Scripture . . . on Scripture

Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105)

Martin Luther led the Reformation to reclaim the Judeo-Christian Scriptures as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. My life, also, has been transformed by the Scripture, but Luther and I are not alone. Consider how the great saints viewed the Word of God.

Moses’ last words of instruction to the Hebrew people were, “For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess” (Deuteronomy 32:47, ESV).

Joshua’s first instructions from the Lord included, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8, ESV).

David wrote Psalm 19 to describe the two primary ways in which the Lord reveals Himself: natural revelation in creation and special revelation in the Law. That is where he says that the Law is “more to be desired than gold, even much fine gold” (10). Later he penned a literary masterpiece, Psalm 119, in which he creates an eight line stanza for each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Almost all of the 176 verses mention some important quality of the Law.

At the close of Isaiah’s prophecy, he quotes the Lord as saying essentially, “I am not impressed by what you can build or do for me; I am impressed by the one who trembles at My Word” (Is 66:1-2).

After the Exile, Ezra the scribe “set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10 ESV). He would later make a covenant of obedience with those among the returning exiles who “trembled at the command of God” (10:3).

In a chapter describing the false prophets of his day who ignored the Law, Jeremiah quotes the Lord, “‘Is not my word like fire,’ declares the LORD, ‘and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets,’ declares the LORD, ‘who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets,’ declares the LORD, ‘who use their tongues and declare, “declares the LORD.” Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams,’ declares the LORD, ‘and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all,’ declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:29-32, ESV).

When Jesus began His ministry His first recorded sermon included those famous words, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:18-19, ESV). Then, on the night before His crucifixion, John quotes Jesus as saying, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17, ESV).

Paul’s last letter declared, “All Scripture is breathed out by God . . . I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word” (2 Tim 3:16-4:2).

Peter also identified the Scripture as of divine origin when he wrote, “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21, ESV).

There are other people in biblical history that were transformed by the Word of God (consider kings Hezekiah and Josiah). Like these people the re-discovery of the Word by Martin Luther and the Reformers was what changed the world 500 years ago; real revival will only happen when the Church today does the same.

The Significance of the Reformation

The Significance of the Reformation

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:130, ESV)

Five hundred years ago this month, an event took place that changed my life. No, I am not that old — despite what my kids think.

In October, 1517 an Augustinian monk nailed a list of grievances to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany and ignited a revival that historians have called the Reformation. Martin Luther’s issue ultimately was quite simple: The Judeo-Christian Scripture is the final authority in the world. Certainly many other ideas have spun off of that one, but this is the root which became the foundation of our civilization.

I was a naive, confused college student (interestingly, at a Lutheran liberal arts college) when I was first confronted with this idea, but not in the way you might think. Instead of promoting Luther’s idea, the faculty of my college had bought into the notion that to believe the Scripture was the height of ignorance. Only a fool would believe that Moses walked through the Red Sea on dry ground, that Jonah could survive three days in the belly of a fish, or that Jesus could walk out of His grave. I can only imagine what Luther himself might think about those who identified themselves with his name!

The fervor with which the faculty at my school repudiated the Bible’s authority made me wonder “Why?” If this book were just an anthology of myths and legends, why are there whole courses at this and other colleges describing why we should not believe it? Why are there endless books being written to explain away events that they tell us are comparable to Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan? That fervor, rather than causing me to scoff at the fools who could believe such nonsense, drove me to it. I had to know whether it really was true or not.

That same issue — Truth — was behind Martin Luther’s stand against the excesses of the Roman Church. The circumstances he faced were different than mine, but the issue was the same, and that’s why that event changed my life. Yet I had more wrestling to do: What were the answers to the weighty questions that were raised by my professors? How can I reconcile seemingly unbelievable events with the modern world? As I pursued the Truth, those answers slowly came.

About this time I heard a noted (evangelical) theologian say, “The Scripture is God’s revelation of Himself and His will to men.” Although some of the answers were still fuzzy in my mind, it occurred to me that, if this man were correct, nothing was more important than finding out about Him. So I began a practice of reading through the Bible annually, which has continued to this day, and I intend to keep doing it until the day I die. At first I didn’t understand a lot of the history I was reading; I certainly didn’t understand many of the rules the Lord imposed upon His people, but it was His revelation of Himself. Through it I came to know Him. Slowly I began to make sense of the world around me.

David understood what I experienced when he wrote, “The unfolding of Your Word gives light” (Ps 119:130). Truth is not usually a lightning flash and boom of thunder (it can be, read Psalm 29). It is a methodical unfolding of His Truth. Sometimes, as with Martin Luther, it compels us to take a stand, but the courage to do so happens in the quiet moments as He reveals Himself.

The Lord Is My Portion

I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living” (Psalm 142:5, ESV).

The seventeenth century author, John Donne, wrote, “No man is an island…” His point was that every other human being enriches us and their loss diminishes us to some degree. Another way of saying this is that no one is sufficient in himself; we all seek some kind of refuge because ultimately we cannot stand alone.

The writer of this Psalm was David, long before he became king. He was running for his life and took shelter by hiding in a cave. This happened twice in the Scripture (I Sam 22 and 24). In the first incident, he was fleeing from the king of Gath; in the second he was fleeing from Saul. We cannot be sure which incident this arose from, but it is immaterial. David knew his resources were insufficient. The men that were with him were a comfort to him, I’m sure, but they were no match for the thousands that either enemy could bring against them. David felt overwhelmed; he needed a Refuge.

The Refuge he found was in the God of Israel. It wasn’t that he disdained or didn’t appreciate those that supported him; he just knew that if he were to be delivered, the God he worshiped would have to step in to do it. In both cave episodes, David sees a marvelous deliverance. The first was the provision of a pagan king who sheltered his parents; the second was the shame that Saul experienced when David could have killed him but did not. Other people surrounded David in both places, but his trust was in the God of Israel, not in human deliverance.

We in this generation have lost that spirit of genuine trust in God. The terms, “faith” and “trust,” are often interchangeable in the Scripture — trust is an active expression of faith. But our society has substituted a nebulous “belief” for active trust. Perhaps it’s because we have grown accustomed to having a safety net beneath us. If everything seems hopeless, our savings or our government or our family or someone else will step in and bail us out. David didn’t have the government as a safety net — indeed, it was the government that was pursuing him!

At least part of the reason we have lost that trust in God is that the government (or any other refuge) is gullible — we don’t have to be completely honest with them. We don’t have to admit our sins and our failures; we don’t have to declare our fears. In short, we don’t have to make ourselves vulnerable. But we do with the God of Israel. He expects humility and honesty when we come before Him, not excuses and justifications. He is certainly willing to forgive, but most of us fear that our deliverance will be conditioned upon some loss of face before others. That may be a legitimate fear; He may demand it. But the rewards for truly trusting Him are well worth any humility we might experience.

In another Psalm, David put it this way, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7, ESV).

The Anchor

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near (Rev 1:3).

Theologians and Bible teachers have debated for centuries what “this prophecy” refers to. Does John promise blessing for reading the twenty-two chapters of the Book of Revelation or is the blessing for those who read the whole of the Scripture? We won’t resolve this debate in this blog, but we will testify to the blessing that reading either this book or the whole of the Scripture brings.

For more than 30 years I have been committed to reading the Bible, cover to cover, each year. It started with merely reading five minutes a day. My reasoning went something like this, “If God created me and has a purpose for my life, should I not set apart – at a minimum – five minutes each day to listen to Him?” Certainly He deserves much more than a mere five minutes, but since I could not predict how my life would go and what demands would be placed upon it over the course of time, I vowed only to this small amount. Still, that vow has kept me in the Scripture daily – usually for more than five minutes. On the rare occasion when I have failed, I have been conscious that the Holy Spirit has awakened me – sometimes from a very deep sleep – and has prompted me to fulfill my vow.

This vow to read the Word has created stability in my life like nothing else could. It has comforted me in trying times; it has reminded me of the Source of every blessing when times have been good, keeping me from thinking too highly of myself. When the world around me has been uncertain, whether due to politics, economics or personal loss, the Word has brought assurance that it will remain and that He is my refuge.

This vow has also brought real direction to me over the years. It has been – in the words of David – “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). There have been many times when my daily reading schedule has brought me to a passage of Scripture that was clear direction for that moment, if not that day. Most of these have not been profound, out-of-body experiences, but the quiet confidence that I had heard from God.

Whether you regularly read all sixty-six books or just the last one, John’s promise is true – you will be blessed. Nothing can be an anchor to our lives like reading this Book.

The Qualification of Leadership

This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you (David) from the pasture and from following the flock, to be ruler over my people Israel (1 Chron 17:7).

 The contrast between what men usually consider to be the qualifications for leadership and what God makes leaders from is startling.

 By the time this was spoken to David, he had long ago left the pasture and the sheep. He had been on the run from Saul for 10-12 years. That period of his life had ended with Saul’s death and then David had to create a government and stabilize the country politically. Before he and his army began to subdue the surrounding nations, David turned his attention from the urgent to the important – establishing the people in the worship of the God of Israel.

 While he was considering this matter, the thought occurred to him that he should establish a permanent dwelling place for the Ark of the Presence. While it was not something that God had necessarily intended, He was so pleased that David’s faith was not merely a way of securing the blessings and creature comforts of this life that He promised that David’s line would never fail.

 Men tend to look upon pedigree and physical prowess in leaders; God looks much deeper. God saw in David a man of loyalty, gratitude and faithfulness. He was conditioned by his willingness to humble himself and take care of his father’s sheep. By observing in David a concern for the helpless condition of the sheep God recognized that he would also be concerned for the helpless conditions of the people in his kingdom, a concern that God shared because those same people were made in His image.

 God might have chosen David because he persevered as he ran from Saul; He might have chosen him for his military genius; He might have chosen him for his faithfulness to His cause. Certainly He rewarded these qualities. But He chose Him to be king because of the mercy he displayed for the helpless and needy – the same cause He Himself is given to. For God Himself is described as “a father of the fatherless and a defender of widows” (Ps. 68:5, et.al.).