Last week we spent some time looking at the Bible. Of course, that shouldn’t be too surprising. I think I’d have some serious questions about the validity of our church if we didn’t look at the Bible every Sunday! However, last week, our topic was actually the Bible itself.
And we asked some big questions. What exactly is the Bible? What’s it all about – what’s the main message? How did we get the Bible in the first place? And perhaps more importantly, how do we know we can trust it? As Christians, the basis for what we believe about God, about ourselves, about our world, about the meaning of life and how to live it abundantly, about eternity – all of that is found in the Bible. So it seems to me that I want to know with certainty that what I’m basing my beliefs on is true.
And for myself – I’m convinced that it is. I’ve personally spent quite a bit of time researching and seeing for myself – if the evidence truly adds up. And my conclusion is… it does. The evidence seems pretty indisputable to me. But don’t just take my word for it. Check it out for yourself!
We mentioned just a few of the evidences last week. One of them was the continuity of the message of the Bible. Even though the different parts of the Bible were written over a span of 1600 years by 40 different authors on three continents and in three languages – yet somehow, every one of those 66 books of the Bible fit together perfectly to make up one big story – the story of how God loved his creation so much, that despite their constant rebellion and failures, God chose to redeem them. He did that ultimately by sending His Son Jesus Christ, to be born in a stable, laid in a manger, and to one day die on a cross in our place, rising again three days later, so that through Him, we can find forgiveness and eternal life. That’s the message of the Bible – and you find that message throughout the Bible – everywhere from Genesis to Revelation.
We also very briefly touched on the fulfilled prophecies in the Bible and the way the Bible agrees with history, geography, and archaeology. There is just such a host of evidence that I have to conclude that, not only is the Bible true, but it is in fact, as it claims, the Word of God – recorded and preserved over the ages for me and you. But again, don’t take my word for it. That’s just my conclusion. Do your own research and find out for yourself.
Because if the Bible is true and if the Bible is the Word of God as it claims, then the ramifications are huge. If the Creator of the Universe has given me a book that contains all the truth I need to know about Himself, about myself, about my world, about life and how to live it abundantly, about eternity – then I want to know and understand what this book says!
If we are convinced that the Bible is true and that it is God’s message for us, then what should we do with that message? How do we make sure that we understand it correctly and how do we apply what it says to our lives? Should the Word of God actually make a difference in our lives – and if so, how does it?
And so my goal for this message is to give you some tools and teach you some methods for how to discover what’s in the Bible and how to get it off the pages and into your life so that it can actually transform you.
And that’s kinda the important bit right there. I’m not here to convince you to study the Bible just so that you can have a head full of knowledge. Knowledge is good – but it’s not our end goal. The end goal is to know and become more like our Creator. The goal is to strengthen and build our relationship with God. That’s the point of all these spiritual disciplines that we’ll be talking about over the next several weeks as we go through this series on “Healthy Habits”. I’ll tell you right now that reading your Bible is pointless unless it changes your relationship with God. Praying is pointless unless it changes your relationship with God. Going to church is pointless unless it changes your relationship with God.
Doing these things simply out of obligation or habit without actually engaging with God is like taking your car to the mechanic on a regular basis – but not allowing him to make any changes! How ridiculous would that be? Can you imagine going through the effort and paying the cost to take your vehicle into the mechanics every week – but never allowing him to make a single change to your vehicle? That would be ridiculous. That would be stupid!
But often I think we’re guilty of doing exactly that when it comes to these healthy habits. We go through the motions of reading our Bible or praying or going to church or whatever else we do, but we do it without the real intent of connecting with God through those activities. We forget that the purpose of all those things is to help us draw near to God and to abide in Him.
Remember that verse we read in John 15 a few weeks ago?
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
That’s why we do these things – to remain in Him. To stay connected with God. To know Him and become more like Him. If we’re not interested in doing that, then why are we doing all this ‘religious stuff’? All of these religious activities that we take part in – if we’re not trying to know God and become more like Him through those things – then it’s complete foolishness! We’re just driving our car back and forth from the mechanic shop!
But on the other hand, if we are seeking to know God and to become more like Him – to build and strengthen our relationship with Him, then these spiritual disciplines – these healthy habits – are some of the best ways you can do that! Without that desire, these practices will be empty and pointless. But when you go into it looking to connect with God, these practices will quickly become some of the most joyful, fulfilling moments of your day!
So I’d encourage you to ask God to stir up that desire in your heart today – because I know how easy it is just to fall into habit. Ask God to stir that desire afresh in you today and as we look at reading and understanding and applying God’s Word, we’ll find that through those practices, God’s Word begins to transform our lives.
There’s two key points that I want to make regarding this transformation. The first point comes out of Hebrews 4:12.
“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” Hebrews 4:12
The first thing you need to know is that the Bible is not just a text book. It’s not lifeless, sterile information. It is alive and powerful. Remember in Genesis how, in almost all of God’s creative acts, he just said the word and things happened? “Let there be light – and there was light. Let there be plants – and there were plants. Let there be animals – and there were animals.” That’s a powerful word! Psalm 33:6 says…
6 The Lord merely spoke,
and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word,
and all the stars were born.
7 He assigned the sea its boundaries
and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs.
8 Let the whole world fear the Lord,
and let everyone stand in awe of him.
9 For when he spoke, the world began!
It appeared at his command.
There is something very unique about God’s Word. It is alive and powerful! But one of the key points in this verse in Hebrews is actually in the last part where it says that it exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Hebrews 4:12
When we read or hear God’s Word – it reveals what’s really going on in our hearts. It doesn’t just deal with external behaviours and appearances. Like a sword, it penetrates right to our innermost being. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. It shows us the truth about ourselves.
The next verse goes on to say…
13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. Hebrews 4:13
God already sees all the stuff that’s going on in our hearts – in fact, He sees stuff that we don’t even realize is there… but His Word brings that stuff to light. In Jeremiah 23:29, God describes his Word like a fire or like a hammer. It says…
Does not my word burn like fire?” says the Lord. “Is it not like a mighty hammer that smashes a rock to pieces?” Jeremiah 23:29
We can hide our inner selves from each other pretty well – we can put up walls, we can create our facades – but God’s Word burns right through all that. It smashes through all the walls and barriers that we hide behind. And it shows us who we really are and what we’re really like.
Some of you know what I’m talking about. Some of you have had times when maybe you’re just reading your Bible or you’re listening to someone teach or preach from God’s Word – and the words just penetrate your heart like a sword! Sometimes you feel like you’ve been smashed with hammer! You know it’s the truth and you’re convicted because you know that some of your sinful, innermost thoughts and desires have been exposed before God and God’s calling you out to make a change and to repent.
And as painful as that is sometimes, it’s so important! God’s Word is like a surgeon’s knife – it cuts into us – not to destroy us – but to reveal and remove the cancer of sin. God doesn’t want us to stay in our sorry, sinful state – I don’t want to stay in my sorry, sinful state. I want to get that junk out and live like Jesus. And that’s exactly what God’s Word helps me do!
It’s like how we read in 2 Timothy 3:16 last week:
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Timothy 3:16
That part about Scripture showing us what is wrong in our lives and teaching us to do what is right is so important! There are several passages that describe God’s Word as a light. It shines in the darkness – it exposes hidden sin. It shows us the parts of our lives that need to change. Without that penetrating light, those rotten parts of us – hidden in the darkness – would never be exposed and would never get clean out.
It’s like the light in your refrigerator. Without a light showing us what’s growing in the back our fridge, things would get pretty rotten, pretty quickly!
I don’t want to have sin rotting away somewhere in the hidden parts of my life. I need God’s Word to point it out, to convict me of my sin, so that I can repent and find forgiveness and restoration. So that’s a major way that God’s Word transforms our lives. It is like a sword or a fire or a hammer or a light that exposes the sin in our lives so that God can begin to change us.
But the other part of 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that God’s Word teaches us what is true.
The Bible shows us what is truth and what is fiction. And we need all the help we can get with that. Satan is called the Father of Lies for a reason. Our world constantly bombards us with lies. Just watch a few commercials or read a teen magazine or follow politics or go to school. There is just a whole pile of twisting or flat-out denying the truth. But the Bible is our foundation for truth and as God’s word shows us the truth, it transforms our lives by changing the way we think. Romans 12:2 tells us:
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2
One of the few tv shows that Heather & I like to watch these days is Survivor. And most of you guys know the premise – 18 people are left in some remote location where they must outwit, outlast, and outplay each other in order to stay in the game and eventually become the sole survivor and win a million dollars. Well, this season there are two guys who have constantly been bonking heads. They’ve been throwing each other under the bus – trying to get each other out. And last Thursday, these two guys were talking and having a heart-to-heart… and one of them shared with the other that his big motivation for winning survivor is for his mom who was back home dying of stage 4 cancer.
Well, that revelation totally changed how the other guy now saw his arch nemisis. Now that he could see why he was doing what he was doing – he wasn’t the bad guy anymore. In fact, he could appreciate and respect how hard the guy was playing – trying to win it for his mom. His knowledge of the truth changed everything!
And that’s kinda what God’s word does for us. As we get to know the truth about God, about ourselves, about our world, about life and how to live it abundantly, about eternity – knowing that truth changes everything. It changes the way we think and that new way of thinking transforms us into a new person.
For example, the world tells us the lie that we have to look out for #1 because no one else will. The Bible tells us that God cares so much about us that He even notices when one single hair falls from our head. Knowing that truth will completely change how you think – which in turn will completely change how you live your life.
The world tell us to live for today, because this may be the only moment we’ve got! The Bible tells us that we are created to be eternal beings and our decisions today make a huge impact on ourselves and others for eternity! Knowing that truth will completely change how you think – which in turn will completely change how you live your life.
And so knowing the truths of the Bible is a major way that God transforms us into a new person because it changes the way we think. The NIV version of this verse calls this the renewing of your mind. It says… “Be transformed by the renewing of you mind….” The Bible changes out our old corrupted way of thinking which has been based on lies, and renews it with the truth – and that completely transforms our lives.
And so that takes us to our first strategy for what to do with the Bible. Satan and the world are not going to let up in bombarding us with lies – and so our strategy against that is to saturate ourselves with the truth.
We need a steady diet of God’s Word. We constantly need that sharp sword – that penetrating light to point out the lies so that we can live in the truth.
When the Israelites were about to enter into the promised land, Moses commanded them to saturate their lives with the Words of God. They were about to enter into a land that where all the people around them had bought into lies. And if they were not saturated with the truth, they too, would quickly fall for those lies. (It sounds a little bit like our situation today, doesn’t it?)
Of course, at that time, they didn’t have the whole Bible – but God had certainly spoken to them and had personally given them all the laws and commandments that we find in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. And Moses tells them to make God’s Word a central part of their daily lives. Let me read what He says to them in Deuteronomy 6:4…
4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
In other words, make it a priority in your life to spend time learning the words of God, talking about the Words of God, teaching the Words of God to your children, and constantly remembering the Words of God.
And I would strongly encourage you to do likewise! We need to make it a priority in our lives to spend time learning the words of God, talking about the Words of God, teaching the Words of God to our children, and to be constantly reminded of the Words of God. Otherwise, we too, will quickly fall for the lies that are so prevailing in the world.
So if that’s not already a major part of your life, let me give you a few quick suggestions on how you can change that.
So first of all, I would encourage you to read God’s Word daily.
Make it a priority – somewhere in your day – to spend some time reading God’s Word. If you’re a morning person, maybe when you get up, it can be part of your morning routine. Or perhaps if you’re more of a night owl, you’d rather read just before bed. Or maybe it’ll work best for you to make it a part of your lunch break. But find a time that works for you – the more consistent – the better.
And ideally, you’ll want to find a time and place where you can read where you aren’t constantly disturbed. Personally I like to read in the mornings. I try to get up a little before the kids so that I can shower and have time to read my Bible before too many of them wake up. Of course, that doesn’t always work that way. Often Eliza gets up and I don’t have that alone time, and I just have to read on the couch later with all the kids running around doing their thing.
But that’s not such a bad thing either – I think it’s important that my kids see me reading my Bible. I can remember my dad – often he would read his Bible and pray in the quiet of his room – but sometimes he would do that out in the living room and the image of my dad reading and praying by himself (but out in the view of us all) has really stuck with me for all these years – it’s made a big impact on my life. So I think doing that in view of your kids can be a powerful example for them.
Now if you’ve never really read the Bible before, you might not know how or where to start. If Christianity is fairly new to you, I think the book of Mark is a great place to start. It gives you a good overview of Jesus and his life and what He did – which is the central message of the Bible.
If you’ve been a Christian for quite a while and you already have a good idea of lots of the Bible stories and such, I’d recommend starting at Genesis and just reading all the way through the Bible. That first time though can be tough, (there are some long passages that aren’t really action-packed) but it’s really important to read the whole story and see the big picture. Reading through the Bible really gives you a much better understanding of how all the different parts of the Bible all fit together as part of God’s story.
One of the things that has really helped me develop and stick with this habit of reading the Bible every day is having a reading plan on my phone. I have a free Bible app, called “Olive Tree Bible Study” – and I know there are several others out there as well. But this is the one I use, and it comes with several different translations and it also has a whole pile of different reading plans.
So with these reading plans, you could set it up to read a chapter a day, perhaps you want to read through the Bible in a year, or maybe there is a topic that you’d like to read about (they have reading plans for Christmas or easter or passages about Jesus, or all kinds of things), they have reading plans for children, reading plans for men, reading plans for women – every plan imaginable. Right now, I’m just about to finish a one-year plan that goes through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice. I read from four different books of the Bible each day, so I’m not just stuck slogging through Leviticus for weeks! It gives me good variety that way.
And just having the Bible on my phone is really helpful for me. That way I always have it with me. I can read it whenever I get a chance no matter where I am. So maybe that would be helpful for you as well. That’s certainly an advantage that we modern Christians have over the many generations who have gone before us!
The other thing I’d mention if you’re just starting to read the Bible is to find a translation that you can understand. I don’t want to spend too much time on the topic of translations, but let me just mention a few things quickly.
As I mentioned last week, the Bible was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. I can’t read any of those languages, so I depend on others to translate the original writings into English. But language always changes. That’s why the Old King James Version – which was translated into English back in 1611 – sounds like Shakespeare and is so hard to understand. It’s english – but it’s really old english. So in recent years, people have re-translated the Bible from those original languages into more updated English.
Or course, there are still several different versions of these updated English translations. Part of the reason for that is because there are different ways to translate. You can translate word for word, phrase or phrase, or thought for thought. Let me show you what I mean.
If I were to tell you that last night I tweeted so much on twitter that my thumbs nearly fell off – you would understand that I was typing out several short messages on my cell phone. But if I were to say that exact same thing to someone in Israel 2000 years ago, they would think I was whistling like a bird and for some reason it caused a medical emergency with my thumbs. Of course the same thing is true in reverse. Some of the phrases and sayings that were written 2000 years ago in the middle east would make absolutely no sense to us if they were just translated out verbatim.
And so sometimes we have to translate the ideas behind the sayings and phrases – that’s thought for thought translation. But at the same time, there are lots of specific words that the original writers used in order to convey certain things. If you change the word, you can change the meaning. So translators have to somehow balance their translations between translating word or word and thought for thought.
This chart that shows how several different translations fall on this balance between word for word and thought for thought. Not to say that one translation is better or worst than the others – they’re just different. And in fact, I find it most helpful to compare several different translations. If you compare and look at a couple different translations for a particular verse, you ready get a good idea of what the writer was trying to say.
Also on this chart, it has the approximate reading level – so if you’re not a strong reader, translations on the right side of this chart might be easier for you. Because the bottom line is to find a translation that you can read and understand. If its a struggle to even read the words – it’s going to be really tough to understand and apply what the Bible is trying to communicate.
So on that note, if you do not have a Bible that you can both read and understand, then I would like to offer to get one for you. The church spends money on a lot of different things – but one of the most valuable investments we can make is to buy Bibles that will actually get read. So please, if you would like a Bible, talk to me later and I will make sure that you get a Bible that you can read and understand. I would love to make that our Christmas gift to you!
Because if you want to know the truth about God, about yourself, about your world, about life and how to live it abundantly, about eternity – if you don’t want to fall for all the lies that you are constantly bombarded with, then you need to make the Bible a central part of your life.
You need to read it on a daily, consistent basis.
But don’t just stop there! Reading God’s Word is so important – but understanding and applying God’s Word to your life is even more important. And we’re going to dig into that a lot more in the new year. We’re going to take a break in this series over Christmas, but in the new year we’ll pick it up again and the next message will be about how to accurately understand and apply all that we read in the Bible. James 1:22 tells us:
22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. James 1:22-24
We don’t want to do that. When the light of God’s Word points out things in our life – when our innermost thoughts and desires are exposed and we see those areas that God wants us to change – we need to actually obey and make those changes. Don’t just take your car to the mechanic – allow him to make those necessary changes! That’s applying God’s Word. And so that’s what we’re going to be looking at next in the new year.
But for now, if you aren’t doing this already, I encourage you to start developing the healthy habit of reading God’s Word every day. You don’t have to read chapters at a time – if you’re just getting started, start with just a couple of verses a day. But start saturating yourself with the truth of God’s Word. Allow Him to transform you by changing the way you think. Allow His Sword, His Hammer, His Light – to expose the hidden cancer of sin, so that you can deal with that stuff and become more and more like Jesus Christ.
Because that’s the point. Knowing Jesus and becoming more like Him.