We're continuing our series on Seeing the Unseen Christ. We're looking at all the ways that our lives would change if we really believed that Jesus was with us. During the past two thousand years, there have been times when large numbers of people have in an unusual way sensed the presence of God. We know that God is with us all the time, but there have been specific times when he's seemed closer. When that has happened, crime has gone down. Seedy establishments have closed due to lack of business. Churches became packed. Lives were changed. Scholars have examined these times to see what the results were, and every week we've been looking at what happens when we encounter Jesus. When this happens, we begin to worship him with genuine enthusiasm. We become more loving. We maintain moral purity. We discover and live God's purpose for our life.
Whenever God has seemed unusually close, and lives have been dramatically changed, one thing has been true. People have begun to use the Bible in their lives to make decisions. They've packed churches hungry to hear God's Word preached. They've literally devoured the truth of the Bible and built their lives on its solid foundation. I remember one day that I worked outside all day in the hot sun. We were under time pressure to meet a deadline, so we didn't stop all day to take a break. Finally, late at night we finished the job. Someone brought over a cooler full of ice-cold drinks. That day I discovered the true meaning of thirst. Whenever people's lives have been dramatically changed, it's resulted in a thirst to discover what the Bible says about how they should live.
In the glove compartment of my car, I have an owner's manual. An owner's manual is the manufacturer's instructions on how to use that equipment. God has given us an owner's manual for life. It's called the Bible, and it's a book that you can use whenever you need help. It's a book that you can use as the guidebook of every decision that you need to make. The Bible is meant to change your life.
There are over 2,000 self-help books published every year. There are stacks of books at Chapters and Indigo on how to set goals and make decisions and be smarter and more organized and more assertive and more sensitive and more with it. What makes the Bible unique?? Why should I make the Bible the guidebook of my life?? Two reasons:
1. IT'S A UNIQUE BOOK
The Bible is a unique book. There's no other book like it. It's the only book in the world that is from God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is inspired by God."? We hear some music or read a book and say, "That was inspired."? We usually mean that it's unusually good, that it's exceptional and that it moved us. But that's not what the Bible means when it says it's inspired. The word literally means "God-breathed."? They're God's words. They came from God's mouth. The Bible is unique because it's the only book that's ever been written by God.
How did God write a book?? Did he type it himself?? Did he dictate?? 2 Peter 1:20-21 tells us:? "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy in Scripture every came from the prophets themselves or because they wanted to prophesy. It was the Holy Spirit who moved the prophets to speak from God."? The Bible isn't the creative work of the prophets and those who wrote it. God took the prophets, and he used their personalities, cultures, and backgrounds to hand-write a message to you and to me. God cooperated with the writers so that the message that he intended us to receive is exactly what is contained in the words in this book.
The Bible is absolutely unique. There are other books that claim to be written by God, but there's no other book with the evidence to back it. The Bible is unique. It's the only book that has been written by God.
There's a second reason that I should make the Bible the guidebook for my life:
2. IT'S A USEFUL BOOK
The Bible is the only book that can change your life forever. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, "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 straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do."? The Bible wasn't given to inform us. It was given to change us. It was given to make us into the people that God wants us to be.
A lot of people believe in the Bible, but they don't read the Bible. They don't get a lot out of it. They haven't made the Bible the guidebook for their lives. Some people have become discouraged because they don't understand the Bible. Others get frustrated because the Bible can be challenging reading. How many people have started a Bible reading program and given up somewhere in the book of Numbers?? Today I want to talk about three ways that you can build the Bible into your life. If you take these steps, the Bible promises that you will be prepared and fully equipped for everything that God wants you to do.
How can I build the Bible into my life?? Three ways:
1. I CAN USE IT TO LEARN WHAT'S TRUE
This is the first way that we can build the Bible into our lives. We can use it to get knowledge. I can use it to learn what's true. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true."? It's what we saw in the Bible quiz this morning. It's very important to get to know the Bible and what it teaches, because the Bible is the ultimate source of knowledge. Jesus prayed for us in John 17:17 with these words, "Make them pure and holy by teaching them your words of truth."
God wants you to get to know the content of the Bible. Why?? Because the Bible is a record of what God has done in the past. God wants you to get to know the stories, the poetry, the truths, the events, even the facts of the Bible. You need to learn what it's all about. The reason why is because we need to know the truth.
You need to get to know the truth of the entire Bible - not just the easy to understand parts. 2 Timothy says, "All Scripture is...useful to teach us what's true."? Not just the easy-to-understand parts. All of the Bible. We all have favorite parts of the Bible that we read over and over. Most of us know Psalm 23 and John 3:16. But we don't know Amos. We don't know Obadiah. God gave us the entire Bible to teach us. We need to get to know all of God's truth. Start with the easy parts, but eventually we need to work towards knowing all of God's truth.
If I were to ask you what Satan's biggest weapon is, what would you say?? Jesus answers this question for us in John 8:44. See if you can spot Satan's number one tool that he uses to destroy our lives:? "He [Satan] was a murderer from the beginning and has always hated the truth. There is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies."? The tool that Satan uses most often to destroy us is lies. That's why it's so important to know the truth. Every sin you commit is the result of a lie that you have believed. Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).
For some of us, the extent of our knowledge is what we learned in Sunday school and the odd thing that we may learn from listening to preachers. If we don't open our Bibles, we might as well not have one. Someone did a study recently and discovered that 62% of people thought the phrase "God helps those who help themselves" is in the Bible. God didn't say it, Benjamin Franklin did. One-third of people think that there is a book of Thomas in the Bible. People think that Sodom and Gomorrah were lovers, that the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luther, and John, and that the Epistles were the wives of the Apostles. We laugh, but I wonder how well we would do in a Bible quiz today. I know that I hate playing the Bible version of Trivial Pursuit. I'm a pastor. I'm supposed to know all those things. If we had a quiz today and I asked you to recite the 10 commandments or the 8 beatitudes, it might get a little embarrassing. Hosea 4:6 says, "My people are being destroyed because they don't know me."? Jesus said in Mark 12:24 says, "Your problem is that you don't know the Scriptures."? You need to get to know the Word of God.
How do you get to know the Bible?? By reading it. We need to make it part of our daily practice to read the Bible daily. There are some wonderful ways to do this. One thing you can do is to read it in a fresh but accurate translation. If you're having no problem reading the Bible in the translation you use right now, by all means continue using it. But if you're having problems understanding it, or if it just doesn't seem fresh to you anymore, I would encourage you to pick up a good new translation. For the past two or three years, I've been using the New Living Translation. It was translated by some of the leading scholars around. It's fresh, easy to understand, and it's accurate. I would encourage you to find a good translation that you can enjoy.
Another thing you can do is to find a good study or devotional Bible. You can use a good study Bible with notes that help you understand and apply what you read. If you tend to get stuck in certain passages, then you can try a Bible like the Chronological Bible. It puts the Bible in chronological order so you can read it in the order that events occurred. Use the Bible to get knowledge.
One mistake, though, is to stop here. Some of the people I've met who have known the Bible the best have also been some of the most ungodly people as well. There's an explanation for this. The Bible says, "Knowledge puffs up" (1 Corinthians 8:1 NIV). If you know the Bible and that's all you do, you become a Bible braggart. You go around thumping other people on the head with your extensive Bible knowledge. You become a very unlikable person. The other problem is when we just get to know the Bible and then stop is that we've just incurred more responsibility. James 4:17 says, "It is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it."
You need to read the Bible. It's the first way that we can make the Bible the guidebook of our lives. There's a second way that we can build our lives on the Bible as our guidebook:
2. I CAN USE IT TO EXPOSE WHAT'S WRONG
That's the second way that I can use the Bible as my guidebook. I can use the Bible to expose what's wrong. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "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."? Some of you are saying, "I don't need the Bible to tell me what's wrong with my life. My husband will do that for me. My boss will do that just fine. Why would I need the Bible to tell me what's wrong with my life?"
Whenever I've had something broken, I've learned that the most important step in correcting that problem is correctly diagnosing the problem. How many of you have ever taken a car into the mechanic, and as soon as you get there the thumping sound stops?? The mechanic can't fix the problem because he can't identify the problem. It's the same with a doctor. My family has had the very frustrating experience of going to the doctor and hearing the doctor say, "Beats me. I haven't got a clue."? The worst is when they bring in their doctor friends and say, "George, come look at this!? You won't believe this!"? It can be incredibly frustrating when you have a problem or an illness that can't be diagnosed. A correct diagnosis is one half of the cure.
A man was diagnosed with cancer. He was really depressed until a friend said, "We need to go out to celebrate."? "Why?" the man asked. "I've just been diagnosed with cancer."? "Today is a day to celebrate," his friend replied. "You didn't get cancer today. You've had it for a while. The day that it's discovered is a day that you need to celebrate."? It's that way with God. God gave us his Word so he could expose and correct what's wrong with our lives. Hebrews 4:12-13 tells us:
For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are. Nothing in all creation can hide from him. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes. This is the God to whom we must explain all that we have done.
God's Word isn't just a collection of words. It's a living, life-changing Word that has the power to change our lives. God's Word can penetrate our thoughts and feelings like nothing else can. We need the Bible to expose what's wrong in our lives.
Why do we need this?? Why do we need to have what's wrong exposed?? We tend to think that correction or exposure is a bad thing. We'd rather have our wrong kept where it is. When my daughter was little, I had an older friend look after her one day. What I didn't realize is that my friend's sense of smell had been shot. He couldn't smell a thing. When I came home, I opened the back door and the most awful smell almost knocked me over. I said to my friend, "How come you didn't change her diaper?"? My friend responded, "I didn't know she needed to be changed."? He was completely oblivious to the stench that filled the house. Sometimes having what's wrong exposed isn't such a bad thing.
We live in a world that sometimes smells, but we've lived here so long that sometimes we forget what's wrong. We have a natural, built-in tendency to confuse what's right and what's wrong, and the results are disastrous. Proverbs 14:12 tells us, "There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death."? One version says, "There's a way of life that looks harmless enough; look againit leads straight to hell."
Is it possible in today's world of pluralism and talk show morality to know what's right and what's wrong?? Is it possible to know what's real and what's counterfeit?? Is it possible to build my life on values that don't change - on values that will form a firm foundation for your life?? Hebrews 5:14 says, "Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong and then do what is right."? It is possible to discern what's right from what's wrong. But if you're going to do this, you're going to need the solid food of the Word of God.
How do I know right from wrong?? How do I use the Bible to expose what's wrong?? You do this by meditating on it. Meditating has nothing to do with special techniques of relaxation and breathing. It means that you think about something over and over again. That's all that meditation means. It means that we take a passage of Scripture and think about it over and over and over again. We make it a part of our lives.
Joshua 1:8 says, "Study this Book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night so you may be sure to obey all that is written in it. Only then will you succeed."? Do you want to quit making stupid mistakes?? Do you want to succeed in life?? Then it's simple. Start following the owner's manual. Think about what God has said over and over. Make it a part of your life. Stop learning things the hard way. Learn what God says about how we should live.
That's how we make the Bible the guidebook for our lives. You learn what's true by reading it. You expose what's wrong by meditating on it. There's a third way to make the Bible the guidebook for our lives:
3. I CAN USE IT TO DEVELOP MY CHARACTER
God's Word wasn't just given so that I could learn. It wasn't just given to expose what's wrong. God's Word was given to develop my character. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right."? D.L. Moody once said, "The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge. The Bible was given to change our lives."? That's what it's for. The Bible was given to change our lives.
When this passage says, "It straightens us out an d teaches us to do what is right," it uses the same words that you would use to describe training a child. God wants us to be trained by putting what he says into practice. James 1:22 says, "Remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. If you don't obey, you are only fooling yourself."? It's a lot easier to hear God's Word than to put it into practice. John Maxwell says, "We're educated way beyond the level of our obedience."? We already know more of the Bible than we're doing. One pastor preached on the same subject for 18 weeks. People asked, "When are you going to top preaching on that topic?"? He said, "When you start doing it."? God wants us to obey his Word, not just to know it.
The Bible is an intensely practical book. It tells us what to do, and it tells us how to do it. It contains God's wisdom on how to build a successful life, on how to build a family that God can bless, how to be happy, how to live a life of significance. All of the messages that Ed and I preach are "how to" messages. Why?? Because the goal of the Bible isn't to make us more knowledgeable. 2 Timothy 3:17 says, "It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do."
Our life's job is to become more like Jesus Christ. Romans 8:29 says, "For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son."? When you get to heaven, God isn't going to ask you, "What was the size of your paycheck?"? "What car did you drive?"? God isn't going to ask you, "How many awards, how many trophies did you accumulate?"? God is going to ask, "Do you look like my Son?"? Eternal rewards will be given based on the character we develop and demonstrate here on earth.
But it's not just about heaven. We can live a more blessed, a more successful life here on earth when we develop our character. Jesus said in Matthew 7:
These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit - but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.
But if you just use my words in Bible studies, but don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards. (Matthew 7:24-27 The Message)
How are you going to develop character?? By obeying. You develop character by reading God's Word, by meditating on God's Word, and then obeying God's Word.
When Jesus seems unusually close, when people's lives are transformed, there is always a renewed interest in learning, meditating on, and obeying God's Word. What is going to be the final authority of your life?? Everyone needs one. Everyone needs a final authority upon which to make decisions, to set their compass in life. Is it going to be popular opinion?? "Everyone's doing it, so I will too?"? Will it be tradition?? "We've always done it that way."? When it comes down to it, you only have two choices. You can build your life on either the world or the Word. You can let the Bible transform you. Or you can set yourself up. You can make yourself the final authority in life. You can play god, and one day you'll explain to God why you did that.
Why not let the Bible transform you?? It can change your life. Colossians 1:6 says, "This...Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is changing lives everywhere, just as it changed yours that very first day you heard and understood the truth about God's great kindness to sinners."
Two action steps - two commitments I'd like you to make:
- I will begin reading and meditating on God's Word for the next 90 days. If it means getting a new Bible, a translation that I can understand, with Bible notes that help me understand it, I will start reading God's Word everyday. If you read 3 chapters of the New Testament a day, you will have read the New Testament in less than 90 days.
- I will make the Bible the final authority in my life. I will say, "I will make the Bible the foundation for my life. I will work these words into my life, and when the rain pours down, and the river floods, and the tornados of life hit, I won't be moved, because I'm fixed to the rock."
Let's pray together.
If you've never been changed by the Good News yet, if you've never understood the Good News about God's great kindness to sinners, you can pray this prayer:? "Father, today I receive the Good News. I believe what the Bible says when it exposes my sins. I thank you that the Bible doesn't expose my sins to condemn me. It exposes my sins so that I can receive the forgiveness that comes from Jesus Christ. I want you to become the master of my life. I turn away from my sins, and I make you and your Word the final authority in my life. Amen."
If you would like to make the two commitments, to read the Bible for the next 90 days, and to make the Bible the final authority in your life, please pray this prayer: "Lord, I need to read your word. I need to meditate on it and to obey it. For the next 90 days, and I hope beyond, use your Word to educate me, to expose what's wrong, and to build my character. Use your Word to prepare me in every way, fully equipped for every good thing you want me to do. In Jesus' name, Amen."