Give Me That BOOK: An Introduction
When the renowned theologian Karl Barth visited America he held a widely reported news conference. One of the reporters asked this famous scholar what the most important lesson he had discovered in his many years of studying the nature and characteristics of God. He is reported to have responded: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”
I think Barth’s confession is as profound as it is simple. A great scholar with years of training in the discipline of study can marshal all of his resources and devote them to the study of God in His Book, the Bible, and never exhaust the infinite riches of Jesus Christ that are revealed there. At the same time, in the midst of the most awesome mystery man has ever encountered, the simple truth of the Bible is clear enough for an uneducated, “untouchable” laborer in India to grasp and enjoy: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so!”
This morning I invite you to join me in the beginning of a great adventure. The goal of our journey is to discover and delight in the awesome beauty that is found in Jesus Christ. If you choose to go along with us I am confident that you will come to gain a whole new life changing love for God’s Holy Word: The Bible. We affirm that the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him for ever. It is the words of the Bible that show us how to do that. In His Book God speaks to His people. This Book contains the very words of God to you and me. In it He reveals His glory. In it we will discover a spectacular treasure that will compels us to sell all lesser things for the joy of having the one thing that really satisfies. In the pages of God’s Book we will find the path to life. If we follow that path we will at the end be ushered into the blessed presence of our Lord where we will enjoy awesome pleasures at His right hand forever more. [Ps 16:11]
I think I am right to observe that few of us actually love God’s Word. We read it more with a motive of duty and resolve rather than from a motive of delight and expectation. This is not surprising. In our natural state we cannot see the glorious beauty of God revealed there. We desperately need the help of the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of our hearts so that we can see and savor the face of Jesus Christ recorded there. Unless we continually cry out to God to open the eyes of our hearts by the Holy Spirit, the pages of the Bible will never be the source of divine transformation it was meant to be.
One of our biggest problems is that we have been taught that the Bible is mostly religious literature. It has little relevance to the struggles of every day life. The Bible is OK if you want to know how to get to heaven but not sufficient to provide victory over depression, anxiety and fear, while here. It is OK for finding security when you die but it really can’t compete with the comfort you get when you have a big bank account. And, it is OK if you want to know about spiritual things, but if you are dealing with practical life decisions we would be better served if we turned to the professionals and experts of this world.
I hope that attitude will be drastically changed. My prayer is that from this study we all will come to see just how personal, powerful and practical the Book is. I want us to fall so in love with God’s Word that we build or lives around it. I believe that if we devoted ourselves to hearing God speak through His Word, we would find it to be our great treasure; our source of ultimate truth; our means to wonderful triumph. In hiding the treasure and building on the truth we will come to experience an awesome God glorifying, soul satisfying triumphant life. If we as a church would do so, God would so bless this church so that we would become a world wide center for biblical instruction and discipleship training.
If the Holy Spirit of God would just answer our prayers to open our eyes so we could see the awesome life changing treasure that is found there; if He would just enable us to not only hear the words that are recorded there but do them, we would be transformed into a powerful demonstration of the faithfulness of our God. And into our church would flow a steady steam of hungry and hurting people seeking health and wholeness. The personal, powerful, and practical promises found in God’s Book can do that.
As an introduction to our journey this morning I would like to give you a testimony of how I got to where I am this morning. I was born into a Pentecostal preacher’s home. My father was saved at the age of sixteen. Apparently he was a wild farmer boy from Wisconsin judging by the stories he used to tell. My favorite one was how he used to stand on the seat of an old Harley while speeding at 60 miles and hour over dirt roads of Wisconsin farmlands. The scars on his legs revealed that he took many a spill, but God spared his life…and I am glad he did.
His early days were not all fun and games, however. His father died in a landslide when he was thirteen and he became the main provider for this large family. He also had a serious heart condition that was aggravated by asthma. Dad received Christ at an old tent revival meeting at the age of 16. He never talked much about that but he did talk about what happened the next day. He picked up the Bible and read it for the first time with his new eyes. He read John 14:1: “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me.” Now my father never went to school or seminary, so you have to excuse him for what he concluded from that passage. His new simple faith reasoned, “If God is great and good, and His Bible is true, then what He says in its pages are true. When God makes a promise He doesn’t lie. So, if God says that my heart should not be troubled then it shouldn’t be troubled.”
He believed God’s Word. He prayed that God would heal his heart disease. Yes, he did badly exegete the passage. And, yes, God still healed him. Simple trust in Christ’s words, even though he took the scripture out of context, brought forth a divine miracle. My father never had another day of heart trouble until just a few days before it stopped working, at the age of 77. God continued to do great things though his simple faith in his promises found in God’s Word.
My dad also read that all Christians were to go to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel. So, if that is what the Bible says that was what he would do. Without any training or any official approval he started preaching to anyone who would listen at the age of 18. He traveled throughout Wisconsin starting 13 churches. By the time I came along he had settled into a twelve year pastorate. We saw a lot of strange people come into our church in those days. My dad read in the Bible that we should go to the highways and byways to find the lost. So, dad drove a bus into the fringes of the society and brought in some of the biggest “losers” of that day. But dad believed God’s Word. God kept His promises. Today, if you go to that church, you will still see the children of alcoholics and wife beaters and itinerant workers fully educated, responsible citizens and some are leaders in the community. Several others are spread around the world in various places of ministry. All of this happened because God honored His Word and blessed the simple faith of a simple people who dared to trust and obey His words.
Above his pulpit in Muskegon Michigan was a scripture that I still see in my mind. It read: “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” It was a declaration of what can happen when simple people trust God’s promises. When you really believe God’s Word and love His Book, you can “do great things for God and can expect great things from God.”
My mother had the same faith. Even now, at 95, she is an avid reader and student of the Bible. When I was growing up she was the superintendent of the junior department, which would include 4th-6th graders. I still remember the scriptures that we memorized in those Sunday School classes: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path;” “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against God.” When we learned the twenty-third Psalm we got candy. When we learned John 3:16 we got gum. You know the routine. We were rewarded for learning God’s Word. But through it all we received something far more valuable than sweets. We received the “sweet” truths that would last a life time and extend even into eternity. I learned then that the Bible is the most important book ever written. I discovered that Jesus spoke in that Book. In it he I heard him say He loved even ornery kids like me.
When I eventually sensed a call to be a pastor I knew there was only one source that could provide me with the wisdom and the truth to enable me to feed and lead Christ’s sheep. It was the Bible. I determined that if I was to feed the sheep I had better get the utensils that would help me to prepare healthy meals for the flock. So, I decided to go to seminary [Some would call it the cemetery, with good reason]. I was not prepared for what I was to hear there.
My first class was an Old Testament survey class. The professor began to show us how naïve we were to think that God wrote that Book. For instance, he declared, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible were not written by Moses, as I was taught in Sunday school, but by some committee called J. E. P. D. The Bible was really not God’s words to men but man’s ideas about God. I was shaken. Then I learned from my “cemetery profs” that German scholars had even raised serious questions about the person of Jesus and the Church’s claims as to what he actually said and did.
But in the midst of such academic speculation, God gave me grace. I remembered the faith of my dad. Also, God sent me help from a strange source: a New Testament professor!
He was just as much a scholar as my OT professor, but when he opened the Word and began to talk of Jesus, there were tears in his eyes. Before he would exegete John 3, he would ask for the Living Lord’s guidance. Jesus seemed real close to him. I saw in him serious scholarship and deep faith were not incompatible. I learned God was just as concerned about having a godly head as he was in us having a godly heart. After all, He is the Great Thinker of all things. Men like George Eldon Ladd, William La Sor, George Bromley and David Hubbard; and authors like C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton were able to demonstrate to me a deep love for Jesus while maintaining a passionate pursuit for truth.
The place where I found my greatest struggle was in the Pastoral care classes. These classes are meant to help prepare the pastor to counsel struggling believers. However, in these classes we closed the Bible and opened the works of psychology. Atheist authors took the place of the inspired writers of the Scriptures. It wasn’t taught explicitly but it was taught implicitly, that if you really want to help people you must know psychology. The Bible was not sufficient to get to the really serious problems.
Interestingly enough, I aced those courses. They were the easiest classes I took in all of my post graduate studies. The counseling technique I was learning was a snap. I learned that you didn’t have to tell the counselors anything. In fact we were encouraged to give no direction. We were just there to listen and to be a sounding board. Later I would learn that the underlying foundation of that technique was the belief that every man has within himself the answers to his own problems. Deep inside man is good. All we had to do as counselors is to help someone get in touch with his feelings and he would come to his own, right solution.
So, we were told to say things like, “Well, what do you want?” or, “How do you feel about that?” and “Uh huh, and hmm, and tell me more.” But we were not to tell them what to do. That was the one “No, No.” This was to be non-directive, client centered counseling. The counselor was there to facilitate not direct. He was there to listen not speak. The counselee could solve his own problem.
Well, friends, that was not the kind of counseling that my preacher dad practiced. He was considerably more direct. He did not have the same trust in man’s goodness. He would say things like: “Your problems are not your feelings but your sin. The Lord has spoken in His Word. You must obey His commands. Repent and obey His Word. Turn or burn” In other words, obedience to God’s Word was the only way to blessed peace and joy and wholeness. Other counseling only deals with surface. The many different techniques can help with symptoms and even help you feel better, but only God’s Word can bring lasting freedom and joy. His favorite phase, the one we put on his tombstone was: “Why live in God’s world without God?” He believed that.
An interesting thing happened while I struggled through these classes. Three of my psyche professors were graduates of the University of Chicago. One of them took me aside and asked me if I would be interested in going to his alma mater to study to be a psychologist, seeing I seemed to have a knack for it. He and his friends would help me get into the program there. My first reaction was “cool.” Then, almost immediately I heard a voice inside saying: “He thinks that in order to help people, to really help troubled people, you have to be an expert in psychology. They are wrong” I said, “no thank you” to their very kind and generous offer.
All through seminary, through my Master of Divinity program and my Doctor of ministry program, I faced this prejudice. When it came to talking about helping hurting people the principles of the Bible were neglected and the principles of psychology were exalted. The solutions found in the Bible were considered simplistic. We were told we needed the scientific theories of men, founded by atheists, rather than the truth of God’s Word to bring healing to the soul. Many instructors even suggested that Pastors should never counsel but refer all counseling to the experts. Today, because of this, most ministers feel inadequate in this area. They think that personal, powerful and practical Word of God is just insufficient.
I think the most revealing moment for me, when the seriousness of the issue became crystal clear for me, was in my doctoral program in a class called “Marketing the Church.” Our instructor, a good man, was showing us how we could adopt the strategies of Madison Avenue to grow the church. After about three days of that I just had to ask a burning question. I asked, “Excuse me sir, but I wonder what the apostle Paul would say to this marketing approach of selling the gospel? After all, when he entered the city of Corinth he committed himself to one technique: the foolishness of preaching; and one message: “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
It was an awkward moment, but not a long one. A young man sitting two persons to my right raised his hand and asked the prof if he could answer my question. Turning to me he said something to this affect: “You know, someone can’t even believe in Christ until they are self actualized.” I looked at him and said, “Do you really believe that?” He said, “Yes.” I just shook my head. What was really sad was that not one of the other 40 Pastors felt like I did. They said nothing.
Some of you might be wondering what that young man was talking about? The term self-actualization comes largely from the writings of Abraham Maslow. He believed that all men are motivated by unmet needs. Inside, all men are basically good and trustworthy. What causes problems in society is when their needs go unmet. He devised set up a ladder that described what he called “man’s hierarchy of needs.” He grouped all of the needs of men into five stages. At the bottom was Physical needs [like food, air, water, etc.]; next were safety needs [security and the absence of fear], next love needs [the need to belong and to be needed], then esteem needs [the need to accomplish something and then receive admiration for the task]. If you had all of those needs provided you could finally reach the top rung of the ladder, “self actualization” [Where we become “all we can be”].
Bible people can easily see problems in Maslow’s theory. The most obvious error is his assumption that man is good. The Bible declares that man’s nature has been corrupted by sin. He is dead in his sin and incapable of making himself good. The Bible teaches that he needs a Savior. Second, Maslow himself came to the conclusion that only 1% of all people actually reach the level of self-actualization. If Maslow was right, then only 1% of all of the people that ever lived could expect to find eternal life in Jesus.
But the real problem with Maslow’s theory was his tenet that you cannot move up a step in the ladder until you have had the lower need met. What this means for world wide evangelism seemed obvious to me. The starving man in the Sudan; the wife who constantly lives in fear of an abusive husband; the promiscuous girl who seeks love through sexual favors; and bankrupt businessman who has failed to be successful in his chosen field of commerce, all, will never be able to experience the forgiveness and cleansing and love that Jesus the Savior offers them because they never reach the level of self-actualization. They will never “be all that their Creator and Redeemer designed them to be.”
I confess that I was duly impressed with the claims of psychology. Like most pastors and most psychologists, I wanted to help people. The equation of psychology with science and medicine was pretty heavy artillery against a preacher’s kid who wanted to believe in the power of God’s Word. I was on the fence a long time. There were times when I read much more psychology than I did theology for I wanted to know the truth.
Then I met two men. One was named Jay Adams. I met him though his writings and then later in his seminars. He was no dummy. He had the degrees to back up what he said and what he said was shocking. He said that all believers were competent to counsel. He got his information from Paul’s words. “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. [Rom 15:14]
Then, I met John Broger through the Self-Confrontation Manual. John also had impeccable qualifications. He was a graduate of Vanguard University, a missionary to the Far East; one of the founders of the Far East Broadcasting Company; Director of the Voice of the Armed Forces at the Pentagon; invited to be a member of President Reagan’s cabinet; a recipient of the Congressional Award for Civilian Service; the National Association of Evangelical’s Man of the Year Award; etc.
While Director of the Armed Forces Communication he had opportunity to counsel many of the top brass in their marriages. Officers from around the world would show up at the Pentagon when they heard that John was having a seminar. Out of what God did though that one man’s confidence in God’s Word was birthed what became known as the Biblical Counseling Foundation.
It was my exposure to the seminars that gave me a new confidence in the personal, powerful, and practical Word of God. Along with Bracy Ball, we served on its board and traveled in the USA and Africa and Europe holding seminars proclaiming the sufficiency of God’s Word. Again and again we have seen God use obedience to His Word bring joy and freedom to those who had no hope as God’s Word has been declared.
I can tell you story after story of how God has turned lives around and saved marriages and brought song to the lives of struggling pilgrims when they heard and obeyed the commands and promises of the Bible. Time and again I have had Christian counselees come into my office without hope after visiting multiple experts in the field of counseling, many of them Christian counselors, and be surprised at the clarity and practicality of God’s Word. It is an awesome privilege to be a messenger for God in those moments.
Now here is the awesome part of this: You are competent to counsel. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and you have God’s Word in your heart and in your hands you can stand with struggling friends to declare the power of God in His Word. Jesus Himself is present when ever we declare His truths in His name. As we pray that God would open our eyes to see the wonderful things in His Law; as we believe and live in them; God’s blessings will flow down upon us and through us to others.
Now it time for the sermon. Just kidding. In the remaining time we have together I want to show you why I have entitled our work, “Give me that BOOK.” The title comes by one of the men that God used mightily in the 19th century, John Wesley. Here is what this giant of faith wrote:
I am a creature of the day, a passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit, coming from God, and returning to God; just hovering over the great gulf; a few months hence and I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing- the way to heaven… God himself has condescended to teach me the way. He has written it down in a book. O give me that Book! At any price, give me the book of God! John Wesley
I. Food for Life!
The most important thing that we need in life is this: The Word of God. God speaks and reveals Himself and His plan. God speaks and the universe comes into being. God speaks and we see His glory in the Word of God, Jesus Christ. God speaks and we are given the faith to believe in the One who he sent. God speaks in our hearts and we are made new and the old things are passed away. There is nothing more important than the Word of God for our salvation and our joy.
A. Feast: Satisfaction and Joy!
That is what Jesus meant in the dessert when tempted by the devil. Jesus had just spent 40 days depriving him self by fasting. It is when he is most hungry the Devil comes to tempt him into changing stones into bread. Jesus answers these awesome and decisive words: “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Matt 4:4
First we see that Jesus thought it important to memorize God’s Word. Like the Psalmist he knew that our great weapon against the enemy’s subtle lies is the God’s Word written in our hearts. Second, Jesus referred to the written Word. God didn’t just speak. He had men write down his words so that they would be available in precise form. When God speaks he speaks in words and sentences and paragraphs that have precise meanings because He is a precise God. Truth matters to God.
The enemy knows that. That is how he seduced the first couple. He used a little of truth and covered the hook of death with it. He will do the same thing with us. Like Jesus we need to know what God has said in His Word and what it means in clear and unmistakable clarity. Later we will see how we can accurately interpret scripture. For every good result of taking a scripture out of context, like my father’s blessing, there are fifty harmful results. God speaks to be understood and obeyed.
Then, see what Jesus says about the words of God. They are the most important thing we can devour for they are life. If we do not have a passion for God’s Word found in the scriptures we will be weak and anemic Christians. We will be at the mercy of every fad and every trendy win that blows. Advertisers and Madison Avenue will blow us around like a reed in the wind. But if we eat God’s Word we will be like a tree planted by streams of living water. All that we do will be prosperous in God’s eyes. So, Jesus proclaims to us that there is no need more crucial to life than hearing and obeying God’s Word.
B. Famine: Confusion and frustration.
Amos, explains what happens when the Word of God is no longer at the center of a nation, people or individual.
“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
When there is a famine of the word of the Lord, men stagger and women search but do not find that for which they were made to live upon. Confusion reigns. Passions rule. Rulers dominate. Husbands beat wives. Wives are unfaithful. Children disrespect their parents. Society becomes litigious where every body is suing for their rights and for their advantage. The poor are forgotten. The children abused. Emotions shatter. Drugs become epidemic.
The only solution for us and our marriages and our families and our emotions and our nation is to hear the Word of the Lord. There is nothing more important than that. Nothing!
II. Give me That BOOK: An Introduction [Psalm 119]
A. It is TREASURE:
In its pages we discover and delight in the awesome glory of God.
Some would say, “OK, you convinced me. If we have no choice I will pick up God’s Word. Friend if you thinking that way you are missing the point of the Word. You are missing the purpose of God’s plan. God did not declare His glory so that we could do him a favor or reluctantly give Him His due. No! He spoke so that we would see His glory and rejoice. His Word is not the place of regret and boredom. Listen to the psalmist:
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
The eyes of the Psalmist were opened to see the beauty of Jesus Christ. He rejoiced as one who finds great riches. He meditated on God’s precepts as one would gaze at a Pacific sunset with its yellows and blues and oranges filling the sky with wonder. He delights in the decrees as you would looking at the Grand Canyon for the first time. Awesome! Wow! Cool dude! Tears! Laughter! Joy! Excitement! Peace! Deep satisfaction! The emotions are fully engaged as well as the mind as you see the glorious works of our Creator God. There is no “ho hum” when our eyes are open to the splendor of Christ in the Word.
Lest you miss the point, when you open the Word you are opening your heart to Christ. He is there to speak through what has been written. It is possible to read and even study and miss the whole purpose of the Book. That is what Jesus meant when he said to the religious scholars of his day:
You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. John 5:39-40
B. It is TRUTH: In its pages we find the way to profound freedom.
It is not just the heart that is engaged. It is the mind too. There is truth in spite of what your professor is saying. All is not relative. All religions are not the same. There is a way of truth and that is found in the Book that the God of truth wrote. Again we hear the psalmist say,
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
It is the truth of Jesus, not the theories of men that will set you free. Jesus declared:
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth , and the truth will set you free.”
When you hear and hold fast to what Jesus has said and do what he commands, you will experience a freedom you were made for. Stop looking everywhere else. Open your Bible.
C. It is TRIUMPH: In its pages we discover the strength to win.
Finally, whatever you are struggling with; whatever is defeating you; they are not more powerful than the Word of God. God does not keep us from battles. He prepares us for battles. Affliction and tragedy is the environment where God’s glory is declared. When we have the Word we have the power to be victorious in any situation.
Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures. Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you. If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life. Ps 119:89-93
Here is how Jesus summed it up. This is one of my favorite counseling scriptures.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. Matt 7:24-25
The secret is not in hearing. That is not enough. It is found in doing. When we trust God’s word enough to seek it out and then obey it in the face of struggle and disappointment and ridicule and pain and even betrayal, we win. God will see to it. The winds may blow, but our house, our life will stand as a testimony to the faithfulness of God. God will be glorified in our faith. And we will be blessed as we experience His resurrection power.
III. Homework: How can we increase our appetite for God’s Word? [Through meditation of Psalm 1]
“The Word of God is my constant companion. As a believer for fifty-six years, I have tested God’s Word and found it true. In more than five decades I have not encountered one situation in which I have not been able to turn to God’s Word for comfort, wisdom, guidance, joy, and blessing. At eighty one years of age, I would rather have the Bible on my shelf and in my heart than any other book written book because it contains the message of God. It is a love letter to me and to all other human beings, who are created in His image. Not only have I been enriched through the reading of the Bible, but I have also seen it change lives of multitude of people.” Bill Bright: [The late founder of Campus Crusade]
A. Pray that God will open your eyes so that you can see the glory of God shining though Psalm 1.
Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. Ps 119:18
B. Devote each day to meditation upon Psalm 1.
Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders. Ps 119:27
C. Return the promises of Psalm 1 to God in prayer.
May your unfailing love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise then I will answer the one who taunts me, for I trust in your word. Ps 119:41-42
D. Live each day for the joy of declaring His glory.
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to your word.
10 I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, O LORD;<b
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