BACK FOR THE FUTURE #4
There’s an old story about a preacher who went to visit in the home of one of her parishioners. At the close of a visit, this Pastor’s habit was to read a passage of scripture from the family Bible and then offer a word of payer. She asked if she could use the family Bible. The mother turned to one of her little boys and said, “Freddie, go get that big book Mommy and Daddy read all the time.”
A couple of minutes passed and Freddie came running back into the room carrying the Sears Catalog. That story might be old but it points out one of those sad but true facts of life. We all have Bibles, but we don’t always read them. Let’s look at Scripture for this morning. Matthew 5:21-37 (NRSV)
 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’
 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,
 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.
 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’
 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’
 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,
 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
If you haven’t read or thought about these in a while, the thing that always strikes me is that that aren’t about the law or laws. They’re not about do’s and don’ts. Each of these teachings is about an inner attitude. And attitude of the heart and soul that has been washed in grace and rinsed in the unconditional love of God found in Christ. But you really won’t catch that unless you take time to read them in the context of the rest of Jesus teachings.
According to one report: “The average American home has four Bibles, 3.6 to be exact.” And 88 percent of Americans believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. Of those surveyed, 80% knew their astrological sign; 50% said they read their horoscope at least once month but only 26% said they read it on a regular basis. (1)
I. OUR MANUAL:
A. Those statistics really don’t surprise me. You see, most of us agree with my Uncle Ace who said: “Instructions are for wimps.” Like most guys, I only look at the instruction manual as a last resort. We’ve often described the Bible as our God’s Little Instruction Manual; the Christian User’s Manual or the Road Map to Faith. And for the most part we treat the Bible just like any other Manual. We turn to it as a last resort. Let me ask you this. When was the last time you looked at your vehicle owner’s manual? It was probably when you had to reset your clock for Daylight Savings Time. It’s in the glove compartment, isn’t it.
We’re like the character named Pontius Puddle who is talking to his friend about the Bible and says, “I treat my Bible the same way I consult the owner’s manual of a new appliance.”
The friend asks, “As the first step for setting a correct course of action?”
Pontius Puddle says, “No, as a last resort after all my own instincts have failed miserably.”
B. Since 88% of us believe it has Scriptural Authority in our lives, the Bible should be more than a “Last Resort” or a “Disaster Relief Manual.” It should be the daily guide for the living of our faith. It should be our Pivotal Reference Point.
Psychologists tell us that our Behavior is determined by our Attitudes. Our Attitudes are based on our Values and Principles; and our Values and Principles are based upon our Pivotal Reference Points. For Christians, the Bible is our Pivotal Reference Point. It is more than an instruction manual or a how to manual. Through the Bible, we learn our story, the story of God’s love for us through Christ. From cover to cover it is the story of Jesus. It is the story of God’s unconditional love for us and the lengths to which God will go for our redemption. The Bible is OUR book and it is authoritative for our lives.
II. WORD OF GOD:
A. Why? Why do we need the Bible? Because it’s from God. It IS the inspired Word of God. Now what do I mean by that. The Bible is made up of 66 separate books and letters of poetry, history, Genealogy lists, sermons and even dreams. The Holy Spirit God inspired the various authors to write what they wrote. Their personalities and their message come through loud and clear..
But one voice comes through even louder. The voice of God. The first thing the Bible tells us is how beautiful all of creation is. It tells us that Sabbath rest is and should be a part of the rhythm of our life. And then it tells us that something went terribly wrong. We disobeyed and rebelled against God, and now we have to live with the consequences.
Look all around you. Review the last couple of weeks. We just barely averted going to war in Syria.
Floods have devastated parts of Colorado. And 12 people died in the Washington DC shooting. There is something wrong not only in our country but in the world.
Dr. Janis Orlowski, the chief medical officer at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, hit the nail on the head when she said: “There’s something evil we as Americans need to work to try to eradicate.”
She was talking about gun violence, but the evil she describes goes way beyond that. Evil is very real. Scripture witnesses to that on almost every page. The core of everything evil in the world is sin. We live in what theologians call a fallen world.
Page after page describes the symptoms of our illness. The Bible gives us the diagnosis and it offers the curative and a prescription for life. This prescription comes in the form basic moral principles. They are given in the form of commandments of God, decrees, ordinances, and moral laws for those who travel through life.
B. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to turn the Bible into a checklist or a spiritual encyclopedia that just contains facts and little snippets of morality more suitable for decorative wall plaques than undergirding a lifestyle. We end up with a lot of information. But also end up missing the point. The Bible is not the end. It is the means.
The Bible is a pointer; a directional arrow. It is a marker on the journey of faith as we travel down the road of life. It is God’s road sign, showing us the way to something else and more importantly to someone else. The goal of Scripture isn’t to give us information about God. It’s to bring us face to face with God, through his Son, Jesus; who is the purist, expression of God’s unconditional love God for us. That love is expressed fully in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Followers accept and believe that the Bible is a Holy book. We believe God actually spoke through the lives, experiences, and the writings of those who have gone before us. These pages contain their witness but they contain more than that. They contain the essence of the living Word of God. Every time we read Scripture, we encounter God and Jesus is revealed. Jesus is revealed because Jesus is the subject matter of every book, every verse and every word.
So, the truth of the Bible isn’t in its numbered verses. It isn’t deciphering or harmonizing the differences between the two Testaments. It’s not even the quoted words of the book. The Truth of the Bible is a person. His name is Jesus.
It is in these words, these verses, the books, letters, poems, songs, history and prayers that we encounter a part of essence of Christ. We encounter the one who created us. The one who sustains us. The one who forgives us. The one who renews us. The one who loves us. The one who leads us. The one who is the answer and the antidote to the evil in the world.
But if we never read this library of wisdom, inspiration and hope, life becomes like driving from here to Florida by going West. You can get there going that way but it’s going to be a long hard journey, with lots of pitfalls, problems and frustration. That’s why Scripture and time spent reading and studying Scripture is so important.
There are lots of crazy ideas about what the Bible is and isn’t and about who Jesus is and isn’t. And while you may be able to take my word for it, it’s better if you encounter Jesus first hand. And the best place to start is by reading. Start with the Gospels, they tell the Narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry.
A. Wesley said that the study of Scripture is one of the means by which we experience the gift of God’s grace. I’m always amazed how God speaks to me through my daily Bible reading often times taking a familiar passage and revealing something new.
The Bible is also a means by which we can learn and understand God’s will for our lives. I happen to agree with Mark Twain when he said, “Most people are bothered by those passages of scripture which they cannot understand. The Scripture which troubles me most is the Scripture I do understand.”
Study helps me to understand and, hopefully, implement all the passages in my life. The Bible brings comfort and gives guidance. It reveals and provides joy, hope, peace and light, the list could go on and on. But the most important thing about the Bible is the message it shares with us. The message of God’s love wrapped up in Jesus. And that’s the best story which has ever been written.
There was a handyman who was called in to fix a large telescope in a major planetarium. During his lunch break, he took out an old ruffled New Testament and read as he ate. The astronomer found him reading and remarked, “What good do you get from reading that?” And then he went off on the guy talking about the flaws and errors. He ended by saying its authority was questionable.
The handyman thought about it for a moment and replied, “Why do you use multiplication tables to chart the stars?”
“Because they’re dependable,” said the astronomer.
“Do you know who wrote them?” asked the handyman.
“No, I don’t, but I trust them because they work.”
“Well, I trust the Bible for the same reason,” said the handyman, “It just works!” (2)
The Bible is not just another book, it’s our book and it works. We know the Author behind the authors, the Author of all creation. And we know the central character. He’s a personal friend. Not only is he a friend, we’re related, joint heirs with Him. This book, contains His story. Don’t treat it like all the other manuals at home collecting dust. Read it, study it. Let God’s Word become alive in your heart. Let’s get Back to the Bible for the Future of our faith, the future of our children, the future of our Church and the transformation of the world.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. LifeWay Christian, Gallup Polls and Barna Polls.
2. Source unknown