May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight oh LORD, our Rock and our Redeemer. (Paraphrase of Psalm 19:14) Amen.
We are in week two of a 6 week series called “Ask me why...?” Last week we laid the foundation by answering the question “Why do Christian churches exist in the first place?” More specifically for us, “Why does Living Shepherd exist?” As we answered that question we saw how the Bible is all about relationships. For starters, the Bible helps us to see our sin, which in turn helps us to see the problem we all have when it comes to our relationship with God. The good news is there is good news! As we celebrated Christmas a few weeks ago we were reminded how the all powerful, all knowing, ever present God became a real human being. And it’s not like he snapped his omnipotent fingers and—poof—became a 30 year old man. No he was miraculously conceived in the womb of a virgin, passed through her birth canal, cried like every other baby born as the air around him filled his lungs for the very first time. He grew up—went through puberty—never once did anything wrong—then gave up his perfect life as a sacrifice for the sins of all people to ever live. By rising from the dead he proved, once and for all, that death—the one thing we fear more than anything else—had no power over him. Jesus rose from the dead for your comfort. He rose to assure you—to assure me—that not only has our sin been paid for—the death that results from sin has also been defeated—you too will rise.
So we reviewed how the Bible primarily teaches us about our relationship with God, but then ALSO saw how much the Bible emphasizes our relationships with each other. In the Epistles—all the letters recorded for us in the New Testament—we find the Greek word ἀλλήλων (allelon)—translated “one another.” It shows up 59 times in the Epistles! So as a result of God fixing our broken relationship with him, he expects us to have a certain type of relationship with people here on this earth.
For the next 5 weeks we’re going to build on that foundation by breaking down different aspects of the things we do together as a congregation. This week, the focus is on Bible Study. “Why do we study the Bible together?”
At its most basic level, we study the Bible to grow. We have a desire to grow in our relationship with God and since God promises that the Holy Spirit works through his Word, and actually brings about growth through time in his Word, Bible study would seem like a no brainer. And yet we come up with excuses not to study the Bible. And I think chief among those excuses is what I’ll call the knowledge contentment excuse. You become content with the knowledge you have.
This happens to all of us and it happens at different points during our walks of faith. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just finished getting acquainted with the Bible in a Bible Basics class or spent years in a seminary classroom. At some point we convince ourselves that our relationship with God has reached a point where it can remain steady for a while. The thing we forget is that relationships don’t work that way. They’re either growing or they’re eroding.
Take Ron Popeil for example. Do you know who Ron Popeil is? He’s that famous TV infomercial salesman who coined the phrase “But wait, there’s more!” And perhaps even more famous, along with his line of Showtime Rotisserie BBQ’s, whenever Ron placed a chicken or standing rib roast into one of his rotisseries he would remind us at home that all we had to do was “Set it, and forget it!” Wouldn’t it be nice if that worked with relationships? I’m guessing Ron Popeil probably wishes that were the case as, at last count, he’s been married 4 times!
You could spend a quarter of your annual salary on the perfect vacation for you and your spouse, but that doesn’t buy you the right to return home, “set it and forget it.” Either that marriage relationship is growing or it’s eroding. Same thing with parenting. I can’t just set my parenting style with a 16 month old Julietta and then forget about it. I won’t be able to pick her up and smooch on her cheek over and over again when she’s 15 years old and throwing a tantrum. “Set it and forget it” might work with a Ron Popeil rotisserie but it doesn’t work with relationships.
I’m actually not convinced it works with anything other than a Ron Popeil rotisserie. I don’t see anyone rocking bell bottoms this morning. Most people aren’t wearing their hair the same way they did 20-30 years ago. Just because you weigh yourself and get the same number 3 days in a row, doesn’t mean you’ve stayed exactly the same. You just haven’t measured enough parameters. Either your fitness level is getting better or it’s getting worse.
If you can’t keep the same relationship with fashion or fitness or people, why would you think it’s any different with God? Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you have reason to be shaking in your boots when it comes to your relationship with God. The Apostle Peter isn’t saying that either. “be on your guard so you may not...fall from your secure position.” Did Jesus die for the whole world—including you? Absolutely! Did Jesus really live, die and rise for you? Absolutely!
But God also makes it clear in his Word that it is very possible for someone standing securely on Christ to fall away from him. It’s possible, because as in all our relationships, when it comes to our relationship with God, that relationship is either eroding away or growing. Simple as that!
So what do you think? If you know your relationship with God is either eroding or growing wouldn’t you want to be on guard against erosion? Wouldn’t you appreciate some encouragement to keep growing? That’s what the Apostle Peter’s second letter is all about!
2 Peter is written to Christians who get it. What I mean by that is this—they know they’re sinners and they know their sins are forgiven in Jesus. So Peter begins in chapter 1 by encouraging them to add this list of things to their faith —“goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love.” Peter writes “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter than goes on to explain how all the things he and the other Apostles had taught them about Jesus were not things they made up. After all the people sharing were never the stars of the story receiving honor, in fact often just the opposite. In chapter 2, Peter warns them to keep their eyes open for false teachers who could lead to the erosion of their relationship with God. And finally in chapter 3 Peter teaches about the end of all things on Judgment day. That’s the “this” in the first verse of our text and again in verse 17. (Read 2 Peter 3:14-18 one more time now that you understand the ”this” Peter’s audience is “looking forward to...” and “already knows.”) Peter is writing to Christians to encourage them to be on guard against erosion in their relationship with God. The way to do that is by growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” How do we do that? Bible study.
Think of it this way. Our relationship with God can be broken into 3 areas. Knowledge/Action/Time.
Part of the reason we have home devotions, study the Bible on our own, with friends, here at church, etc. is to grow in what we know about God. The more we understand our God’s mercy, holiness, love, plan throughout history, etc. the more we grow in our relationship with him. Yes, we learn hard truths. Our sins have separated us from him and we demonstrate that in our lives as we build new walls that separate us from him on a regular basis. But we learn beautiful truths too. “Our God will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). Though our sins are like scarlet he will make them as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us (Psalm 103). He will remember our sins no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34)!” The more time we spend in God’s Word, the more our knowledge grows—and as a result—our relationship with God grows too.
But it’s not all about knowledge. It’s not as though we’re going to get to heaven and have to take some holy scantron test to make sure we know the order of the Old Testament kings. Our relationship with God requires action too. James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says!” At some point it is time to do what God’s Word says. For a young man in college, I’m more concerned with how I can help him in his walk of faith, than whether or not he knows the Old Testament kings. For you and me, I don’t think the problem is so much that we don’t know enough of what God calls us to do—it’s that we don’t do what he calls us to do. A Christian has knowledge. But a Christian also acts on that knowledge. At some point you have to open up the Book.
As a father I could care less if my kids know they are supposed to clean their rooms or be respectful. I want to see them actually clean their rooms and be respectful! Your boss doesn’t care that you know you’re supposed to be at work on time. Your boss wants to see you show up for work on time. We know we are supposed to study God’s Word—we may even be fairly certain we know WHY we’re to study God’s Word. We just don’t always do it. That’s one of the reasons we study God’s Word together!
When we study together, there is accountability. We ask questions together like “what does it look like when I apply this in the real world? (...in MY life!?)” “How do I do that?” “For what reasons is this hard for you?” “In what ways do you overcome that challenge?” How awesome to be a part of a community of people that actually care about you!? People who want to grow as a Christian themselves and who want to see you grow too!
That brings us to our third aspect of our relationship with God. Time. The acquisition of knowledge takes time! Learning how to put that knowledge into practice takes time! Guess what? When you study the Bible, you get to see example after example of believers who you wouldn’t want to mimic at one point in their life or another (Abraham sleeping with his wife’s servant – Moses committing murder, David lusting and then acting on his lust with a married woman). And yet, by the grace of God, all three of these men, over time, grew in their relationship with God as they acknowledged their sins and trusted in their God’s promise to save. And it’s not just examples of mature believers in the Bible. As you study the Bible with other people here at Living Shepherd you’ll grow from time spent in God’s Word together. Together, you’ll get to see live example after live example of other Christians who struggle with the same kinds of things you struggle with. You’ll see those examples on the pages of God’s Word and in the lives of your Christian brothers and sisters who are there studying with you!
May God bless us with growth and stability as we study his Word together! Amen.
Ask Me Why… Study the bible?
What follows is intended to expand on today’s worship service. Every member and friend of Living Shepherd will receive a copy of today’s sermon and service folder, even if they were unable to attend worship today. The hope is that we can start 2016 on the same note, together, even if we're not all "together" in worship each Sunday.
Take the time to work through the next few pages during the week. Maybe you’ll find a time to go through it with friends from Living Shepherd. Maybe you’ll do it with family. Maybe you’ll walk through it on your own. But do take a few moments during the week to spend some time digging deeper into God’s Word!
One more thing—this study and this week’s sermon will be posted together on the Bytes of Bread portion of our website by Monday evening. A similar study will also be provided in the service folder for the duration of this series. I’m very open to suggestions for changes/adaptations as this is new for me too! I do hope you find this helpful and would love your feedback to make it even more so. Blessings on your study this week!
Something to get us started
NOTE: We'll be going through this Sunday mornings at 9:15 AM. Join us!
This week we took a look at why we study the Bible. At it simplest, we know that the Holy Spirit helps us grow in our faith through our time in God’s Word.
1. What is something in your life that you were striving for? What did your striving look like? (Did you train? Prepare? Etc.) What was your motivation?
2. In the sermon, pastor talked about looking at others (Moses, Abraham, Joseph) as an example of faith and growth. Who is someone you have looked to, or could look to, as an example of “growth.” What are the things they do that make them a good example?
Digging Deeper Into God’s Word
3. Read 2 Peter 3:18 and James 1:22. God is clearly communicating he wants us to grow in his Word. He’s also clearly communicating he wants this “growing” to display an impact on our lives. For what reasons do you think this is sometimes hard to follow?
4. Read Matthew 4:4 and John 5:24. These verses point out a couple of things. First, we are both physical and spiritual beings. Second, it is through God’s Word that we discover the way of salvation. As Christians we are “fed” spiritually through God’s Word. That being said, it’s different for the people of the world. In what ways do you people seek to fulfill their need for something spiritual apart from God's Word?
5. Our relationship with God is either being built up or eroding. Mark the scale below. On a scale of 1 to 10, where are you at? (1=eroding, 10=built up) What makes it hard to be a 10? (Focus on yourself here. What makes it hard for YOU to be a 10?)
6. The fact that you’re going through this study shows you’ve already taken a step to grow in your relationship with God. What do you think we could do as a congregation to help engage more people in Bible study?
7. It has been said that if you do something for 21 days in a row it becomes a habit. What would you be willing to do for the next 21 days to help further your relationship with God? Read the Bible? Daily prayer sessions? Read a daily devotion? Hold family devotions? Other?
At its simplest, we study the Bible to grow in our faith. In God’s Word we have a chance to hear from the Author of Life about life. The Bible tells us where we stand with our holy God and gives us direction as we walk in a world tainted by sin.
8. List 2 concrete examples of blessings you’ve experienced from Bible study.
9. List 2 struggles you experienced when you’ve made an effort to study the Bible more frequently.
10. What steps might you take to avoid the struggles so you can enjoy the blessings?