Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:4–6
Like all presidents, John F Kennedy hosted state dinners at the White House. One of those dinners was to honor several Nobel Prize winners. During his remarks the president told his dinner guests, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined here alone.” Jefferson has not always been held in such high regard. In 1800 Jefferson and John
Adams were in a bitter election fight to see who would become the 3 rd president of the United States. During that election Jefferson was called mean-spirited, a low lived fellow, a weakling and a coward. Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal and a tyrant. I share this story not as a history lesson but to point out the words matter. Words can mislead, threaten, humiliate, and tear down. On the other hand, words
can encourage, educate, and inspire.
Let’s look at some examples of inspiring words.
July, 1776 “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This of course is Jefferson’s opening line of the Declaration of Independence one of the most famous documents ever written. It inspired the start our democracy. Unfortunately our nation did not live up to the ideals of equality set forth in those words. So fast forward 87 years to another set of powerful words, this time written and delivered by President Lincoln.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this
continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the
proposition that all men are created equal.
Lincoln was speaking to honor those who had fought and died at the battle of Gettysburg. The president went on to say,
That we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the face of the earth.” Even though the outcome of the Civil War preserved the Union, we continued to fail on the ideal of equality and justice for all.
Almost 100 years later Dr. Martin Luther King picked up the cry for equality. He delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech not on a battle field but on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Hear these powerful and inspiring words.
Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the
cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on
the high plain of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative
protest to degenerate into physical violence.
Dr. King continued to the more well-known parts of the speech.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the
true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that
all people are created equal. I have a dream that my 4 children will one
day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their
skin but by the content of their character.
If these words written by people can inspire the birth of a nation, preserve a country torn apart by civil war and energize the Civil Rights movement how much more powerful is the Word of God? As we continue this morning let me say—I believe as Timothy stated in his second letter that “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.” This view is certainly not shared by the world but it should be a foundational position for Christians.
In our New Testament reading this morning Timothy encourages us to “preach the word, be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”
Be prepared, be able to provide careful instruction. The problem is we can’t do those things unless we are spending time studying the Bible…learning about God’s character. Just as we devote 12–16 years or more to becoming educated we need to become knowledgeable and skilled in God’s word. John Calvin compared scripture to being like a pair of glasses that enable us to properly interpret what we see in creation. He wrote…
For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any book, however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written, are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly.
I can certainly relate to what Calvin is saying. As you can see I wear reading glasses. When my eyes began to change I was stubborn and resisted going to the eye doctor for a checkup. I struggled to see when I was reading, especially in low light. Once I admitted to myself that I needed glasses and got them what a difference it made. Just like wearing my glasses the more I read scripture the better understanding I have of God’s character and his love. We need to be thinking about and applying God’s word to our everyday lives. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Peter also picks up on this theme when says he wrote both of his letters as reminders to “stimulate you (us) to wholesome thinking.” Throughout the Bible we are called to think. To think according to the Will of God, so that we may have an understanding of
what is set forth in scripture. One of my passions is athletics and it has been my experience that the most successful athletes are the ones that use their minds as well as their speed, strength and hand/eye coordination.
One of my favorite athletes is Jack Nicklaus. His preparation to play in golf’s major championships is well known. Yes, he had great physical skill but what set Jack apart was his mental preparation. British Open champion Tony Jacklin said this of the Golden Bear. “He would always think more clearly than the next guy. That’s why he came out on top in all those pressure situations. He knew if he could get into the final
group on Sunday in a major, he would be thinking better than his adversary.”
Nicklaus won 18 major championships and finished second another 19 times. He and his wife Barbara have also created the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, which has raised more than $100 million dollars. More important to Jack than all of those accomplishments is his faith, and his family. In the book Best Seat in the
House, Gary Nicklaus wrote this about his famous father. “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” That quote is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi and when Gary read it he said “I immediately thought of dad. He is the living example of those words. My mom and dad passed faith in Christ on to us, one of the greatest gifts they ever gave my brothers, sister and me.”
When Mike Krzyzewski, the winningest coach in college basketball, announced this summer he would retire next year—the President of Duke said this of Coach K. “For the past 42 years you have been resolutely and zealously committed to Duke University, your players and excellence.” As I listened to the university president’s comments my thoughts were… “Can those same words be used to describe my commitment to Christ? Am I resolute and zealous for the word of God?” Certainly not to the degree I want to be.
The best example of a person who was resolute and zealous for God’s word is Christ. The Jewish leaders were always trying to trip Jesus up or trick Him into saying something they could use against him. Mark chapter 12 has several examples of this, including our New Testament reading this morning. The Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, challenged Jesus with a set of facts designed to make him
look bad no matter how He answered their question. Listen to how Jesus responded:
Are you not in error because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God?” When the dead rise they will neither marry or be given in marriage; they will be like angels in heaven.” He went on to tell them, “You are badly mistaken.” A teacher of the law then came to Jesus and asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important? “The most important one,” answered Jesus, is this: “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all strength and with all your mind. The second is this, love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
The answer Jesus gave comes right from the Old Testament reading this morning. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, The Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. This command Jesus had learned from his parents at an early age. We too, are to have God’s words in the front of our minds. We are to impress them on our children. To talk about them when we are at home, when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up. Why is Moses hammering this point over and over again? So we can truly know God’s word and His doctrine. So we can skillfully apply the truth of God’s word in our lives.
In the secular world we have all seen examples of what this looks like. When I was working for the Chiefs Radio Network I flew to Chicago for a meeting with the other radio producers and the head of the NFL officials. We were there for an update on the rule changes for the coming football season. I don’t recall his name but this veteran referee had total command of the NFL rule book. For several hours he answered every question we had and explained what rules the League wanted to emphasize to make the game safer and more entertaining. He never once looked at any notes or went to the actual rule book for a reference. He knew it…cover to cover.
You may be thinking of an example in your own life of a person who has become an expert in their field. Another one that comes to mind for me was the show which aired for years on NPR called Car Talk. This was a very entertaining program which featured two brothers who were expert auto mechanics. They had spent much of their lives working on cars and they owned a successful repair shop before their local radio show went national. For those of you who remember the show, listeners would call in and describe problems they were having with their cars. The two brothers would then ask questions like what kind of car do you have, is the problem happening all the time, what sound is the car making when you are having the problem…The brothers would
then tell the callers what they thought was causing the issue and how to fix it. They didn’t say let me pull up the owner’s manual on line or let me do some research and I will get back to you next week. Much like the NFL referee, they were experts in their profession and they were able to skillfully and quickly use their knowledge to solve the problems being presented to them in real time.
As Christian, how many of us have that kind of knowledge of the Bible? Why should we become students of scripture? Theologian RC Sproul puts it this way… “It is not just a matter of knowing correct theology but when the doctrine of God is distorted it always has an impact on human behavior.” Spraul adds, “the reason the New Testament writers are so emphatic in their teaching of sound doctrine is not so we become Ph.D’s in theology but rather that our lives may bear the fruit of the gospel
as we understand the truth of the gospel.”
It is easy to be deceived when we do not understand the truth of the gospel. Several years ago a college course was offered by The University of Kansas titled “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creation and Other Religious Mythologies.” The assertion here being the Biblical account of creation and of God is being relegated to the category of myth. Christianity is not based on myth. It is tied to very closely to history and historic events. In fact, we in the western world measure time as BC, before Christ and AD, after Christ. I submit that Jesus is the most historic person who ever lived. We shouldn’t be surprised when classes like this are taught. In Second Peter the Apostle warns the early church of false teachers and false prophets. Peter says such people will introduce destructive heresies and bring the way of truth into dispute. The narrative for the class is anyone who believes in the Biblical creation account is just an anti-intellectual fool. No one would call Dr. Francis Collins a fool. He has done pioneering work on mapping human DNA. Collins says the God of the Bible is also the God of the gnome. “His creation is majestic, awesome, intricate and beautiful.” Collins adds, “The universe follows elegant mathematical laws. These laws include a half a dozen constants that have to have the exact value they do or there would be no possibility of anything interesting or complex in nature.”
Like the Apostle Peter, Christian song writer and performer Keith Green also warns us to be on guard. In his song “No One Believes in Me Anymore,” Green sings from the point of view of Satan, saying, “I put some truth in every lie to tickle itching ears…hey man you ain’t no sinner, you’ve got the truth within. The song continues…”Heaven’s just a state of mind, my books read on your shelf. Have you heard that God is dead? I made that one up myself. They are dabbling in magic spells, they get their fortunes read. You know, they heard the truth but turned away and followed me instead. No one’s watching for my tricks since no one believes in me anymore.”
Don’t be deceived. Satan is very real. Remember Jesus when instructing the disciples how to pray told them in the Lord’s Prayer…deliver us from evil. A more accurate translation is “the evil one.” In scripture, Satan doesn’t challenge the truth of God’s word, what he does is try to get us to believe in something less than what God is actually saying. Jesus himself experienced this when he was confronted in the
wilderness by Satan. Listen to Luke’s account of the interaction between Christ and the devil. “If you are the son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Now think back with me: What was the last thing Jesus heard before going into the wilderness days earlier? Just after being baptized the Holy Spirit descended upon him and a voice came out of heaven saying, “This is my beloved son, in thee I am well pleased.” The devil knew very well who Jesus was but he was trying to get Jesus to doubt what God had clearly said.
Luke describes several other interactions where the devil used parts of scripture to tempt Christ. Each time Jesus responded with the full truth of what God actually had said. Having failed to place doubt in Jesus’s mind as to who He was or the truth of God’s word, what did Satan do? Luke tells us he departed from Him until an opportune time. Notice Satan didn’t leave for good. This wasn’t the last time Christ would have to deal with the devil. So we too face temptation and doubts. The question is how are we going to respond? Will we be able to call upon God’s word in that moment of temptation or trial?
Some practical suggestions for how to become more knowledgeable in your faith. Make a commitment to start your day with a quiet time. Pray and read the scriptures. Ten minutes at first, longer as you go along. If you are not a morning person, have your quiet time before going to bed. Whatever works best for you. Martin Luther wanted his students to read the entire Bible every year to refresh their understanding of redemptive history. While that may be a long term goal, start small. Read a few verses or a chapter each day. There are countless devotional guides available to help you get started. Find one you like and get going. Change is not easy but as Christians we have the power of the Holy Spirit to draw upon to help us make those changes. We all have the gift of choice each day. My hope for all of us is that we will make a conscious choice to spend more time in prayer and Bible study so that we can become more passionate for Christ, so that our lives may bear the fruit of the gospel. Amen.