Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, October 15, 2018
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Fixing Church 6: Word

Matthew 7:21-29

Last month, the Pittsburgh area suffered a major blow to their transportation when three of the four lanes of Route 30 in East Pittsburgh collapsed in a landslide. They’ve closed it down completely, which is good, since I wouldn’t want to drive on the last remaining lane! Almost two inches of rain in the preceding days were certainly a factor in the collapse, but apparently, it just wasn’t built on a stable foundation.

There was a similar situation in Johnstown earlier in the winter, when the hillside below Menoher Avenue collapsed after a heavy rain. In that case, it left the road intact, but it did knock a house off of its foundation. I happened to be going through there a few weeks later on my way to Conemaugh Hospital, and I stopped to snap a photo with my cell phone, which you can see up here.

Jesus talked about this very situation in Matthew 7. He says, “Not all who sound religious,” that is not everyone who talks about God and the things of God, “are really godly,” as in people of God. The real issue, the decisive question, is obedience. It’s easy to talk about God, easy to believe in God, but are you willing to submit to God? Are you willing to surrender your life and live according to God’s Word?

Jesus goes on, “Anyone who hears my words and obeys them is wise, like a person who builds their house on solid rock. The storms of life will come and the waters will rise, but that house won’t collapse.” One thing is for certain in this life: The storms will come. Death, illness, tragedy, persecution, and so on will come. Do we have the kind of faith that will withstand the storms? The only way to have that kind of faith is to hear the words of Jesus and obey them. There is a wonderful, powerful potential in Jesus’ words: They can help us to stand against the worst life will throw at us.

On the other hand, if we don’t hear Jesus’ words, or if we don’t submit to them, then we are like a fool who builds a house on sand. The house built on sand might look just as sturdy as the one built on the rock, as long as the weather is nice. But when the storms of life come, and they will, its real character will be revealed.

How well do you know and practice Jesus’ words? And for that matter, what about the rest of Scripture? How well do you know and practice the whole Word of God?

Our call to worship this morning came from Psalm 19, one of many Psalms that talk about how good God’s word is. It declares that God’s word is perfect. That it revives our soul; restores life to us. It gives us wisdom and joy. It keeps us out of trouble. It is more valuable than gold and sweeter than honey.

If all that is true about God’s Word, then we should devour it with a ravenous appetite. We should read it daily. We should get together regularly with other Christians to talk about it and study it together. We should take notes when God’s Word is preached. We should read other books to help us understand the parts of Scripture that are difficult. We should be like starving people who have found an all you can eat buffet!

If we look back at history, one of the things we’ll see is that God’s Word is essential for spiritual revival. We live in the heritage of the Reformation, and historians agree that a major factor in the Reformation was the invention of the printing press. One of the first things Martin Luther did after his break with the Roman Catholic hierarchy was to translate the Bible into German, so people could read it. For the first time in many centuries, the Bible was available in a language people could read. And for the first time ever in history, it could be reproduced in sufficient numbers that the average person could afford it. Before the 15th century, all copies of the Bible had to be handwritten, which was a long process and made books too expensive for most. The Bible was also translated into French and English and other languages at about the same time as Luther’s Bible. That was a major factor in the spiritual revival of the Reformation.

Martin Luther said this about God’s Word, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” Scripture is the Word of God not just in the sense that it was God’s message for ancient Hebrews and first century Christians. It is still God’s message for us today. God speaks to us through the Scriptures.

If all of this is true, then why do so many Christians neglect it? We should devour it, but many only nibble. One study I read said that only one out of four Americans reads the Bible at least four times per week. That’s not even daily. Even less than that say they have read the whole Bible. Those numbers reflect Americans as a whole, not Christians. But among those who say they attend church regularly, less than half read the Bible daily. Twenty percent of church goers say they never read the Bible. I’ve

heard that less than half of church-goers attend a Bible study or Sunday School class regularly, and that has been my experience as well. And, not surprisingly, since even among church-goers Bible reading is not the norm, it’s also no surprise that often we don’t know what the Bible actually says. One anecdote I read was interesting: A survey in England, a nation that no longer has a strong Christian tradition, found that one in three people did not know that the Christmas story, Jesus’ birth, comes from the Bible.

How can we increase biblical literacy?

Some churches challenge people to read through the Bible in a year. That’s good. But I think the problem with “reading through the Bible in a year” is that most people start in Genesis. They do well through the first half of Exodus, and somewhere in Leviticus, they give up.

The whole Bible is the Word of God, but that doesn’t mean that every part of it is equally easy or helpful to read. Some parts of the Bible are easier to read and more profitable to read than others. If you’re new to reading the Bible, I don’t recommend starting in Genesis and trying to read straight through. I think the best place to start is in the Gospels. They are the core of the Bible, and they teach us about Jesus, who is the Word of God. The New Testament letters and Acts are good as well. As for the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings and the other “history books” are good starting points. Psalms, Proverbs, Jonah, and Isaiah are good places to dip your toes into the prophets and writings. But some Old Testament books, like Leviticus and Numbers, are better left till we are more knowledgeable about Scripture.

And sometimes, we need help to get the most out of Scripture. A study Bible helps. Study Bibles have footnotes to explain difficult texts. There are also good books out there to help us get the most out of Scripture, and there are also Bible apps and websites, like YouVersion and Bible Gateway that can help, too.

But it’s not enough just to read the Bible. We need to read it carefully and prayerfully. Don’t just read it so you can say, “There, I did it.” Take your time and pray as you read. Allow space for the Holy Spirit to work as you read God’s Word.

When I was in seminary, the theology text books we used were called, “Word and Spirit.” Those are the two ways that we know God; through his Word and through his Spirit. Both are necessary. It’s not just what the Word says; it’s also how the Spirit speaks through the Word.

It’s also good to read Scripture with other believers, whether that be in a Bible study, a prayer meeting, a Sunday School class, etc. Sometimes we need help to understand things, and maybe the Holy Spirit will give the answer through another believer.

And finally, we need to share how God’s Word is at work in our lives if we want to encourage others to read it, too. This is where keeping a journal can help. What are you reading? What is God saying to your through it? How have you experienced God through his Word? What changes in your thinking or behavior are coming about through your encounter with God in his Word?

And then, share those things with others. If someone is not reading the Bible, they really need to see how it’s working in your life to be encouraged to start.

Unless we read God’s Word, then we can’t know God’s Word, or obey God’s Word. How can we hope to be like a house built on solid rock, unless we read God’s Word?



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