Famine is a serious problem. We know the extreme dangers of famine in Africa, for example. Many are working to alleviate it. But suppose you were told that we have a severe famine in the U.S. You wouldn’t believe it, especially considering the many campaigns against obesity. It’s true. We are in a severe famine. The prophet Amos wrote, “‘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.'”(8:11) Statistics show that Biblical literacy in the U.S. is at an all time low, even among church goers. Many churches no longer preach from the Scriptures, opting for social causes or life affirming messages. We are the richest, most well fed country in the world, but are starving for the truth of God’s Holy Word. Even further, we don’t recognize it. I can’t really see this condition changing. All I can say is that it must not be so among us. We must feed daily upon God’s Word. Meditate upon it. Think about what God is saying to our day. It is the only real food for life.
The Prophet Amos spoke to the prosperous Northern Kingdom of Israel. He told them, “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.”(8:11) Our country has a large majority who say they are Christian. We have the largest percentage of people attending church each week of any country in the world. Yet, surveys of Biblical knowledge reveal pitiful results. Many say they honor a book of which they have virtually no knowledge. It is not sufficient to wave it in the air as a good luck charm. Within 40 years of Amos’ prophecy the Northern Kingdom was destroyed. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”(Matthew 4:4) People may have all the appearances of an active physical life, but without the recreating power of God’s Word they die. I would hope that some could begin to see the Bible as a book of grace, spoken by our Father in the deepest love, seeking the best for us all, and then long to know more of Him.
In talking with people about reading the Bible some will respond, “Once you’ve read the Bible through what’s the point of reading it again. You already know what’s there.” They were treating the Bible like a common novel. Once you’ve got the general story, that’s it. Put it aside. Yesterday I wrote about seeing the overall account the Bible gives from beginning to end. That is important, but there is also so much more. That’s what makes the Bible unique. I’ve been reading or hearing the Bible read for more than 70 years, and still find it a thrill. I’ve listened to Jewish Christians pointed out a truth about the Old Testament that I had not seen before. It was like finding a new gold coin in a corner of the house. Our pastors, whose lives are spent in Bible study, get together annually for further lectures and discussions about God’s Word. That is the point. It is God’s Word, and God cannot be exhausted. Genesis tells us that God walked with man in the Garden before the rebellion. They talked together. Jesus walked for many hours with His disciples. They talked together. God has continually desired to share truths of His life with the people He created. That has not stopped, down to this very day, in your very life. Stay in the Scriptures. It is a treasure to be mined.
I am currently reading a novel. As with all stories it begins introducing the characters involved, and setting out the plot. It progresses through a variety of twists and turns, but heads to a climax. The events involved are usually resolved, the characters brought to a completion of their personal stories for good or bad. In other words there is a complete flow of the story from beginning to end. The Bible is like that as well. It is the greatest of stories, better to say true accounts, of God’s creation and redemption of mankind. The Bible is a long book. Certainly not read in one sitting, and we sometimes get sidetracked by names or events we find confusing. We need to see the complete story of the Bible from creation and man’s first rebellion from God, through God’s work with Israel, our redemption in Christ, the Gospel brought to the world through the Church, and to the promised final completion of God’s plan in the return of Jesus, and the fullness of God’s Kingdom. It is one account from Genesis through Revelation of God’s hand working for the good of the people He created for His purpose. We should have that full account firmly in mind, just as we would be able to tell the plot and flow of a good novel we’ve read. This is the greatest story ever written. One that includes us, and is about the content and future of our very lives.
We speak of hard and soft water meaning its degree of mineral content. Or hard and soft wood meaning its density and workability. There are also hard and soft people. We could think about personalities and how easy they are to get along with – or not. But I’m thinking more of teachability. Some have preconceived ideas so ingrained that they are unable to hear any truth to the contrary. This was Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees in general, but His words did touch something in the hearts of a few that rang true and changed them. I think there is a difference between conviction and teachability. One does need a framework for determining what is true for their life, a framework that cannot be yielded. My framework is Holy Scripture and the Holy Spirit. Both the written and the spoken word. The receptor for that truth is not just the intellect, but the heart. We are spiritual beings created in the image of God. We are to communicate Spirit to spirit, even as the two men on the road to Emmas hearing the risen Lord Jesus speak. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”(Luke 24:32) We are called to meditate on God’s Word and allow the Holy Spirit to bring the truth of that word into our life. That is teachability.
There is an account in II Kings 19 about Elijah fleeing from Jezebel for fear of his life. He hides himself, and cries out to the Lord, “I’ve had enough Lord. Take my life away…”(vs.4) We see the problems of the world, as we spoke about yesterday. We see the persecutions happening to Christians around the world. We see no end to the political correctness leading our nation in the wrong direction. We can feel like Elijah, “I’ve had enough Lord.” In the midst of it all the Lord ministered to Elijah and finally assured him, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”(vs.19) We need to remind ourselves of this. The Lord has not abandoned His world, and we are a lot more than 7000. We are Lutherans, and Baptists, and Catholics, and independents. We have our different doctrines, but we stand under the authority of the one Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Head. We are one body of believers in Him. We don’t know all of the others. The 7000 didn’t either. Each one often felt alone, but they weren’t. We are a body of Christian believers, encouraged to stand strong in our faith in Jesus Christ. We are not an army to bear arms, but to take up the “Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God”.(Ephesians 6:17) We look beyond our differences to stand together in prayer. With the full armor of God we are able to stand. And more than stand, we reach out in love to many around us who are hurting in this broken world. Remind yourself often that you are a part of a vast company believers who know the victory we have in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many people treat the Bible as a loose leaf notebook. They are able to remove and discard pages they don’t like. By the time you get a group of people doing this you end up with a pretty thin volume. The moral teachings of Jesus, and His call to love others is great, but the rest we do away with. There are parts of the Bible I don’t like, and parts I don’t understand, but that really underlines the veracity of the whole. It is a real book, about real people with all of their sins, and about a Lord, our Lord, who has worked through many centuries to redeem them. The Bible is one book given to us by the guidance of God, the Holy Spirit. We do call it the Word of God. Even the parts I don’t like give me instruction. Even the parts that show people’s sins become a mirror for my own life showing my need for the Saviour. The Bible is not a loose leaf book. It is one whole text from our Lord reaching out to us in grace and love.
Many people have trouble taking the Bible to be God’s Word. They will point to some of God’s laws or His judgments on people in the Old Testament, or instructions for marriage and family order in the New, and say they can’t be from a good and loving God. But as soon as we start picking and choosing passages we like or don’t like we get ourselves in trouble. The Bible is one narrative, from Genesis through Revelation, of God working to redeem a fallen people and bring them into an abiding relationship with Himself. Even the parts we don’t like have a reason for being in that narrative. It is why we use the principle of letting Scripture interpret Scripture. Of course, there are many things we have difficulty in understanding, but that is not a reason to dismiss them. God, the Holy Spirit, progressively teaches us truths about our Lord, our life, and the purpose for which He created us. Our task is to continue reading and enjoying the new light He does bring to our hearts. It really is His Word.
The Bible is not a law book, though many treat it that way. The Bible is a narrative about a relationship between God and His people. Both Old and New Testaments use the image of marriage to depict that relationship. Adultery takes place all over the world, but there is no culture that sanctions adultery as a positive value. Regardless of how free we are with our sexual mores, when a couple gets married there is the expectation of fidelity. If a couple is serious about their relationship they guard themselves from temptations that would harm that treasured relationship. They choose not to do or say things that are destructive. That’s what Biblical “laws” are about. They give us guidance concerning the things that honor our Lord and those that don’t. We simply follow that guidance because the life we have found with our Lord is more precious and valuable than the things that would pull us away from Him. It is not a matter that we can’t do things, but that we don’t want to do them because they are hurtful to something we have that is far more beautiful.
The news has been reporting on some terrible conditions that continue to spread. Doctors are carefully watching the Ebola virus hoping that it does not spread. Wildfires are spreading through Yosemite National Park. We read about the war in Gaza that continues to spread. These are outward visible disasters that are difficult to contain. But there is a condition that concerns me more than these. It involves ideas and attitudes. These are things that become rooted in a society and become accepted as normal by more and more people. Sex, marriage, and family in particular. Attitudes about these have changed dramatically over the past years. Actions and lifestyles are accepted today as normal that were once clearly thought wrong. Even for many who don’t accept these values personally they say, oh well, it’s just the way they do things today. Wrong attitudes, attitudes that are not thought through and clearly guided by God’s truth, spread like wildfires, and are spiritually more deadly than Ebola, fire, or war. Everything must be tested against the truth of God’s Holy Word.