Good morning. I’m still basking in our Christmas Eve Celebration. Our Christmas Eve Love Offering right now stands at $96,074!
JT was doing some serious vision casting last Sunday, and I hope you were paying attention. I especially liked his emphasis on seeing our wonderful church through the lens of people who have no church experience (or what they did have was poor). As I have often said here, we want to be the kind of church where whiskey-drinking, skirt-chasing, profanity-spewing, card-carrying, Hell-bound heathens can come and hear about Jesus!
Our current series is Invited, and we are inviting all of you - in this year of preparation and transition - to join us in a life of relationship, community, and mission. As JT mentioned, when this series is over, we will have a commitment moment where we’ll ask you to RSVP (I’m in, I’m out, I have questions). I invite you to start praying about being All IN for this amazing and exciting chapter ahead of us that JT and our team are leading.
In this current Invited series, we want to share our Core Values as a church, so you know what you’re committing to and why. The one I’m focusing on today is "Why We Obey the Bible" and why we hold it in such high esteem. I am inviting you today to obey the Bible with us.
Every year, the chairman of the religion department at Boston University gives his undergraduate students a 15 question quiz about the Bible. And, every year they fail.
Want to give it a try? I won’t put you through the whole test - just six questions to see if you know the answers. Get out your phone or paper. Here we go with a short Bible test. No shade or shame either.
1. Name the four Gospels.
2. Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born?
3. What are the first five books of the Bible in the Old Testament?
4. What is the golden rule?
5. ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ What book of the Bible is this in and who said it?
6. How many books of the Bible are there? Bonus if you can name the number in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.
Let’s see how you did.
1. The four Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
2. Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
3. The first five books of the Old Testament are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
4. The Golden Rule is: ‘Do unto others as they do unto you.’ As you would have them do unto you.
5. God helps those who help themselves... No, this is not in the Bible. Those words are from Benjamin Franklin.
6. There are 66 books in the Bible; 39 in Old Testament and 27 in the New.
Now, why does the chairman of the religion department at Boston University give a test every year? He says it’s because everybody should know the basics of the Bible. Even if you don’t fully believe everything the Bible says, the principles in this book have literally changed and shaped human civilization and made life better – even if you are a skeptic.
I don’t want to assume you know anything about this precious book, so today is an introductory primer on it. I want to start with some basic things you should know about the Bible today.
The Bible is a library. It is not a single book, as much as it is a collection of books. Sixty-six to be exact written by more than 40 authors and covering a period of 1500 years. Most of the books bear the name of the author and are straightforward - Daniel, Isaiah, Matthew, John, etc.
Some books carry the name of the main event the book talks about. Genesis is about beginnings. Exodus deals with the exodus or departure of God‘s people. Some books carry the name of the recipient of the letter: Philippians, Ephesians, etc.
So, the Bible is a library of books reflecting different times in history, different authors, different settings, and with different emphases.
The Bible has two Testaments: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The word testament simply means "agreement" or "covenant." The Old Testament is a record of God’s agreements before Jesus, and the New Testament is God‘s record of agreement when Jesus came and after He comes again. You’ll note that what divides the Old Testament from the New is a man - his name is Jesus. In fact, He divides our measurement of time as well (BC/AD). The Old Testament builds towards the New and the New Testament fulfills the old.
If you like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, you can think of the Old Testament as The Fellowship of the Ring followed by The Two Towers and then the New Testament is kind of like the final installment – The Return of The King. If you don’t like The Lord of the Rings, forget I said any of that - but as the Lord of The Rings, everything in the Bible is about the king. Only his name is Jesus, not Aragorn.
And while the Bible is 66 books and two testaments, it’s still one story – the story of the king. Jesus is coming, Jesus is here, Jesus is coming again! John 1 talks about this one true king and Word – John 1:1-3, 14. (The Bible is a library and it has 2 Testaments.)
John 1:1-3, In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him, nothing was made that has been made.
John 1:14, The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The 3rd headline is The Bible is Sacred/Divinely Inspired. Christians take the writings of the Bible as the word of God for our lives for multiple reasons, but one big reason sticks out - Jesus. Jesus saw the Old Testament as God-inspired and if Jesus says something is sacred, then it is scripture. He said this in Matthew 24:35, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."
Fascinating tidbit for you history buffs. In A.D. 303, Roman Emperor Diocletian proclaimed that every copy of the scriptures was to be destroyed, and thousands of Christians were martyred for possessing copies of the scriptures. Two years later, he erected a victory column over the ashes of burned copies of the scriptures that bore the inscription: “Extinct is the Name of Christians.” But 21 years later, Emperor Constantine would convert to Christianity and proclaim Christianity to be the religion of the Roman Empire. Jesus' words in Matthew 24 remain true.
Jesus believed the Bible to be sacred and inspired. He referenced lots of real people in the Old Testament like David, Jonah, and Moses. And He then commissioned his closest followers, who were called apostles, to be his good news tellers and through the Holy Spirit inspired them to write their own accurate/truthful accounts of what they saw and heard as eyewitnesses.
You’re welcome to reject Jesus and reject the Bible, but what you can’t do is accept Jesus and reject the Bible. Jesus tells us the Bible is God‘s revelation to us. John 8:31-32 says, "To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."
Truth. What and where is Truth right now? Pilate asked the same question of Jesus 2000 years ago, "What is truth?" And people are still asking this. In a day of fake news and false information, nobody trusts anybody’s word as truth anymore.
Driven by a postmodern era that rejects absolute truth, more and more people have questions about the origins, relevance, and authority of the Scriptures. The steady rise of skepticism is creating a cultural atmosphere that is becoming unfriendly, sometimes even hostile to claims of faith. And in a society that venerates science and rationalism, it is an increasingly hard pill to swallow that an eclectic assortment of ancient stories, poems, prophecies, and letters, written and compiled over the course of 3,000 years, is somehow the sacred Word of God.
And tragically, with each passing year, the percentage of Americans who believe the Bible is just another book written by men, increases. So, too, does the perception that the Bible is actually harmful and the people who live by its principles are religious extremists. Tolerance, falsely defined as putting all propositions on an equal footing, as opposed to giving ideas an equal hearing, has replaced truth. Everyone defining their own truth is the new truth! Let me give you an example…
Today is a significant day in Cincinnati sports history. Tomorrow, January 10 marks the date 40 years ago of The Freezer Bowl. (Any of you there?!)
It was a huge victory in the 1982 AFC Championship Game against the Chargers that sent the Bengals to their first Super Bowl. Led by coach Forrest Gregg and MVP quarterback, Ken Anderson, the Bengals dominated the game 27-7. Who Dey!!!
The temperatures at Riverfront Stadium on January 10, 1982, were minus 59-degree with wind chill, making the “Freezer Bowl” one of the coldest games in NFL history. I watched it - inside! Unfortunately, the Bengals would later fall to Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 16.
But let’s say I didn’t like that the Bengals lost that Super Bowl game and decided to write a book that said the Bengals won 27-7! The way that GOD originally intended. Let’s say I cited all kinds of made-up stats and self-published it as an accurate, truthful account of that game. Would that alone make it truthful? But it’s MY truth and I have decided I will live like it is. Who are you to judge me and tell me I’m wrong - I feel inside that they won and this is true.
Never mind that it would be swiftly denounced – especially by 49er fans, and go against decades of other credible writings to the contrary, or that 85 million people watched it themselves on TV and know otherwise. See - Absolute Truth does exist and CAN be discovered.
SO, this matter today could not be more crucial for you to research yourself and decide if this Book contains the Truth or not. Based on my lifetime of research and study, I believe with all my heart it is. SO does JT! Either Hebrews 4:12 is true or it is not…For the word of God is alive 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.
So, what do you consider to be your most trusted source for truth? Are there any you trust less? Why or why not? See, everybody has a faith system, even atheism. To what extent would you say you have actually thought through your belief system? You know, it requires faith to distrust the Bible, as well as to trust it. Even if you deconstruct your faith, (which is a hip thing to do today by some), you still have to construct something else to build your life on.
I think a key question for you today has to be surrounding this word Truth (who or what is Truth?) because that leads to Authority. Who do you claim as the authority or what is authoritative in your life? Our problem today in our world is hubris - we don’t want to submit to a higher authority like the Bible or admit God knows better. We think we know MORE than God. But you don't break God's laws, you break yourself when you break God's laws.
BUT David, what about those ‘lost’ books of the Bible we sometimes hear about like the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Thomas, or the Gospel of Judas? Wish I had time to unpack this more, but even back then they were uniformly understood to be forgeries and false in their information and most were written 200-300 years after the time their alleged authors lived. That’s why they were never accepted or placed as part of the 66 books (called the Canon) that we have now.
BUT David, what about the parts of the Bible that are obscure and difficult? It’s not the parts I don’t understand that are giving me trouble – it’s the parts that are clear that I DO understand!
If I had time I could talk to you about the Bible's textual credibility and the incredible amount of reliability it has. For example, there are only nine or 10 good copies or manuscripts of Julius Caesar‘s Gallic Wars in existence, the oldest of which, is a copy dating about 900 years after his time. But no historian that I am aware of, has serious doubts about the reality of Caesar or the integrity of the text. There are fewer than 10 existing copies of the ancient manuscripts of Plato available to study, but we accept Plato’s writings as real.
But when it comes to the Bible there are more than 5,000 authenticated, handwritten manuscripts in the Greek language in support of the New Testament alone that ensures the accuracy of its writings. Some written within 25-50 years afterward.
The Old Testament is equally rich supported by the findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls providing copies representing almost every book of the Old Testament. Without a doubt, the Bible is the most documented ancient writing in all of history. And I could spend hours regaling you with the Bible's historical credibility. Cities and places that the Bible references or mentions which people scoffed at, are now being unearthed through archaeology exactly like the Bible says. It’s fascinating. I am here to say that you don’t have to put your brain on the shelf to trust and take God at His Word. But don’t just take my word for it – look at the evidence yourself and reach your own conclusion.
2 Timothy 3:14-17 says, 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[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 4:1-5 says, In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
The Bible is Food that feeds your soul… there is the Milk of the Word and the Meat of the Word, and something for everyone along the spiritual continuum. The best research has found that reading and reflecting on scripture is THE most spiritually catalytic activity you can engage in. That’s why I think Satan’s greatest effort is to keep you out of the word of God and prayer. This book will keep you from sin and sin will keep you from this book.
So exactly how does a person do this? Glad you asked. Let me finish my message with some simple Bible hacks for you…
Read the Bible daily. Do you eat daily? Jeremiah 15:16 says, When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight…
Read the Bible intentionally. 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us to, Do your best to present yourself approved to God, a workman who does not need to be ashamed, and who correctly handles the word of truth.
Don’t just throw the Bible open, point at a passage, and start doing it…
- Judas went out and hung himself
- Go and do likewise
- Whatever you do, do quickly
Read the Bible practically. When you read the Bible, always ask two questions…
- What does it mean?
- What does it mean to me?
One great tool that can help you with this is to get a modern version of the Bible that you can understand. The King James Version works, but we don’t speak as they did in 1611. Think of the language changes we’ve had just in the last decade. Wicked used to be something bad, now it means something good. Spam used to be canned meat or something like meat - whatever it was, you ate it, instead of deleting it from your email inbox.
Coke was a drink, not a drug, and if someone was hot they were warm and your booty was your treasure. We don’t even have time to talk about what we mean now online by a troll, stream, or cloud. That’s why dictionaries are always being updated. They have to be!
So, get an NIV or NAS or Living Bible version and jump in. Wanna know the best translation? The one you read! Get the YouVersion Bible app and set notifications for daily bible verses. I’m a HUGE fan of YouVersion.
Read the Bible silently (or even out loud). The average person reads 250-300 words per minute. At 300 wpm, you could read the entire Bible in just 42 hours! Two things keep people from reading the Bible – the Bible is too big and the Bible is too old. Both of these have been addressed today.
For those who don’t like to read, listen to the Word on an app or CD! The Bible says, Faith comes from hearing The Word, so this may work for some of you.
Read the Bible in Community (with someone). It provides accountability and gives you a chance to discuss it with someone. Young people, if you’re dating someone, start reading the Bible together. I heard someone say, "A gentleman opens the door for her, but a godly man opens the Word with her."
One caveat and caution here. Just because you know the Bible doesn’t mean you have arrived. The Scribes and Pharisees knew the Law up and down but missed Jesus. The goal is not to get you through the Bible, but to get the Bible through YOU! The authority and truth of the Bible is not an onerous weapon we use to arrogantly judge people, but a lens of humble wisdom to help us look at life and people as God would. And that’s why He and we invite you to join us in this pursuit of Biblical truth.
If you’re going to be on mission, in relationship, and in community with us at Whitewater, you absolutely need to know that one of our core values is we do "Bible things in Bible ways." We love you, but we care more about what God says than what YOU say.
The first question we ask as leaders around here in the church is, what does the Bible say? Not what does the culture say, FOX/CNN say, traditions say, or even what DV/JT say. What does God say through His unchangeable, unalterable, eternal, inspired Word? People say, "I’d just like God to speak to me." He has and He is! Right here!
Friend, there is a famine in the land. Amos 8:11-12 says, “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.
… I believe this day has come
And YOU can be a part of solving this problem for God by giving, serving, and inviting everyone you know to simply read the Bible. This is why we are inviting all of you to join us here in a life of relationship, community, mission, and obedience based on what the Bible says.
Next week - Why we Glorify God/Worship
I encourage you to take a friendly challenge – this week. Begin reading the Gospel of Luke one chapter a day for 24 days, and see after 24 days, if you find the words of scripture to be more true or less true than you do today. See if God doesn’t speak to you… You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain! Take a Bible if you don't have one.