Monday, August 17, 2015

Know God - The Book Lover

Preached on Sunday, August 16, 2015

Scripture readings: Psalm 119:57-64; 2 Timothy 3:14-17

A young couple were worried abut their four-year-old, because he had never spoken a word in his life. They took him to a lot of specialists, but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him. Finally, one morning at breakfast, the boy blurted out, “Mommy, this toast is burnt!”
“Oh honey, honey, you talked! You talked!” Why did it take you so long to talk?”
And the boy said, “Well, up till now everything has been OK.”
Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County
Temporary Exposition -
Grandes Maestros: Great Masters of Iberoamerican Folk Art Collection
 of Fomento Cultural Banamex
June 2015
We have a God who talks: a God who speaks, not just to complain when things go wrong. We have a God who speaks in order to start a relationship, and to build a friendship that will last forever.
In the Bible, it is typical for God to come to someone and talk to them. God calls them by name; gives them a direction to go; focuses them upon a calling or a purpose in life. God strengthens them with a promise they can hold onto, and build their lives on.
Or God talks to them and puts them to shame for some shameful thing they have said or done: something heartless, something hurtful, something unjust, or some kind of betrayal.
Or the Lord talks to them and says, “Come to me and find rest,” or, “Come! Take up your cross, and follow me,” or, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Yet our God doesn’t just talk, God also writes, or God has others write for him. When the people of Israel were escaping from slavery in Egypt, and they had to fight an enemy tribe (the Amalekites) in the desert, and they won (but only because God helped them) the Lord told Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered…” (Exodus 17:14)
And when the people of Israel were getting ready to enter the Promised Land, the Lord told them to hold his words in their hearts and he told them write them down. Write them down in a lot of places where they could read them.
The Lord told them to fasten scraps of notes with the words in their wristbands, and in their headbands. God told them to write his commandments on the doorframes of their houses, and on their gates. (Deuteronomy 11:18-20)
God says, “Write it down! Write it down!”
The Lord told his prophets to, “Write down the revelation, and make it plain,” as he said to the prophet Habakkuk. (Habakkuk 2:2) Write it down!
When Jesus was being tempted by the devil in the desert, every time the temptation came, Jesus remembered something that the people had been told to write down (words from the scriptures). Jesus remembered those words. He spoke them, and fought the temptation, and cleared his mind, and cleared the issue.
The Devil offered Jesus a bad choice by misusing what was written in God’s book. The Devil used what was written in order to make Jesus put himself, and his own concerns, first. But Jesus found the antidote to the misunderstanding of what was written by remembering more of what was written.
Jesus used what was written to help him think of his Father in heaven instead of thinking of himself. Jesus said, “It is written,” in order to remember the love of his Father, and not for the love of himself. Jesus used the words that we should use when we are tempted to put ourselves first. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” (Matthew 4:1-11)
In the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John, John writes this: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
Paul wrote to his junior colleague and friend, Timothy, and reminded him of the people and the holy writings that had shaped Timothy’s faith and his life. “…continue in what you have learned, and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14-15)
Christians have always been people who had something in writing. They had a book, or at least a bunch of scrolls that all belonged together: a book where God speaks. We are people with a book.
We believe that God wants us to have a book. What does that fact tell us about our God? We have a God who loves a good book.
This simply tells us that the Lord wants to talk to us. An answering machine has a little light that flashes when it has recorded a message for you. You come home, and glance over at the machine, and its light is blinking, and you know that someone wants to talk to you, unless they have hung up without leaving a message.
When you see a Bible sitting on a shelf, or on a table, it is a signal that God has left a message for you. He wants to talk to you. There is a message there, from God, to be read. Nowadays we should say that God has texted us.
Paul says, “All scripture is inspired by God (or God-breathed) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”
Perhaps, besides being the light on an answering machine, the Bible is like a bell: a school bell. By giving us the Bible, God is telling us that he is calling us to school.
When I was a kid I didn’t like the sound of the school bell, except when it rang at three o’clock. Well, sometimes I liked the other bells too.
I liked the bell for lunch. I didn’t like the bell for my science class on the days when we had to turn in our lab books, but I liked the bell for my science class when we were studying light waves and I knew it meant that we would be playing with the strobe light in the dark room.
It was just the same for those times at home when home can be like a school. I liked home being a school if my dad was explaining the choke on the car, but not when he was explaining the choke on the lawn mower. The car and the lawn mower meant two completely different things for me. It depended on what the school at home was about.
Paul sums up the purpose of the school of God’s Book as righteousness; but what is righteousness? Righteousness is about rightness; the rightness of something working right or fitting right.
Imagine taking a motor apart, and then putting it back together again, and having parts left over. That wouldn’t be right. That wouldn’t be righteous.
Imagine a recipe for a dish that is not written down, but it is written in the heart. Each time you make the dish it is never quite the same, but it is always good, and then (sometimes) it is just right. That is real righteousness.
It is like the heat of a wood stove on a freezing day. It is like a plunge into a cool lake under a blazing sun. That is part of righteousness. It is rightness when things are right.
Righteousness is like that, but it especially applies to relationships. Righteousness is how to get it right with others, and how to get it right with yourself.
Most of all righteousness is about how to get it right with God. But that is where the amazing truth comes in. The truth is an amazing grace.
Righteousness is the love, and power, and grace of God that forgives you, and mends you, and transforms you. Righteousness is the love, and power, and grace of God that motivates you, and gives you another day, and gives you peace at the end of the day: so you can live right in this world: with others, and with yourself, and with God. Righteousness is about how God gets things right with you.
But, in the grace of God, there is a school for learning. It is for learning how to be the real human being you were created to be. And so there is room in our school book for teaching and rebuking: that is positive and negative. And there is room for correcting and training in righteousness: that is negative and positive.
Well, is correcting positive or negative? It all depends on whether you like to be corrected when you are wrong. The thing is that, in his book, God will say things you don’t want to hear, because you need to hear them; but he will also tell you some things you will be glad to hear.
The truth that God gave us a book tells us that the Lord wants to speak to us in words that will not go away. There they are, in black and white.
The way we translate the ancient Hebrew of the Old Testament and the ancient Greek of the New Testament might need to change in order to keep up with the way we speak and hear, but the teachings and the message don’t change. The original black and white that people wrote when God first breathed on them is always there and there are no secrets in it. You don’t have to go to any other source to know what God wants to say: what God wants you to believe and do.
God gives us a book so that he can be the kind of God we can depend on for telling us things that we cannot fiddle around with to suit ourselves (though we may play games with the words of the Book, to fool ourselves, like a child who plays with his parents instructions to justify doing what he wants).
God is like a wise parent who will tell us what we need to hear, not necessarily what we want to hear. Deep down, I believe that children love knowing that they can depend on their parents to say and do what will make things right and keep things right, even when they don’t like it.
I know some people that I can always depend on to tell me what I’m doing wrong. I know people that I can always depend on to make me feel better when I need it most, and I am blessed that I know a set of people who can be depended on to do both when necessary. These people don’t change.
Paul tells us that God wants to give us a book that is inspired. The word for inspired means “God-breathed”: “God-exhaled.”
The words of God’s book are words written by people, but God breathes into those words and makes them come alive when we read them. Without that kind of inspiration God’s book is dead to us. We need the Lord to breathe on the words, and also on our hearts, at the same time. This breath of God is like the warmth of an incubator that makes the truth crack open, and hatch, and flutter, and sing.
Yet in another way those words of God’s book were breathed by the Lord into the thoughts of those who wrote them, and remembered them, and organized them. The writers were not breathed into a trance or blown around like puppets.
There was an inspired rightness, an inspired relationship between them and the Lord. The Lord helped their hearts, and minds, and lives to fit his message, so that the story in his book would be the true story, so that the story could become our story, so that we could read it and find ourselves in that place where God breathes.
The fact that God gives us a book tells us that we have a God who is working on a story. We have a God who is working on making us part of that story.
The Book is a living story and a rescue story. It begins with God giving us a world that was just right. Then it shows us the part of the story where humans broke the world, and broke themselves, and couldn’t put themselves back together again.  Most of the story shows us the horrible consequences of being broken people in a broken world.
Brokenness sounds sad, and it is; but brokenness also creates ugliness in the form of how broken people treat each other and how they can nearly lose any resemblance to being the creatures of God. The story tells us how God dealt over, and over, and over, and over again with that brokenness.
The story shows us how most of the solutions we want God to use have never worked. You can’t flood the world and save a few good people and get a righteous world. You can’t give good laws and get a righteous world.
God’s one solution was his own extreme faithfulness. This extreme faithfulness is God’s righteousness, which caused him, finally, to personally take on his own shoulders all of all the sin, and the evil, and the injustice, and even the power of death with him on the cross.
It’s the story of a God who turns out to be truly with us in every way; without compromise and without sin. There is no God like the God in this story.
God carried all of this brokenness and this ugliness with him into his death on the cross. So God, in Jesus, sentenced our brokenness to death. Then he sentenced death to death, by rising from the dead.
When we receive Christ into our life, then we come into the presence of God. Because of the cross and the resurrection, we can come into the heart of God, where our brokenness, and our ugliness, and even death are gone.
The story began with God making everything new. The story ends with a new beginning where God says, “I am making everything new.” (Revelation 21:5)
When God breathes his story into us we become a new creation. We become new people who are working and waiting for God to make everything new. The book is all about this one great thing.
The Bible is not a text book that teaches us various subjects. If the Bible only makes us smart, or gives us know-how, then it has failed, and so have we. The Bible is a living story that has been written to bring the reader to the place where he or she can die with Jesus and rise from the dead into a new life. That is what God’s plan is for the whole creation.
God’s book is the long, long story of a God who seeks people out, and does everything that is needed to make them his own. It is the story of the people who hear, and respond, and learn to live with a living and breathing God who is doing a great thing.

We don’t know God as he truly is until we know this God who loves a good book.

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