Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Truth that Challenges

Wouldn’t it be great if it worked like that? “You get credit for trying!” You don’t really have to "read” the Bible. Just look at it!

Or, what if it worked like this?

Students, don’t you wish you could just lay down on your books and learn everything inside? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could do that with the Bible? I think that would really help most Americans, because most Americans don’t actually read the Bible. Consider this: 88% of Americans own a Bible, the average American household has 4.4 Bibles! According to a 2014 study, 81% of U.S. adults consider themselves knowledgeable of the Bible. Yet, less than half of those same people could name the first five books of the Bible. About the same number knew that John the Baptist was not one of the 12 apostles. Only 37% of Americans read their Bible at least once a week, and 26% of those surveyed said they never read their Bible!

I wonder what the statistics would be here for our Glenwood family.

Now, don’t worry. This is not going to be the annual New Year’s Resolution that I use to guilt you into reading your Bible more. I am going to try and get you to read your Bible more, but I’m going to try and stay away from guilt! Instead, I want to remind you of the enormous benefits of making daily time in God’s Word a lifelong habit. The longest book of the Bible begins with these words:
The truly happy person
    doesn’t follow wicked advice,
    doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
    and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.
Instead of doing those things,
    these persons love the Lord’s Instruction,
    and they recite God’s Instruction day and night!
They are like a tree replanted by streams of water,
    which bears fruit at just the right time
    and whose leaves don’t fade.
        Whatever they do succeeds.
That’s not true for the wicked!
    They are like dust that the wind blows away.
And that’s why the wicked will have no standing in the court of justice—
    neither will sinners
    in the assembly of the righteous.
The Lord is intimately acquainted
    with the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked is destroyed. (Psalm 1:1–6 CEB)
Have any of you ever experienced the truthfulness of these words? I shared this story with some of you during our annual Service of Remembrance a couple of weeks ago. I found this Bible over the Thanksgiving holiday. I was home with my mother in Branson, Missouri. We were downstairs in her home preparing for her surprise 70th Birthday party. Mom has a large wooden chest downstairs filled with pictures and we were gathering pictures to make a scrapbook for her. Among the pictures, was this Bible. It belonged to Wes Crawford—my namesake—my father’s brother, whom I never met. He died before I was born. I had always been told he died in a gun-cleaning accident when he was a senior in high school. Years later, when I was an adult, I learned he committed suicide. This Bible belonged to him. I began flipping through the pages to see if there might actually be anything left behind by my uncle. A highlighted text, a note in the margin, a folded up piece of paper. I found this cut-out article—a letter addressed to Billy Graham, “What becomes of people who commit suicide?” I’m not sure who put the article there. It might have been Wes, as he considered for weeks the decision he would ultimately make to end his life. It could have been my grandmother, who was looking for answers after her son was gone. What makes this even more puzzling is where I found this newspaper clipping. It was folded up and placed inside the Bible on the page that contains Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want
He maketh me lie down in green pastures
He leadeth me beside still waters
He restoreth my soul . . .
I wonder how many people in this world have recalled these words when tragedy struck. I wonder if my father’s brother read these words before he ended his life, looking for God’s comfort in his darkest moment. I wonder if my grandmother read these words as she tried to make sense of the decision her youngest child made alone. When we spend time in God’s Word, when those moments arise in our lives, we are not alone. We have God’s words, God’s wisdom, God’s comfort right there with us. Instead of being weak and unable to deal with whatever life throws at us, we are like:
A tree replanted by streams of water, which bears fruit at just the right time and whose leaves don’t fade.
Certainly, that is not the only time we need God’s Word. Scripture gives us language to express our own grief, our own joy, and our own thanksgiving. And scripture reminds us that we are part of a much larger story. In our highly individualistic culture, we need to be reminded that we are connected to an ancient family. We have great grandmothers and grandfathers who were in relationship with God long before we were born. The decisions that Adam and Eve made, the victories and defeats experienced by Israel, and the missionary activity of Paul and Priscilla—all of those things have consequences for us. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We are part of a much larger story and Scripture helps us remember that story and how we are connected to it. Church, we need to know our story.

As many of you know, each year our family hones in on one part of our identity. This past year, we spent a great deal of time focusing on the phrase “Aligning Our Giving with the Heart of God.” This is one of the phrases we use to measure our spiritual growth here at Glenwood. As we align our giving with God’s heart, as we learn to give more of ourselves, of our money, of our time, of our gifts, we grow in our relationship with God, and in fact, we become more like God! Last year, each week, I read Philippians 2:5–11 to us reminding us that we serve a God who gave everything away for us. He was equal with God, yet He became nothing for us. We also spent many weeks taking the Financial Peace University course together. All of these things were meant to focus our attention on this vitally important aspect of our spiritual growth.

This year, we have chosen to focus one of the key values of this church family: A Truth that Challenges. God’s Word is the Truth that Challenges. The Bible has always been central to the identity of this church. No decision has ever been made in this church without consulting Scripture. The sermons preached at this church come directly from God’s Word. The classes that you are a part of find their teaching directly from the Bible. But we want to make sure that God’s Word is central not only for this family here in this building. We want to make sure you are making the Bible a centerpiece for your life individually and for the life of your family. So, throughout this entire year, we are going to focus, even more than normal, on the Bible.

This morning our adult Bible classes began a special series. We’ll talk about what Scripture is. We’ll discuss where it came from. We’ll talk about the different kinds of material in the Bible: poetry, Law, story, apocalyptic literature. We’ll even say a word or two about different kinds of translations. You’ll hear this morning that our benediction text centers on Scripture. Some always ask where it comes from. This year, it is taken from Psalm 1:1–3. We also want to challenge you to make daily Bible reading a part of your spiritual discipline this year. And I want to recommend one plan to you. I actually started this plan two days ago, and I’ll remind you of it every now and then. If you have the YouVersion Bible app on your phone, they make it really easy! This year, I’ll be following along with the “Eat This Book: One Year Bible with Daily Psalm” plan. I like to read the Bible straight through. Some plans have OT, NT, Gospel, and Psalms readings each day, you may prefer to go that route. The important thing is: make daily Bible reading a habit this year and challenge your family members to join you.

I want to offer this church a challenge. There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible. I want to challenge this church, together, to read 100,000 chapters this year. That seems like a lofty goal! But if less than 100 people read through the Bible this year, we’d reach that goal. If 274 people read one chapter a day, we’d reach that goal. John and Steven and the real tech savvy people at this church are working on a way for us to track this together. So pay attention next week, but you can get started now. Let me say this, as a reminder. It’s not just about reading or reaching a certain number of chapters. Last year it wasn’t just about increasing your giving. When we talk about marriages, it’s not just about taking your spouse on a date twice a month. Our mission at this church is to graciously help a fallen world stand up again. I believe that if we dedicate ourselves to these disciplines, God will mold us into the people He’s always wanted for us to be. And we will be better equipped to accomplish the mission He’s laid out for us.

We live in crazy times, don’t we? Our world leaders are dealing with terror threats, and it seems like we are on the brink of war. The moral fabric of our nation is constantly under question. Technology is moving so quickly that it is difficult to even keep up. And heaven help us, we are in an election year! All of these issues and discussions have multiple sides and viewpoints. And all of them demand serious theological reflection. It is so tempting, isn’t it, to simply jump in with the majority. If everyone is saying it, surely it must be right! Maybe more than ever, God’s people need wisdom to address our world. The only way to attain real wisdom in this life is through spending a great deal of time with God in His Word. My prayer is that God would give you the desire and commitment to make that time with Him precious this year. And that together, because of our time with God in His Word, we would all come to know better the mind of Christ.

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