When we keep the Son at the center of the universe all things hold together in their proper orbit. But when we try to make one of the planets the center, chaos is the result. When we keep God at the center of their lives and seek to honor Him and serve Him, health, order and joy are ours. When any society exchanges the glory of God for that which he has made, and when it chooses to follow a lie rather than his truth, and when it chooses to ignore the God who created men, confusion reigns and society breaks down. That is the point of William Butler Yeats’ poem:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
William Butler Yeats
Isn’t that last line is appropriate to our times? Because of a lack of conviction, those who are best, those who have good intentions, lack conviction. In other words they put up with evil. They don’t participate but neither do they stand up in protest. They simply escape to their cabins along a mountain stream to avoid all of the chaos and confusion. They simply do not care enough or are not sure enough to stand up against the tide of evil.
At the same time, the worse, those with no sense of right and wrong, those who have only one passion, the satisfaction of the self, hold nothing back. They are willing to speak out, protest, go to jail, step-on the beliefs of others, and promote the vile lifestyles, all for the sake of pursuing their wildest and most degrading fantasies. When the center is lost, when that which holds a society together falls apart, when the anchor has been cut away, all hell breaks loose. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes. Evil is pursued with a passion. Life looses its sacredness. A hunter kills 8 defenseless people because he was confronted for being on private property. An enraged millionaire basketball player plunges into the crowd and incites a riot because he got hit by a cup of beer. Two football teams square off with fisticuffs and kicking and throwing equipment because their rivalry is intense. We are seeing the demise of our society right before our eyes.
What has happened to the American Dream? It has lost its center. It was built upon the lofty ideals found in God’s Word. The morality of the Creator God was lived out through laws and traditions, even when the God who gave them was not being worshipped. It is my belief that what is missing is the centrality of God’s Word. Let me say it a little differently than that. The Bible, God’s Book, the container of God’s Word to men, has been ignored and even attacked. It no longer gives our nation the weight to stay steady and solid. There are no limits. There is no unity. There is no identity.
Now we are passionately seeking everything and anything. We are like the falcon who can no longer hear the voice of its falconer. We no longer hear the voice of God. We have severed the ties with home. We are no longer a nation under God. We are 300 million selves passionately seeking to fill ourselves up with unrestrained pleasure. W are bored looking for the next thrill. We have no center. We have no weight. We are like chaff which the wind blows away. We are a planet cut loose from its orbit.
I. The Wonderful Things in God’s Law
But, all is not lost. There is still hope. If the Church, God’s people will return to the center, if she will hear the Word of God and live it and declare it for all to hear and see, there is hope. That is the same underlying hope that this study is based upon. We have called this series, “Give Me the Book.” Our purpose is to call the church, God’s people, back to a new love and reliance upon His Word, found in His Book, the Bible. God’s Word is the most powerful force in the universe. And, the Bible is where His voice is most clearly heard. So, the Bible is most important book ever written for you, for our nation and for our world. When we devote ourselves to loving and devouring the Book once more, we will discover what this man discovered:
The book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers….Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy….It is the traveler’s map, the Pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword….Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully….It involves the highest responsibility, rewards the greatest labor, and condemns all who will trifle with its sacred contents. Walter Kroll
We need that Book. We need to get it off the coffee table and into our hearts. That is why we have been encouraging you to read, study, memorize and meditate upon God’s Word. It is the only way we will be able to withstand the pagan forces that are blowing across our land. We will either be conformed by the feelings orientated winds of the world or we will be transformed by the solid truths of God’s Word.
It is a different world than the one I grew up in. My faith and morals were supported by a society that was hospitable to Christian beliefs. That is no longer true. Our mainstream culture is not even tolerant of Christian views. It is aggressively attacking what we declare as truth. If we do not hide the Word in our hearts, neither our kids nor our selves will be able to survive. The nature of the battle is that intense. There will be no conscientious objectors. Either you fight with the Word of God in your heart or you will surrender a vital faith for the lies and substitutes found in the world.
A. Treasure: The heart satisfying Word of God.
We have been trying to show that there are great motivations for loving the Word of God. It is not just for defense but it is also for delight. The most satisfied and happy people who ever lived found their greatest joy in the Bible, for it was there that that they heard God speak to them. It was there that they not only learned they were sinners but also to their amazement found that God has provided the righteousness that he demands. They found that he sent his only Son to bring us to himself.
In the Word they find wisdom and purpose and direction. In the Bible they find hope and comfort and love. Their love for God’s Word could be summed up by this little poem:
“Though the covers are worn, and the pages are torn, and though places bear traces of tears; yet more precious than gold, is the book worn and old, that can shatter and scatter my fears.” Anonymous
That is what I am talking about. When you open the Bible you open treasure chest of promises that transform the soul and bring satisfaction to the deepest longings of the heart. The Psalmist discovered that and responded to God’s gift of His instructions by writing:
I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. Ps 119:14-16
That is also what I am talking about. Delight leads to devotion. Discovery leads to discipline. The more you see of God the more you savor God. God reveals His awesome glory most clearly in his Word to those who will pray: “Open my eyes that I might see the wonderful things in thy Law” [Psalm 119:18] No, he will not neglect the Word. Neither will you. It is too good to do that. So, the first motivation for getting into the Word of God is that it is the source of the greatest treasure and greatest pleasure men can seek or find: Jesus Christ.
B. Truth: The mind clarifying Word of God.
The second motivation is this: In the Bible you discover the truth. It tells you what was, is and shall be. It does not speculate nor does it theorize. It declares ultimate and eternal truth. What is so neat about the Bible is that is that any person can discover the fountain and drink from its delights. You don’t need a college education or a post-graduate degree. It can be studied and enjoyed by all ages and all classes of society. And what really makes it wonderful is that it isn’t just pleasing fairly tales or intriguing myths. What makes the story of Christmas and the story of Easter so wonderful and so pleasurable is the fact that those stories are true! They are not fairly tales meant to give us good feelings on Sunday. They bring reality into our lives and powerfully put us on the path to ultimate truth which will lead us to eternal life that leads us to pleasures evermore [Psalm 16:11].
There is so much truth there that you could spend the rest of your days studying and meditating and still not come to a full awareness of the mysteries of God that are contained in that one book. Pope Gregory the Great was right on hen he wrote: “The Bible is a stream where in the elephant may swim and the lamb my wade.” The treasures that are revealed there are as profound as they are simple. Here is one example: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” Now you can sing that song and then forget about it as a nice children’s ditty. Or, you can open your Bible and seriously study to see how profound that song is. If you do you will marvel at the love that “drew salvations plan” and be awed at the “grace that brought it down to man; and even be shocked “at the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary.” You will discover how God directed the events of history of God to bring that salvation about and stand amazed in His presence.
A critical and skeptical scientist was convinced that Christianity was devoid of ultimate truth, profound mystery and infinite riches. He tried to belittle Christianity by telling one of his students that it could be reduced to one simple statement: “Do unto others as you would do unto you.” The student responded: “Yes, I suppose you could do that if you also would reduce the study of the universe to the one simple statement: “Twinkle, twinkle little star how I wonder what you are.”
You see, there is no limit to what you can learn and what treasure you will discover if you approach God’s Word with an attitude of prayer and faith. You will have a foundation to build an awesome, god-glorifying and soul-satisfying life. There will be no wind that can blow over your life. There will be no lie that can deceive you. You will become like a tree planted by the streams of water which give fruit in their season. Your leaf will not whither. Everything you do will have the blessing of God upon it [Psalm 1]. Knowing and holding fast to the words of Christ will set you free [John 8:31]. Free to live fully and joyfully within the safe confines of God’s commands. That is why the Psalmist testified:
I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws.
I hold fast to your statutes, O LORD; do not let me be put to shame.
I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free. Ps 119:30-32
C. Triumph: The will fortifying Word of God.
So, do you want motivation to take up the Book? In it you will find awesome, satisfying joy for the heart. In it you will find life changing meditations for the mind. Both heart and mind will get caught up in the wonders of God revealed in his Book. And, if you delight in his laws and meditate on his precepts you can be assured of a third reason to pick it up, a Triumphant life. Isa 54:17
“No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD.”
The Word of God will so grip your mind and heart that you will be able to stand against every enemy boldly and confidently [Matthew 7:23-24]. Martin Luther lived in a time when the Bible’s authority was supplanted by myths and traditions. When he stood alone to call the church back to a full dependence upon God’s Word, he was brought to trial. He was ordered to recant. Facing his accusers, after a night of struggle with his fears, he rose to say to his gathered inquisitors: “Unless I am convinced by sacred writings or by evident reason, I cannot recant. For my conscience is held captive by the Word of God and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me.”
When the eyes of your heart are opened to the awesome truth of God’s Word something happens inside. You get a back bone where there used to be mush. You get hope where there used to be only despair. You get a plan where there used to be only confusion. You get delight when before there was only disappointment. You get clarity where before was only chaos. You get boldness where before there was only boredom. That is what the Psalmist meant when he wrote:
My zeal wears me out, for my enemies ignore your words.
Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them.
Though I am lowly and despised, I do not forget your precepts.
Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.
Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands are my delight. Your statutes are forever right; give me understanding that I may live. Ps 119:139-144
When God’s people have their eyes opened to the wonderful things in his law, they have new zeal. God’s promise brings joy. Even though they stand alone like a sore thumb they do not flinch. God’s precepts rule their minds and their hearts. Even troubles and distress cannot change their direction. Why? His Word rings true. They are right though the whole world says they are wrong. They make sense of life and evil and the emptiness that we see everywhere. They reveal a wonderful purpose. They promise an eternal destiny. So, they create a people who will not surrender their joy to those unfulfilled prophets who base their beliefs on lies and wishes and theories. They have found God’s truth in Jesus Christ and we won’t turn back!
II. A Famine of Hearing the Word
It only takes a few moments of reflection to admit that is not the church you see today. In spite of what God promises in his Word, that is not the character of his church. That is what Packer was referring to when he wrote the quote I included in your outline today.
“We know in our bones that we were made for certainty, and we cannot be happy without it. Yet, unlike the first Christians who pioneered the reformation, and the Puritan awakening, and the Evangelical revival, and the great missionary movement of the last century, we lack certainty. Why is this? We blame external pressures of modern secularism, but this is like Eve blaming the Serpent. The real problem is not in our circumstances, but in our selves. The truth is that we have grieved the Spirit, and God has withheld the Spirit. We stand under divine judgment. For two generations and more our churches have suffered a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. For us, too, the Word of God is in a real sense lost.” J. I. Packer
It is a terrible thing to be judged by God. It is a terrible thing to have the Word of God silenced because we have ceased to seriously listen. Amos describes the devastating results: “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. Men 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.” Amos 8:11-12
A. People stagger from sea to sea because they lack the soul satisfying nourishment of God’s Word.
Amos reveals the consequences that happen when the people of God refuse to listen to Him. When they refuse to listen he withholds His speaking. What that means is that the word fails to have its personal, powerful and practical affect upon our lives. And when the word is not powerfully present delusion fills the vacuum. Amos prophesies three distinct judgments that fall on a people when they refuse to listen and God withholds his personal word. The people stagger from sea to sea; they wander from north to east; and they pursue their passions but never find.
Let’s think about the first judgment. When the word of God is silent in our lives we stagger. We stagger because we are weak. We are weak because we are not being nourished. When you don’t eat what nourishes your body it is only a matter of time before you see its effects in the way you walk.
What Amos is trying to show is that when we turn from the nourishment of God’s Word we go looking for something else that will satisfy. We may be staggering but because of the blindness of our hearts we continue to drink from the same well that left us thirsty and sick. It makes no sense to continue to do that but sin makes no sense. It is like a person whose body is getting weaker because they are not eating the right food setting out to improve their health by living on ding dongs, Twinkies and Baby Ruths. It just won’t happen. It may taste good going down but the staggering is going to increase.
You can see a perfect illustration of that truth all around us. We have a culture that has everything it wants and nothing that satisfies. That is what provoked Walker Percy to ask:
“Why does man feel so sad in the twentieth century? Why does man feel so bad in the very age when, more than in any other age, he has succeeded in satisfying his needs and making the world over for his own use?” We are like junkies thinking the next fix will satisfy but it only results in disappointment and an insatiable desire for more.
Now, I want to show you from Romans God’s involvement in what is happening right here in our own country. In Romans 1, Paul is showing how society got to be in such a horrible state. In verse 16 he affirms his confidence in the power of the gospel to save all those who believe in Jesus for their salvation. Then he shows how that salvation is accomplished, not by man but by God: A righteousness from God saves us. In other words, God demands that all people who come to him be righteous. But, by sending his Son to die for us, taking our sins upon him self and imputing his righteousness to us, God gives to us what he demands. That is why it is called grace.
Then in verse 18 he tells us that God’s wrath is being poured out on all wickedness and unrighteousness. That is why we need the gospel. That is why we need righteousness. We would be destroyed if God didn’t act on our behalf. No one can survive God’s wrath. But, then Paul goes on to describe the form that wrath takes. The wrath he describes is not the end time wrath of God poured out in final judgment. He describes the wrath that is being poured out now on sinful, rebellious societies now.
What he shows is that God is actively pouring out his wrath on wickedness in a very surprising way. Three times he will make reference to people exchanging something of the glory of God for something infinitely inferior. God’s response is to turn them over to something as a judgment. Let us look at the first one. “They exchanged the glory of God for images…and God gave them over to the sinful desires of their hearts.” [Romans 1:22]
When men turned away from the glory of God to worship the things that he made, God does something very surprising. He doesn’t squish them. He gives them over to what they have chosen. In other words he removes his restraints and allows them to give themselves to what they want. It is like he says, “Do you want sin more than my glory? Have at it! Do you want more? Go for it. I will not restrain you.” Why would God do that? First, that is the way he is pouring out his wrath. Second, he is allowing us to pursue more of our sinful passions because he knows that it will never satisfy, never bring joy. So, he gives them over to the sinful desires of their hearts. The result is a people who stagger from east to west looking for more of what will never satisfy.
B. People wander from north to east because they have found no solid truth to build their lives upon.
The second consequence of a famine of hearing the Word is a people who wander from north to east looking for something that sounds solid so that they can settle down and enjoy their lives. We live in a world that has denied any ultimate truth. The modern world had faith in reason and science until two world wars crushed any hope of a man made utopia. Now men are cut away from any meta-narrative to look for one that comes from within. Where biblical man would declare: “Thus saith the Lord!” The postmodern man would declare: “Whatever!”
The result is we have no center. We have billions of persons all trying to make the universe orbit around themselves. Being true to one’s self is all that is left. Tolerance of every other belief, no matter if it makes no sense, is the great good. Intolerance of anyone’s “personal” truth, no matter how perverse, is the great evil. The result is chaos, loneliness, and shameful lusts.
That is what Paul defines in his second exchange found in Romans 1:25. He reveals the second stage in the demise of a society by writing: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie…and God gave them over to shameful lusts.” When a people turn away from the glorious truth that is found in God he turns men over to shameful lusts. The rock solid truth that holds all life together is the Word of God. That Word of revelation reveals a God whose infinite riches are meant to bring complete joy and pleasure to the thirsty soul of his people.
But, when men choose to believe a lie, that worshipping and giving our selves to the pursuit of things and images is more valuable than the seeking to know and enjoy the pleasures of God, he turns men over to shameful lusts. They wander from north to east because they have forsaken the solid truth that is found only in Jesus Christ.
Turn on TV. Pick up any magazine. Go to the movies. Look at the philosophies that underlie what you are hearing and seeing. What I am going to say now may up set some of you but I think I am right. A man or woman of God can never turn their minds off, even when seeking to be entertained. If you have the Word in your heart you will always be seeing and hearing things that those without the Word will ignore.
When you are watching a movie you will say something like this: “That is not biblical. That comes from an earthly perspective. That advocates far eastern mysticism. That makes light of biblical truth. That advocates ungodly sex. That is pushing greed and selfishness. That says how you look on the outside means more than what you are on the inside. That preaches to do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t bother anybody else. That teaches that there are no ultimate rights or wrongs.” And you say, “That would destroy our goal. We are trying to get away from it all. We are just trying to have a little fun. Don’t be so serious.”
And my response is: I don’t know how you can be a person of God’s Word and not be serious all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I believe you have every reason to laugh and enjoy your self and pursue pleasure with an intensity that would rival the worst partier in Isla Vista. God gives a greater, longer lasting kind of pleasure, with no hangovers and no regrets. I just don’t see how you can turn off the truth of God that reigns, hidden in your heart when you enter a theater or insert a DVD? For a godly person, nothing is trivial because God made all things.
To be a person of the Word does not mean that you cannot enjoy the special effects, or get “weepy” eyed over Lassie making his way home, or enjoy a wonderful love story, or enjoy a great victory over evil by the good guys, but it won’t happen with your mind turned off. A turned off mind is receptive to hidden, emotion driven “truths that destroy”. And the more our society moves from the God centered truths that once guided our culture the more at risk a “turned off” mind is. We only have to look at some of our friends and families who once claimed to be Christians but now have been swept up into shameful lusts to see how crucial it is to shape our lives around God’s Word. If we don’t, we will become wanderers too.
C. People passionately seek some new insight or experience that will bring meaning and joy to their lives but they find none.
The third judgment that falls on a wordless society is that they become increasing devoted in their search for something, some experience, some new idea, some new discovery, that will bring relief to inflamed appetites. When you lose truth, when cut away the anchor, when you get rid of the center, there is no peace. Chaos reigns. Here is what G. K. Chesterton said: “When men stop believing in God they do not believe less and less but they believe in anything.” [G. K. Chesterton] Unbelief takes form in the weirdest kinds of cults and beliefs and the most inhuman of practices and passions.
Going back to what Paul wrote in Romans 1, we see the third dark exchange: “They exchanged the knowledge of God for ignoring God…and God gave them over to a depraved mind. [Romans 1:28f]
The first exchange was turning from the worship of the glorious God to the worship of images of things made by that God. The second was exchanging the truth that God is the all-satisfying One for the lie that I know more about what is best for me than my Creator does. The final movement is the exchange is of the knowledge of God for a deliberate ignoring of his sovereignty over all.
You can see that happening all around us. We are trying to take any reference of God from any public exposure: Christmas, coins, the salute to the flag, prayers at school; chaplains in the Senate and armed forces, and books at school. Even a teacher who would include in his curriculum quotes of statements by our founding fathers like George Washington, John Adams, and Patrick Henry, gets called o the carpet because those quotes has references to belief in God and the Bible. That is where we find our society today.
What does God do in such situations? He says, “If that is what you want, a society with no God and no ultimate truth and no moral authority, then I will remove my restraints. Go for it.” He gives them over to a depraved mind. That is a mind that not only has no moral restraints but has no categories in which to sort right and wrong out. Listen to the debates on TV concerning the shootings, and the fights, and abortion, and marriage breakdown, and teen suicide, and the rebellion of children, and drug abuse. They have no foundational categories to refer to. When your reigning belief is “whatever;” or, “do your own thing,” how can you make moral judgments?
So, we have a society that is “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. [Rom 1:29-31]
As `bad as that list of twenty one sins looks, the real depth of depravity is seen in what Paul reveals in the next sentences: “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” [Rom 1:32] Here is what he said. Although, deep down, in their hearts, below their conscious thoughts, they know that what they are doing is not only wrong, it will result in their death, they continue on. In other words, forgetting God they commit suicide in their passionate pursuit of sin. But, that is not the final result. Paul says that they become a host of Dr. Kevorkians. They not only commit suicide by their deliberate acts of rebellion, they help and encourage others to join them. That is a society that is suffering the full wrath of God and receiving the natural consequences of famine of the Word.
That my friends, should sober us up! Peter’s admonition is for us today: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled;” [1 Peter 1:13] and, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. [1 Peter 4:7]; “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” [1 Peter 2:1-3]
III. How to bring health and healing to our land:
“If we abide by the principles taught in the bible, our country will go on prospering…but if we and our posterity neglect its instruction and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.”
A. We must be a people who passionately seek the truth found in God’s Book. [Psalm 25:4-5]
“In a post-Christian world the Bible is not denounced, debated, or defended. The Bible is simply neglected as a castoff from our past.” Walter Kroll
B. We must be a people who uncompromisingly live the truth found in God’s Book. [Joshua 24:15]
“Our world needs… A Church that is biblically faithful; doctrinally shaped; morally tuff; intellectually vibrant; buoyant with faith that can lay hold of the promises of God in the face of circumstantial discomfort; and see God’s great power at work.” Michael Horton
C. We must be a people who boldly spread the truth found in God’s Book. [2 Timothy 2:4-5]
“Preaching is hazy; heads are muddled; hearts fret; doubts drain strength; uncertainty paralyzes action. For two generations our churches have suffered from a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” J. I. Packer
D. We must be a people who confidently defend the truth found in God’s Book. [Ephesians 6:19-20]
“My center is giving way, my right is retreating. Situation excellent. I shall attack.”
Field Marshall Ferdinand Foucault.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Dr. Gary Rieben. © Give Me That Book. Email: Grieben@aol.com. Website: www.GiveMeThatBook.org. Postal: GMTB | P.O. Box 1045| La Quinta, CA 92247 USA | 619.829.2390
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