by Passtor Martha-Jean Fitch
September 25, 2016
TEXT: II Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 4:12
Many of you have heard me talk about my parents - and what faithful disciples they were. They truly inspired all of their children by the way they lived. While they were not ministers, they were dedicated lay people, serving the church in many ways. And it was their deep faith, I think, that made such impact on all of us kids - such that all three of us went into the ministry - and then married ministers! And I know they would be so proud to know that their granddaughter is now an ordained minister.
Years ago, my brother was going through some old letters of my father's and realized that we weren't the only ones that were influenced by my father. He found a letter that had been written by my father when he was 18 years old to my grandparents in Oklahoma. It was 1939 and my father was serving as a private in the army air force - stationed in Fort McDowell, Angel Island, California. The letter reads like this:
You know I've run into one of the most amazing things. I was laying in my bunk the other evening and having nothing else to do, was reading my new Bible. This afternoon, a boy by the name of Triggs came around and wanted to look at my "book". He didn't know the name of it. So I got it out and he looked at it and began asking questions. I found out he had never been to church and didn't know one thing about the Bible or the church. But he was interested in what I had told him about it. It was amazing. In the back of my Bible it has helps to study the Bible, and he looked through that and found the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, The Beatitudes, etc., and was interested. It also gave reference numbers, and he didn't know how to find them, so I showed him. And he said he always wanted to read a Bible but didn't have a chance. I invited him to go to San Francisco to church Sunday, but he is a shy kinda fellow and said he didn't know how to act. I'm going to try to get him to go if I can. Now you see what just reading the Bible did for me!
Reading the Bible made a huge difference in my father's life. I believe it gave him wisdom and direction - and most certainly peace and comfort as he would go on to serve at Pearl Harbor and was there when it was bombed. I think I told you all last year about how my father went to the 50th anniversary of the Bombing of Pearl Harbor. While he was there, he ran into a man named Bob Kerr, a fellow serviceman who my father hadn't seen in 50 years! Bob was also a man who had never been to church until he met my father who invited him along. After a career in the military Bob entered seminary and even had a son in the ministry as well. That's what you get for reading the Bible!
Today, we continue our sermon series on "Believe" - learning to think and act and become like Jesus. We have learned that God is the one true God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe that God is a personal God and wants to be in relationship with us. And we are saved because of what Jesus did for us - giving us that free gift of God's grace.
Today's focus is on the Bible. Our key idea is that we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God that guides my beliefs and actions. The Bible is our guide through life - the very foundation on which we build our lives.
Our main Scripture for today comes from Paul's letter to Timothy. Paul was in prison in Rome and literally was on death row. Soon he would be executed by Emperor Nero. So he wrote his last letter to Timothy, his dear son in the faith, to pass the torch to him. He wanted to impress upon Timothy the importance of holding on to the Scriptures and being ready to share the message with others, at all times. Paul knew there would be many who would reject the word of God. You remember from Greg's sermon, just a couple of weeks ago, that Paul and Timothy were living in a culture where there were all sorts of choices when it came to spirituality. Some were atheists and others believed in multiple gods - many of the Roman and Greek gods. Timothy had to hold on to the truth of God's word and believe it had power in our lives.
Turn with me to the book of II Timothy, kind of near the end of the Bible. II Timothy is right before the book of Titus. We are going to read II Timothy 3:14 through verse 5 of chapter 4. Follow along in your Bible, as I read to you from the New Living Translation.
14 But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. 15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 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. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
4 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: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction. 3 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. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Every time I read that passage, I think about how much it sounds like our day today. When it comes to what you believe, our culture is full of everything and nothing. And there are all sorts of teachers that will try to convince you theirs is the right way. We are tempted every day to wander away from the truth. We look for ideas that seem pleasing to our ears - things that sound good right now, or easy or affirming. So many times we aren't going back to the Bible to make sure our world view matches the truth of God's word. We need to be like Timothy, and keep our head and hold on to the truth of the Scriptures.
What is amazing about the Bible that you are holding in your hands is that the words in it are inspired - breathed out by God himself. It is the living word of God! And as we read the Bible, we draw near to God - and can hear Him speaking to us in His Word. I saw this picture on the internet and thought it really pointed to the living word of God: The Bible is the only book whose author is always present when one reads it!
When we say that the Bible is the inspired word of God - we are using the Greek word theopneustos, which literally means theo=God, pneustos=breathed.1 This is the same word that is used in Genesis 2:7, where God breathed life into Adam's nostrils. There is life in these words. The Bible is not just a dead piece of ancient literature -- it is the living, life-changing, powerful words of God that tells us who God is and who we are. It is dynamic in the way it works in us - penetrating to our very souls, revealing what is right and wrong and showing us how to live. The word of God is our guidebook for life - as it says in Psalm 119:105 - "Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path."
In saying that our Bible is God-breathed, we don't mean God dictated the words. Rather we mean that God's Holy Spirit moved within people who wrote from their own personal, historical and cultural contexts. God used each of their personalities and writing styles to communicate the truth. There were some 40 different writers, with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. For example, David was a king, Moses was a shepherd, Matthew was a tax collector and Luke was a physician. The authors were writing from three different continents - across a 1500-year span of generations, but they all proclaim the same message. Can you imagine getting 40 people to sit down and agree on anything? Yet these 40 people agreed on the one true God who loves us and wants to be in relationship with us - and that love is seen best in our Savior Jesus. And that message has stood the test of time!
The Apostle Peter tells us that this truth in I Peter, saying that the words of God will last forever! (1 Peter 1:25). As Chuck Swindoll describes it: "Grass will grow and then it will wither; flowers will bloom and then they will die. But God's written message, the truth, will abide forever. All His promises will be fulfilled. His redemptive truth cannot be annulled or changed. He will accomplish what His powerful Word proclaims, and He will achieve the purpose for which His Word was sent (Isaiah 55:10-11). His Word will endure!"2
Unbelievers and skeptics have tried to destroy the Bible - dictators have tried to keep it out of the hands of their citizens - but the Bible lives on. The French philosopher Voltaire prophesied about 200 years ago that within a century there would not remain a single copy of the Bible anywhere on planet earth.3 But today, in the 21st century, the Bible continues to be the best-selling book in the world with 5 billion copies sold and distributed. And the Bible is the most translated book of all with almost 3,000 languages having at least one book of the Bible - 1,300 having the New Testament and around 550 with the entire Bible.4 And what is so amazing, is that more and more people have the access to the Bible now than ever, due to the internet!
Hebrews 4:12 tells us that 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."
The Bible you hold in your hands is not just a collection of words and ideas that were written thousands of years ago - dead and lifeless. No, the Bible is living and dynamic and life-changing! It is like a sword penetrating into our lives, penetrating down deep into our very core. It shows us who we are - where we have strayed - and the direction back home to God.
Truly, God's words are to us like a letter from a loving father who is continually reaching out to us - wanting to give us guidance on how to live, forgiveness when we stray and the eternal hope of living with Him one day in heaven. That is what the Bible is given for - to help us be reconciled and grow in our relationship with God, giving us help for today and hope for tomorrow.
The Bible is relevant to people today, just as it was 2,000 years ago The Bible can bring peace for the hurting soul, comfort for those who grieve, direction for the lost and wisdom for those who are searching for answers. We can go to the Bible and get guidance on how to raise your children and love your spouse - how to manage your money and control your emotions of anger or fear or anxiety. We can find out answers for questions like "What is my purpose?" and "What happens after we die". And most especially, we come to the Bible to know the steadfast love and mercy of the Lord as best seen in Jesus our Lord - who lived and died for us. Truly God's words are the very foundation of our lives - the solid rock we stand on.
But it isn't enough just to listen to the words of the Bible - we have to obey them as well.
In the 1st chapter of the book of James, we read these words:
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. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
We are to let God's words penetrate our hearts and make a difference. It's one thing to listen to God's words and enjoy studying the Bible, but we are called to let those words come in and change our behavior and attitudes so that we can think and act and be like Jesus. We have to truly walk the talk - and do what the word of God says.
About three years ago, I told you the story of a village in Okinawa that truly let God's word transform them - but I think it is a story that bears repeating. It seems so appropriate as we focus on the importance of the Bible.
It is the amazing true story told by Clarence Hall who was a war correspondent in 1945. When the American army stormed across Okinawa, soldiers found villages of unbelievable poverty, ignorance and filth. But then they came upon a village of some 1000 people named Shimabuku. It was the strangest and most inspiring community Clarence Hall had ever seen.
In his own words, Clarence described it this way: "We'd seen other Okinawan villages, uniformly down and despairing; by contrast, this one shone like a diamond in a dung heap. Everywhere we were greeted by smiles and dignified bows. Proudly (the mayor of the town and school teacher) showed us their spotless homes, their terraced fields, fertile and neat, their storehouses and granaries, their prized sugar mill."
How was this possible? How was Shimabukuro so different?
Well, Clarence slowly found out the whole story. He said this: "Thirty years before, an American missionary on his way to Japan had paused at Shimabuku. He'd stayed only long enough to make a pair of converts (these same two men), teach them a couple of hymns, leave them a Japanese translation of the Bible and exhort them to live by it. They'd had no contact with any Christian since. Yet during those 30 years; guided by the Bible, they had managed to create a Christian democracy at its purest.
How had it happened? Picking their way through the Bible, the two converts had found not only an inspiring "Person" on whom to pattern a life, but sound precepts on which to base their society. They'd adopted the Ten Commandments as Shimabuku's legal code; the Sermon on the Mount as their guide to social conduct. The Bible was the chief literature to study in school; it was read daily by all students, and major passages were memorized. And in the village government, the precepts of the Bible were law. The result was plain to see. Shimabuku for years had had no jail, no brothel, no drunkenness, no divorce; there was a high level of health and happiness.
As Clarence Hall drove through the village streets, still amazed at the wonderful town of Shimabuku, his driver whispered to him, "So this is what comes out of only a Bible and a couple of old guys who wanted to live like Jesus!', Then, with a glance at a shell-hole, he murmured, "Maybe we're using the wrong kind of weapons."5
Time had dimmed the Shimabukans' memory of the missionary; neither the mayor or school teacher could recall his name. They did remember his parting statement. He said: "Study this Book well. It will give you strong faith. And when faith is strong, everything is strong."
May we too study this book well - and may these living words of God penetrate down deep into our souls, making a difference in our lives and in our community. May we think, act and be like Jesus!
1Voltaire quote found on http://www.tentmaker.org/Quotes/biblequotes.htm
3List of literary works by number of translations From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_literary_works_by_number_of_translations
4Bible Hub - information on theopneustos - http://biblehub.com/greek/2315.htm
5Clarence W. Hall, "The Village That Lived by the Bible", www.blessedquietness.com/journal/housechu/remember.htm