. Not 99.9% true. 100%. Ravi Zacharias says, “Truth as a category exists and it is possible to verify the truth.”

Remember that the Bible was written during a certain time and don’t judge the Bible using unfair standards – don’t make it say what it doesn’t. For example, Psalm 98:8 says “Let the rivers clap their hands.” How silly is the psalmist? Rivers don’t have hands. And even if they did, they wouldn’t clap. Just joking. Remember that the Bible is full of different literary genres; don’t try to make them say what they don’t say.

Not only is the Bible true, but it has something to say. It’s a unique document in that it’s not just a book. Hebrews 4:12 tell us that the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

It is said that the longest journey is the path between the head and the heart. You can know the Bible stories in and out, but if you rely on head knowledge, you are missing the point of the scriptures. God’s word is no mere book; it is living and active. It is no easy read; it cuts. If you are just reading the Bible to plow through it, you’re missing out on its purpose; to speak God’s Word directly to us.

Why the Bible? Because God spoke and still speaks. I am baffled by people who wonder, “What is God’s will for my life?” Yet they refuse to read the Bible. But it’s the same kind of person who goes to the doctor and is told, “You’re going to have to (fill in the blank)” yet the person “knows better” and does something else. I had a roommate in college who went to the doctor with bronchitis. The doc told him he needed to stop smoking. He was outraged and, through deep coughs, called the doctor a quack.

It’s not enough just to go to the doctor when we’re sick; we have to actually follow the doctor’s orders. Likewise with the scriptures. Psalm 119:105 says Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, but a lamp doesn’t do any good if it’s not turned on.

The Bible is full of wisdom. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies for they are ever with me. Psalm 119:98. God discloses his character through the Bible. We read the accounts of Jesus, and we find salvation in his sacrifice. We see Jesus founding His Church and find rules for life together. The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple says Psalm 119:130.

Have you ever heard really good advice? What did you do with that advice? I know I’ve had people come to me with their problems and I’ve given advice that isn’t followed. God doesn’t just give us good advice; he gives us good commands. One such command comes in 2 Timothy 3:14-17. 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.

Paul tells Timothy to continue in what he has learned. Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice, taught him the scriptures from infancy. This is a great reminder to you who are parents to raise your children knowing the scriptures. If you want to give them a solid basis for life, that’s where you have to start. If you want your children to be wise, and even more important, if you want your children to be saved, teach them the scriptures.

The Scriptures are able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The entire Bible contains God’s plan for his people. If you’ve taken the Progress of Redemption class here, you have seen that these 66 books flow together wonderfully; there is no randomness about them. There is a progress from Genesis 3 and the loss of perfection in the Garden of Eden all the way to salvation in the Holy City, the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21. Through scripture we come to understand salvation, that we can only approach God through Jesus Christ (John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”)

All Scripture is God-breathed. We affirm as a church that God has inspired the Bible – the word “inspire” comes from the Latin inspiratio, which means to breathe. Paul writes to Timothy, reminding him that God breathed the scripture, so it is thus useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. As we go about the “one anothers” of church life, encourage one another, bear with one another, teach one another, care for one another, forgive one another, serve one another, rebuke one another, it is all to be done within the framework of the scriptures. Don’t rebuke someone over a matter of personal preference, all the while claiming it’s a word from God. When I was in college, a friend who was supposed to be discipling me gave me a “word” about the music I was listening to. He didn’t tell me, “The content of the music does not honor God, and here’s why.” As it turned out, he just didn’t care for that style of music.

Just a reminder, if someone in the church has sinned against you, the Bible tells us how to respond. Rebuking and correcting do not happen other ways here. Matthew 18 tells us if your brother or sister sins against you, go and point their fault, just between the two of you. If they don’t listen, take one or two others with you. If they refuse to listen, tell it to the church, and if they refuse to even listen to the church, treat them as a pagan or tax collector.

The scripture even tells us how to rebuke and correct one another, and it tells us why we need to do so: so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. The Bible helps us understand the purpose for our existence: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10).

Why the Bible? To equip us for good works, which bring glory to God.