Believe - 13 - Bible Study
January 11, 2015
Most Americans don’t read very much. One poll states that in the past 12 months 41% of the people had not read a fiction book. 42% had not read a non-fiction book. And 28% have not read 1 book. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but for many of us, we’d rather watch the movie than read the book.
When it comes to the Bible the results are similar. Maybe you would agree with over 50% of Americans who believe the Bible has too little influence on our culture. And yet only 37% of Americans read the Bible on a regular basis even though 88% said they owned a Bible. And the average home has 4.7 Bibles.
We’d rather watch the movie, The Ten Commandments, than read about the Ten Commandments. We’d rather watch poorly directed movies about the Bible which totally distort the Word, than to read the Word.
It’s easy to conclude . . . we just don’t read very much and Christ - followers don’t read their Bibles very much.
Now . . . here’s the question. If we aren’t reading our Bibles and letting the Word of God shape us, then “What is shaping our values and worldview!?” Is it what we read on Google or Yahoo? Is it the Huffington Post or New York Times? Is if from the editorial commentaries of on-line and TV news programs?
Folks, what is it that shapes our beliefs, worldviews and values?
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the first Psalm. In Psalm 1 we read ~
1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his DELIGHT is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
The psalmist describes the “blessed person as someone who does not hang out with the sinners, scoffers nor with the wicked. That’s a great start. But what keeps them centered or grounded? It comes in verse 2 . . . as we read, 2 but his DELIGHT is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.
We’re going to focus on the words DELIGHT and MEDITATE. Let’s look at MEDITATE. The Psalmist and the Bible are not talking about eastern meditation, where we sit with our legs crossed, hold our hands out and go ‘Ooohm!’ That’s not what we’re talking about. Eastern meditation is about EMPTYING yourself, so you can be filled by whatever god you believe in.
In Biblical meditation, we are not emptying ourself, but we are filling ourself with the Word of God. The real goal is attachment with God. We try to remove ourselves from all our worries and concerns so we can attach ourselves to God. Once we attach ourselves to God, there is a new openness to experience God and have a growing life in Christ.
Sometimes we think meditation is not a very manly image. But I want you to consider what the word literally means in Hebrew. The word meditate in Hebrew means “to mutter or mumble or growl.” It was actually used to describe a lion who was standing over its prey, ready to feast. When a lion is in this position it makes a low, growling sound. That’s a pretty cool image! That’s the same word being used to describe the person who was meditating on the Word of God.
It was the habit of the people of God to meditate. They did this in Old Testament and New Testament times. They didn’t have the benefit of a printed copy of Scripture so they would take what they were taught in the Temple or early gatherings of the church and they would turn the words over and over in their minds. They would do this in the morning and during the day while they worked and before they went to bed at night.
And each time they turned it over in their minds through meditation it would go deeper and deeper into them until it became them. That’s what would happen when a lion would devour its prey. What it “meditated” on eventually became part of them.
Meditation on God’s word is not a drudgery. It should be a delight.
DELIGHT is the other word.
“Delight” is a word found throughout the psalms in regard to God’s word. It dominates Psalm 119. Psalm 119 speaks a great deal about God’s word. The word delight is found 9 times in this Psalm. In Hebrew, Delight means “longing, desirable or excited attention.”
Because you delight and meditate on the Word of God, or as they put it back then on the Law of the Lord, good things will happen. It doesn’t mean nothing bad ever happens to you, but it means you will stay away from those scoffers, sinners and the wicked. You’ve learned God has an expectation we will be holy, just as He is holy.
The Psalmist reminds us the good which flows from delighting and meditating on God’s Word means
3 you are like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that you do, you prosper.
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous.
That’s great news for us. But you have to know the Word of God. That means you take the Word seriously. I remember a number of years ago my sister Susie and I would have a number of religious conversations about Christianity and Judaism. Susie and her husband were Jewish. They had a lot of questions, and eventually I went out and bought them a Bible . . . a Jewish Bible. Not that I didn’t want them to know Christ, but I wanted them to know what said they believed in.
I feel that way too often for so many people who say they follow Christ. You say you are a Christian, you follow Christ, but do you really know the Word of God. Do you really know what you say you believe in? You know the major stories from Sunday School and from worship. You’ve heard some of them over and over again.
But when your faith is challenged how much scripture do you really know? The point is to grow in your knowledge of God. Not so you can impress your friends with your Biblical knowledge, but you can draw closer and closer to God because you are conversing with God through Bible reading and study.
Theologian R.C. Sproul once said we don’t read Scripture “not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy.”
Yikes!!! That’s quite an indictment, I think partly true, but I really think another aspect is . . . we just don’t know how to read the Bible, and when we don’t know how to do something and we don’t understand it, we tend to give up.
People often expect the pastors to tell them all they need to know in order to succeed in life. But you’re here for only 1-3 hours per week - - - Sunday School, worship, Bible study. Yet, people will leave a church saying, “I’m not getting fed.” WHOA!!! You’re not getting fed? Let me tell you, we get you for 1-3 hours per week, but there are another 164-166 hours per week for you to feed yourself.
This is why the writer of Hebrews is so angry about what was going on in the church. In Hebrews 5:11-14, we read,
11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.
12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!
13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.
14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
According to the writer, the people should be eating solid food. They should be teachers and chomping on meat, however, they’re still nursing, and not as advanced in understanding the Word as they should be. My mentor in my doctoral project, David Larsen wrote, “Constant use of spiritual teeth makes it possible for us to masticate the solid meat of the Word, the deep things of God.”
The image I gain is what it means to eat beef jerky. (TAKE A BITE) Beef jerky is good, but you need to have strong teeth to take a bite out of it. In the same way, as we grow in Christ, we develop spiritual teeth which helps us grow from milk drinkers to solid food eaters.
Sticking with the food motif, as he was battling cancer, David Watson wrote,
As I spent time chewing over the endless assurances and promises to be found in the Bible, so my faith in the living God grew stronger and held me safe in His hands. God’s word to us, especially His word spoken by His Spirit through the Bible, is the very ingredient that feeds our faith. If we feed our souls regularly on God’s word, several times each day, we should become robust spiritually just as we feed on ordinary food several times each day, and become robust physically. Nothing is more important than hearing and obeying the word of God.
Isn’t it true, as much as we eat to remain physically healthy and strong, we need to take in the Word of God, read the Bible, so we become spiritually strong.
We sometimes think and we definitely hear it . . . the Bible is old, ancient and archaic. Yet, Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16, 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
What I really like is that Paul says scripture, ALL scripture is GOD BREATHED! That is like God talking to us, breathing life into us. As God breathed the breath of life into Adam, God breathes the breath of life through His Word into our hearts, spirits, minds and bodies.
This is also why the writer of Hebrews and our memory verse could say, “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
Believe God’s Word is living and active, and super sharp that it can penetrate into the areas we thought were off limits.
God’s Word is a love letter to us. The Bible is really one unit, one story, which we learned when we did The Story a few years ago, and went through the Bible in 32 weeks. God tells us from the very beginning to the very end “I LOVE YOU!”
Here’s a picture of a pile of letters, notes, and cards Debbie has given me. I have the very first note she gave me. It’s when we started dating. It’s not mushy, it doesn’t say I love you, but it’s from Debbie and it’s precious.
We don’t throw those love letters out. In the same way, God’s Word is His love letter to you. It’s not to be thrown out or discarded. It’s to be read over and over again, reminding ourselves how much God really loves us.
Finally . . . and we could go on for a few days on Bible reading . . . a couple of more practical concluding thoughts . . .
If you don’t know what Bible to read, here’s a chart. The most difficult to understand Bibles are the KJV / NASB. They are very literal and use older language. The ESV and NKJV are SLIDEalso literal translations, yet are in more modern English.
Dynamic equivalent (Thought for Thought) Bibles are Bibles that are not as concerned with a literal translation, but want you to understand the message. That would include the NIV and NLT, Holman Christian Standard, New Century Bible, the Living Bible and the Message are paraphrases.
My preferences are the ESV and NKJV. I also like the 1984 NIV as a Dynamic Equivalent Bible. But I don’t like the newer version of the NIV. I believe they have changed the meaning of some of the verses.
If you’re not sure where to start reading in the Bible . . . start with Mark. It’s the shortest Gospel and 95% of Mark is in Matthew. In 16 chapters you’ll gain a better understanding of the Gospel story. But that’s not all there is.
I can give you other ideas about what to read and where to start.
If you are looking to go a little deeper in your study, I love the SOAP method of Bible reading. It’s from Wayne Cordeiro, a pastor in Hawaii. Nice place to be about now.
Scripture: Start off with the Bible. Read the verses which are on your plan for the day. I would even suggest a quick prayer before you read the Bible.
Observation: As you read, write down any observations you have from the text. Ask yourself questions so you can observe better. What’s happening? Who’s involved? Ask yourself the facts!
Application: Based on what you’ve read…what should you do? Make it practical and realistic. Write it down and hold yourself accountable to it.
Prayer: Last but not least, spend some time in prayer. Confess and repent of any sins that were brought to light while you were reading. Spend time thanking God. Ask God to strengthen you so you can accomplish what you believe He is asking you to do. Then spend some time listening to God.
Keep it simple. The goal of your time with God is to grow closer to Him. It’s not to check off your to do list. Don’t add extra burdens. The goal is to spend time with God. Read His love story to you! It’s powerful and life altering!