Truth on Trial

Defending the Truth, 26 August 2018

Defending the Truth
D6 Series—Truth on Trial
1 Peter 3:13-17

Series Overview: God is truth and the source of all truth.

Big Idea: We need to know the truth so we can accurately and lovingly share the truth.

We’ve been talking about truth throughout this month. We said first and foremost, Jesus is the truth—the way, the truth, and the life. The Bible was God-breathed or God-spirited or inspired by God. It is a miracle: 66 books written by approximately 40 people over 1500 years in three languages, yet it is remarkably cohesive and consistent in telling a beautiful love story between a Creator and His creation, between God and humanity.

We can know God through general revelation—creation—and specific revelation, including the Bible. So how do we get everyone to believe the Bible is true and obey it perfectly like us?!?! Ha!

Today we’re looking at truth upheld. The fancy word is apologetics. No, it’s not to to say you’re sorry. Apologetics is “the religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse.”

In plain English, it’s defending the Bible from critics. Today we’re talking about defending the truth, which ultimately means both helping others experience God and drawing us closer to our Creator.

We’re all at different places in our spiritual journey. Some of you may be atheists. Welcome! Some of you may be agnostics. We want to welcome you, too! Others of you are new to the faith, some have followed Jesus for a while, and still others of you have been Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians for decades. Therefore, any discussion about defending the Bible acknowledges some of you want to be equipped to defend the Bible while others of you are on the other side, wondering why anyone would believe it in the first place. I’m so glad you’re here, regardless!

Jude wrote to early Christians,
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. (Jude 3)
One of the great things about the Bible is it’s a book about real people and real, historical events. Every year archaeologists are uncovering evidence verifying the authenticity of the Bible. Hundreds of biblical prophecies have been fulfilled. Micah 5:2 and Luke 2:4-7 connect as just one example.
Skeptics often say the Bible has contradictions and errors, but a more careful examination reveals that’s simply not the case. For instance, they’ll say God never changes, yet He changed His mind…but did He? Or was it merely from the perspective of the writer that He
appeared to change His mind. There are difficult biblical passages, but I have yet to find one without an explanation.
I mentioned last week how many of the sharpest critics of the Bible have become followers of Jesus, embracing the Scriptures as God’s Word. Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell are among them, and if you have questions about the Bible and its truthfulness, I urge you to read their research. Other prominent apologists—or defenders of the Bible—include Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Tim Keller, and even C.S. Lewis. I’m not suggesting I agree with everything each of them have written, but they have devoted much of their lives addressing biblical critics and revealing evidence for the reliability of the Bible.
If you’re a skeptic, I doubt a single sermon will change your mind, but I urge you to investigate. Ask questions. Text me your questions. It might sound cliché coming from a pastor, but I’ve studied, I’ve done the research, and I’m convinced the Bible is God’s Word. I declare my full support for The
Alliance Statement of Faith which says,
The Old and New Testaments, inerrant as originally given, were verbally inspired by God and are a complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men. They constitute the divine and only rule of Christian faith and practice.

If you believe the Bible, do you know why? Can you defend it? The greater question is, what are you doing about your belief in the Bible?
I’m going to say something radical which will probably get me in trouble.

I don’t care if the Bible is true. Well, that’s not quite true. Don’t post that on Twitter!

I care more about Jesus being true than the Bible being true. Our faith is not built upon a book, but rather a person. Truth is not a list of propositions. It’s a person. Again, Jesus said,

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
Everything in the Bible is true, but it’s not the center of our faith, nor does it claim to be. Christianity is built upon Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection.
Pastor Andy Stanley summarized this point when he said: “Christianity does not exist because of the Bible any more than you exist because of your birth certificate. Your birth certificate documents something that happened. If you lose it, you do not go out of existence.”
We need to let the Bible guide us toward Jesus. The Bible is all true, but it’s not the center of faith for us. Jesus is that center.
Some people get so caught up in defending the Bible and whether it is inspired or inerrant or King James or infallible or whatever that they miss the purpose of the Bible—to help us know the God who created us, loves us, died for us, rose from the dead, and will return to judge us all. The Bible is a love letter. It tells us who God is, who we are, and how we are to love God and one another.

The Bible is divine revelation, revealing God’s will for salvation. The Scriptures guide our faith and practice. They tell us how to live…and why we should live. They tell us how to love…and why we should love.

With all respect to the great apologists who defend the Bible, who cares if the Bible is true if it is not studied and applied? Most people in our city aren’t asking, “Is the Bible true?” They want to know, “Does it work? Can I apply it to my life? So what?”

I love the Bible. I read it. I study it. I proclaim it. I believe it. I know it is inspired by God.
But the foundation of our faith is not a book. It’s not theology. It’s not laws or rules. It’s a story. It’s a Person. It’s an empty cross…and an empty tomb. Our faith is built upon the historical, living Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. To quote a great hymn,

My faith is built on nothing less/than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

If you asked me about my wife and I showed you all of the love letters she wrote me over the years but never said anything about my relationship with her, you’d find that rather odd, right? I care more about my wife than the letters she wrote me, and the same is true for the Bible. I love it, but it’s a means to an end. It helps me know God.

The Bible is big. It’s controversial. A friend of mine recently put together a list of 24 questions and asked people to rank their order of importance. The point of the exercise is not to answer the questions, but rather to determine if the question is peripheral, important, essential, or affects salvation. Here are a few examples:

Is the story of Jonah and the fish a (fictional) parable or did it actually happen?
Was the universe created less than ten thousand years ago in six 24-hour days?
Will pets be in heaven?
Are there errors of any kind in the Bible?
Did Jesus physically rise from the dead?

Our six elders agreed on the priority of only one of these questions. That is, some felt the question was a salvation issue while others felt it was essential, important, or peripheral.

Scripture never says we must believe in an actual person named Jonah who was swallowed by a great fish in order to be saved and experience eternal life.

Scripture never says we must believe in a literal, six 24-hour day creation to be saved.

I think Paul was pretty clear:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

Don’t hear what I’m not saying! I don’t know how old the earth is, and it’s really not that important to me. If you want to use an alternative narrative to deny the existence of God, I’m out of here, but if you content God may have used some type of evolution to produce our universe, I’m not going to get hung up on six 24-hour days…especially since the sun and moon were not even created until the fourth day…so what defines a day and how long were the first three days?

With all due respect to the Creation Museum, the age of our universe has no bearing on whether or not Jesus died and rose again for you and me. In the beginning God. That’s my focus. Maybe the earth is billions of years old and maybe it’s thousands of years old. I don’t know! I don’t care! What I do know is Jesus is Lord, I believe in my heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that I’m commanded to love God and love others as I love myself.

If you want to study the age of the earth, that’s great. Really. But don’t worship the study of creation. Worship the Creator…and obey Him.

See, the challenge we all face is how to read the Bible. Some have called for a literal interpretation. Well, that’s fine when Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But
always taken literally, we would have to declare the Bible is clearly false. For example,

The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. (Psalms 50:1)

The sun does not rise. We know this. It is undeniable. The earth rotates in such a way that it appears that the sun rises, but it is the earth—not the sun—which moves. There! This is an example of biblical criticism. The critics say the Bible can’t be true…

…except the Psalms are not a science textbook. They are songs and poems. When a singer sings, “I love you with all of my heart,” they’re not speaking of the organ in their chest that pumps blood. It’s a metaphor for deep emotion and commitment. There are many things in the Bible which need to be interpreted, not merely read like a
Toledo Blade article. As we understand the Bible and, in particular, the overarching narrative of the Bible, the problematic passages begin to make sense. If you were to read a John Grisham or Steven King novel, you don’t begin with chapter six and say it’s confusing. You need to understand the big picture…the story.

Sometimes the Bible—or its misuse—has actually become a barrier to people knowing Jesus. Could there be anything more tragic? Scot McKnight wrote in his book The King Jesus Gospel

“When the plan (of salvation) gets separated from the story, the plan almost always becomes abstract, propositional, logical, rational, and philosophical and, most importantly, de-storified and unbiblical. When we separate the Plan of Salvation from the story, we cut ourselves off from the story that identifies us and tells our past and tells our future. We separate ourselves from Jesus and turn the Christian faith into a System of Salvation."

So What…now?

I know, some of you are getting confused, maybe even upset. Studying and obeying the Bible is not always simple, and like I said last Sunday, it’s not always best done by ourselves. We were created for community. From beginning to end, relationships are found on virtually every page of the Bible. We gather together to study. I’m not saying you should never open the Bible alone, but I am saying you probably can’t understand and apply every verse of the Bible alone.

Last week I mentioned the value of study Bibles, online tools, small groups, and most of all the Holy Spirit.

Should you eat ham on Easter?
Should you vote Republican or Democrat?
Should women pray without wearing a hat?
Should you go to a Rated-R movie? What if it’s “The Passion of the Christ?”
Should you own a house…or anything at all?
Should you give ten percent of your income to First Alliance Church? If so, gross or net?
Should you send your kids or grandkids to public, private, or home school?
Should you observe the Sabbath every Sunday? Or what about Saturday?
Should you get a tattoo or not?

Here’s the honest truth: the answer to all of those questions is maybe.

So what are we to do now?

First, focus on Jesus. He’s the subject of the Bible. The great thing about Jesus is he’s alive, so as we learn about him, we also can talk with him through prayer. He summarized the entire Bible quite simply.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-36)

Jesus replied:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth as it says in John chapter 16. Knowing God is a fascinating adventure because we have the Bible, we have the church, and we have the Holy Spirit helping us know our Father and His son, Jesus.

Third, be a student. Recognize you don’t know and understand everything in the Bible, much less obey it. That’s ok. I don’t know and understand everything about my wife, either. Each day is a new opportunity to discover her, and a new opportunity to discover Jesus. Dr. Leonard Sweet once said, “20% of my theology is wrong. I just don’t know what 20%.” That’s humility, and that’s the posture we need to have when it comes to the Bible. There are many things which are very clear: love others, pray, care for widows and strangers and orphans, speak truthfully, stay sexually pure, etc. These are repeated throughout the Bible and throughout church tradition, too. If you ever hear of someone claiming a radical new understanding of the Bible, question them. We stand today on the shoulders of men and women who have studied and applied the Bible for centuries. God never changes. His Word, the Bible, continues to change the lives of people around the world, however.

Our apologetic—our defense of the Bible—is the resurrection of Jesus. Paul, the great persecutor of the first Christians who became a follower of Jesus and spent much of his life starting churches, wrote,

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)

The Bible is all about Jesus. Do you know him?

Jesus’ friend Peter wrote,

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17)

The greatest apologetic—the greatest defense of the Bible—is your life transformed through it. It has often been said your life will be the only Bible some people will ever read. The best defense is a good offense—an attractive, compelling life.

I challenge you to read the Bible. Study it. Apply it. See if it doesn’t change your life. See if God doesn’t change your life. He has changed mine. Jesus is alive. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

Apologetics Resources (defending the Bible from critics)

Ravi Zacharias
Josh McDowell
Lee Strobel
William Lane Craig

Online Bible Study Resources

The Navigators
Mission 119

Books on Studying the Bible

The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Richards and O'Brien

A Provocative Interview

Andy Stanley

Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Preserving Truth, 19 August 2018

    Preserving the Truth
    D6 Series—Truth on Trial
    1 Peter 1:22-25
    Series Overview:
    God is truth and the source of all truth.
    Big Idea: The Bible has transformed lives for thousands of years…and continues to do so today.
    I want to take you back in time to…2007. Do you remember? The nation was in recession. Detroit and their car companies was in trouble. My mom bought a Chrysler minivan which came with a special lifetime warranty. A lifetime warranty!

    They say nothing lasts forever, but a lifetime warranty is good enough, right? When I buy a car—or a house or computer or most anything, I want it to last. I know, things break, but who likes to have the dishwasher quit…besides the appliance repair person?

    Our world feels so temporary, so disposable. My four year-old iPhone is considered by many to be a dinosaur. Fashion trends change every few years, if not every few months. The careers of musicians is sometimes shorter than that of athletes, which isn’t long. The changes on our planet are occurring faster and faster, making anything resembling stability and longevity increasingly rare. Retro and vintage are the new modern! What can we rely upon? What can we trust? What won’t go out of style in twenty minutes?

    We’re in the middle of a series on
    truth. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but even truth has—uh—changed. ‘Post-truth’ was named the word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries…but that was in 2016 so I’m sure it’s outdated! They defined post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” I’m going to go out on a limb and say it is true that we have entered a post-truth society.

    “Don’t confuse me with the facts.”
    “What I feel is true.”
    “What I experience is true.”
    “I find truth by turning inward.”

    Can there be anything more audacious and arrogant than ignoring thousands of years of history and making ourselves gods, declaring our understanding to be superior to that of the billions of people who have walked our planet?

    Our authority is God and His Word, the Bible. As I have said, I’m not the authority. I am an authority, but not the authority. If anything I say contradicts scripture, call me out on it.

    I admit, our government has not always been trustworthy, which is necessary for truth.
    I admit, our media has not always been trustworthy.
    I admit, social media has not always been trustworthy. Can you say, “Fake news?”
    I admit, religious leaders have not always been trustworthy.

    But I want to suggest to you that God is trustworthy, God’s Word is trustworthy, and they have never failed.

    One of my favorite biblical characters is Peter. Sure, he gets a bad rap—he denied Jesus three times, after all—but he grew and matured and shaped the movement Jesus began. In his first letter to the early church, he wrote,

    Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23)

    As we mentioned last week, Peter did not have 66 leather-bound books. He did have access to the Old Testament books. He had heard many sermons. Most of all, he had spent three years with The Truth, Jesus Christ, the word, the Greek word “logos.” Peter literally knew the Truth, the Messiah. By following Jesus, by obeying God’s teachings, he was becoming purified. He was becoming like Jesus. He was exhibiting sincere love, and taught others to do the same.

    He had not been transformed from a loose-lipped hot head to a brilliant leader by watching self-help videos on YouTube or by attending a motivational seminar. No, he had become born again—a new creation—through the imperishable, living, enduring word of God. Psalm 119 asks,

    How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
    By living according to your word.
    I seek you with all my heart;
    do not let me stray from your commands.
    I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you. (Psalms 119:9-11)

    The Bible is a miracle. It has been banned by many regimes. Translators have died as martyrs. It has transcended cultures and continents. It has stood the test of time—not merely centuries but thousands of years. Although it was written by approximately 40 people over 1500 years in three languages—Hebrew, Greek, and a bit of Aramaic, it is remarkably cohesive and consistent in telling a beautiful love story between a Creator and His creation, between God and humanity. Peter continued…

    “All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
    the grass withers and the flowers fall, 1Peter 1:24
    but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

    And this is the word that was preached to you. 1Peter 1:25
    But is it true? Can you trust it? What about all of the Bible’s critics?

    Well, if truth is merely that which you want it to be, that which is internal, I’d encourage you to just say the Bible is true and that’ll be good enough, right?

    All kidding aside, no other book has been so controversial, transformative, or scrutinized. It’s reliability and sustainability is miles beyond any other piece of literature in history.

    Obviously there’s no way I can thoroughly “prove” the Bible is true, but as you saw in the video, God has remarkably preserved His Word.

    Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Psalms 119:89)

    Banning, burning, and critiquing the Bible haven’t extinguished its popularity or power.

    Jesus said,

    Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Mark 13:31)

    For two thousand years, the words of Jesus have endured. They have transformed lives. They have changed the world.

    The story of our Bible is fascinating. Long before the printing press, scribes meticulously copied the texts. They had to ensure each letter was exact or else they would destroy their work and start over. These scribes were willing to die to defend and preserve it. When an OT manuscript wore out, the Jewish scribes burned or buried it.

    Perhaps you’ve heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I was privileged to visit the place in Israel where they were discovered. In the 1940s, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, Old Testament Hebrew manuscripts dating back to 100 BC, over 1000 years older than any previously known manuscripts. When compared, they were nearly identical, with most of the minor differences being the spelling of words.

    The Bible we have, family, is extremely close to the original texts, with virtually no discrepancies in the messages and meaning, just grammatical differences.

    Jesus said,

    For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18)

    Last week I said some people say they don’t believe the Bible but have never read it. Equally disconcerting is some people say they do believe the Bible but have never read it.

    There are numerous accounts of people who didn’t believe the Bible, sought to disprove it, and concluded the Bible is true!

    The recent movie,
    The Case for Christ, is a true story of journalist Lee Strobel’s journey from atheist to pastor.

    Josh McDowell is another best-selling author who had a similar path to faith.

    I’ve read the Bible and read
    about the Bible quite extensively. In my undergrad, grad, and doctoral studies, I’ve never encountered anything like it. It’s extraordinary. It better be since I’ve built my entire life on it and its chief subject, Jesus Christ!

    What we hold in our hands and on our devices is so precious, so profound, so powerful. We possess the very words of Almighty God, Creator of the universe. He’s reliable. He’s trustworthy. He’s true. And so is the Bible, God’s Word.

    So What?

    But what about you? Have you read the Bible? Have you let it read you?

    If you haven’t surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, I urge you to do so. If you’re not ready today, that’s fine, but I beg you to investigate. Ask questions. Seek answers. Read the Bible.

    Let me go a step beyond “read the Bible” and say, “Study the Bible.” It’s a big book—or shall I say collection of books. Perhaps the best tool—besides a Bible in a translation you can read and understand—is a study Bible. Two of my favorites are the
    NIV Study Bible and the Life Application Bible. They include notes corresponding to the text which help you understand the background and context.

    Online, the YouVersion app is loaded with free resources. Mission 119 is another free app with daily readings and devotions, something our church has been using throughout this year.

    Get in a group. The Bible was not meant to be read alone, in isolation. Yes, personal Bible study is essential, but reading and studying in community helps avoid misinterpretations. It engages the mind, heart and hands as we explore the texts together and make application. It spurs one another on toward obedience.

    If you’re not in a group, I invite you to join ours at 9 AM across the street in the Fellowship Hall. We are all at various stages in our spiritual journey, exploring God’s Word together. New small groups will be launching in the next few weeks. A directory of groups can be found at our Information Center kiosk and at the bottom of the weekly
    FAC Focus e-newsletter each Wednesday.

    Finally, I want to remind you of the most important resource in studying the Bible—the Holy Spirit. Jesus once was talking with his friends and said

    “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15)

    The Holy Spirit guides us into all the truth. He is the Spirit of truth. It’s like an air mattress. It can function without air, but not well! It’s designed to be filled. The same is true for the Bible. We can read it as literature, but the Holy Spirit brings it to life.

    Apart from the Holy Spirit, we cannot fully understand the Scriptures. The Spirit provides an anointing, an illumination, an ability to truly understand the Bible. John wrote,

    But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth…As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:20, 27)

    That’s the bottom line, family. Remain in Jesus. Remain in His Word. Invite the Holy Spirit to fill you, to guide you into all truth, to enhance your understanding and obedience of the Bible. It has been carefully preserved for us to study and apply.

    Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalms 119:105)

    some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Divine Truth, 12 August 2018

    Divine Truth
    D6 Series—Truth on Trial
    2 Timothy 3:12-17

    Series Overview: God is truth and the source of all truth.

    Big Idea: The Bible is God’s message to all humans, revealing Jesus, the truth.


    Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

    Jesus had already declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

    Our August series,
    Truth on Trial, is a look at how God reveals Himself to us.

    Last week we said general revelation is God speaking through creation:

    For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

    Every creation has a creator. You can’t get something from nothing. Now theoretically speaking, some scientists from the University of Michigan have said you can conjure particles from a vacuum under the right conditions, but actually even then their “nothing” is something, according to Popular Science magazine.

    This building had a creator…or creators. It didn’t just appear one day. This space reflects the creativity of its creators.

    Someone designed and created my shoes. The same can be said for my phone and car and drinking mug. Music and paintings and sculptures all reflect their artist.

    If you look at
    nature, you will see incredible examples of God’s creativity. I know, there are some who believe this is all one big cosmic accident or that aliens are responsible for our universe (seriously!), but I choose to believe in a Creator…and Romans 1:20 affirms it.

    But last week we said there’s another way God speaks, another source of truth. We call it special revelation. Special revelation refers to God revealing Himself through supernatural means, including dreams, visions, physical appearances, the Bible, and most of all Jesus. Our focus last Sunday was on Jesus. He is the truth. God is true. Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus is true. Jesus is truth. He makes the rules. We follow them…or suffer the consequences.

    Today we turn our attention to another type of special revelation—the Bible. Is it truth? Can we trust it? How do we study it? What is its purpose?

    What is the Bible, and why should I care? I’m glad you asked!

    I was raised to believe in the importance of reading the Bible. As a child, I didn’t understand a lot of it, but I was told—like vitamins—it was just good for me.

    It could’ve been worse! I could’ve been raised Catholic during the era of the Latin Mass, sitting through Sunday after Sunday unable to understand a single word spoken!

    The Bible is not a book, but rather a collection of books. There are 66 books, written by approximately 40 people over 1500 years in three languages—Hebrew, Greek, and a bit of Aramaic. The authors were kings, leaders, servants, and everything in between. There are poems, stories, wisdom, prophecies, and instructions. Yet for all of its diversity, it has a marvelous unity to it. I don’t think its an overstatement to call it a miracle.

    The Bible is the most popular book in history. If included in the NY Times bestseller list, it would be number one every single year.

    It is the most powerful book in history. Millions of lives have been transformed by these writings.

    It is the most precious book in history. People have devoted their lives to translating it into more languages than any other book in history, some even dying for the right to do so or acquire copies of it.

    But despite its uniqueness among other books—sacred or secular—its purpose is most important. The Bible is a fantastic tool we have for understanding Jesus…and ourselves. It addresses life’s most fundamental questions, including origin, meaning, morality, purpose, hope, love, and eternity.

    My friend Alex is often asked how he knows the Bible is true. He says, “If it’s not, it should be!” There’s nothing like it. Nothing!

    Today’s scripture reading offers both a brilliant declaration about the Bible along with an important message for how to read the Bible. Paul is writing to his apprentice, Timothy. He writes,

    In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, 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. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:12-17)

    These last two verses are the most popular in this text.

    All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

    Some have wrongly concluded the Bible was dictated by God to its authors, the breath of God turning into words on a page. Others seem to feel the Bible itself becomes God. Some have tragically turned the Trinity into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible. Our English vocabulary fails to perfectly describe the original Greek word. Some have translated it “God-spirited.” We naturally jump to thinking Paul is referring to the 66 books we have in our leather-bound Bibles, but since the New Testament had not yet been compiled, he is speaking of the Old Testament and, no doubt, oral sources. This phrase “God-breathed” or “God-spirited” is unique not only in the Bible but also in Greek literature before Paul’s time. He was likely creating a word picture to convey the idea that God’s Spirit is behind the images and narratives we have in Scripture.

    That alone makes the Bible unique. People put pen to paper—or papyrus—but the Bible is God-inspired. If that’s true, we can say Scripture is God’s divine truth. It is unlike any other piece of literature. Human authors wrote it, but they were filled and inspired by God the Holy Spirit.

    Peter wrote,

    Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

    The Alliance Statement of Faith says,

    Old and New Testaments, inerrant as originally given, were verbally inspired by God and are a complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men. They constitute the divine and only rule of Christian faith and practice.

    As I stated last Sunday, I am not the authority at First Alliance Church, nor is our District Superintendent, Thomas George, or the Alliance President, Dr. John Stumbo. Because the Bible was inspired by God, it is our best source of special revelation, that which reveals God to us. God is our authority. Jesus is our Senior Pastor. The Bible is the best tool we have for learning about God…in order to know God.

    You can read a biography of George Washington and learn about him, but it won’t lead to a relationship with him.

    The Bible contains four biographies of Jesus—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—but it provides so much more than facts. Taken as a whole, the Bible is a beautiful narrative, a love story of God and humanity.

    I find it simply astonishing that the Creator of the universe would speak to us, not only through creation, but through the Bible and Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

    In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2)

    Listen to the Father’s heart as recorded in the book of Jeremiah the prophet:

    Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:12-14)

    God speaks through Jesus and the Bible so that we might know Him, not just about Him. He wants us to find Him! He wants us to know Him! The Bible is not to be approached as an encyclopedia to acquire facts, but rather a love letter to build a relationship. Yes, there are facts and instructions, stories and prophecies, but the overarching message is that of a Father to His children, expressing His character, love, and desires, inviting them into a deeper relationship with Himself while challenging them to obey and follow.

    So What?

    If the Bible is divine, we must read it…and obey. Jesus’ half brother, James, stated it so plainly.

    Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

    We read and study the Bible to know God and to know God’s will for our lives and to obey him. This idea of obedience is not politically correct in our society. We like to do our own thing. We like to create our own rules, be our own person, do what feels good, and pursue individual happiness. That works…until it doesn’t! If God is God, He knows best. I love these words from God to Job:

      “Who is this that questions my wisdom
    with such ignorant words?
    Brace yourself like a man,
    because I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.

      “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know so much.
    Who determined its dimensions
    and stretched out the surveying line?
    What supports its foundations,
    and who laid its cornerstone
    as the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?

      “Who kept the sea inside its boundaries
    as it burst from the womb,
    and as I clothed it with clouds
    and wrapped it in thick darkness?
    For I locked it behind barred gates,
    limiting its shores.
    I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come.
    Here your proud waves must stop!’

      “Have you ever commanded the morning to appear
    and caused the dawn to rise in the east?
    Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth,
    to bring an end to the night’s wickedness?
    As the light approaches,
    the earth takes shape like clay pressed beneath a seal;
    it is robed in brilliant colors.
    The light disturbs the wicked
    and stops the arm that is raised in violence.

      “Have you explored the springs from which the seas come?
    Have you explored their depths?
    Do you know where the gates of death are located?
    Have you seen the gates of utter gloom?
    Do you realize the extent of the earth?
    Tell me about it if you know!

    That’s just the beginning, but you get the idea! If God is God, He knows best. He makes the rules. He is the authority. We can choose to follow God and His Word or follow our own sinful desires and suffer the consequences.

    It amazes me how many so-called Christians have complete disregard for the Bible. They like the idea of God and His love, but ignore His wisdom, His will, His instructions. I have one friend who claims to follow God yet is choosing to deliberately violate the clear teachings of the Bible because…He thinks He knows better than God?

    Family, we all mess up, we fall…and we are to get up. I’m not talking struggles with sin. I’m speaking of willfully picking and choosing things from the Bible. It’s not a buffet! Either the Bible is true and authoritative or it’s not.

    We often struggle with the commands:

    • - Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:18; Mark 12:31)
    • - Care for the hungry, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner (Matthew 25:40)
    • - If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it (Matthew 16:25)
    • - Whoever divorces and marries another commits adultery (Matthew 5:27-32; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18)
    • - You must be perfect (Matthew 5:48)
    • - The last will be first, and the first last (Matthew 20:1-16)
    • - Judge not, that you be not judged (Matthew 7:1-6)
    • - Renounce all your possessions (Luke 14:33)
    • - Abstain from all sexual immorality (Matthew 15:19; Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 6:18)
    • - Do not lie (Leviticus 19:11)
    • - No other gods, including the person in the mirror (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7)
    • - Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (Mark 10:43)

    Mark Twain famously said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

    For the word of God is alive 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. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

    Here’s my simple challenge to you: read the Bible this week!

    Read it on your phone. The YouVersion website and app are totally free.
    Listen to it on your phone. The YouVersion website and app are totally free.
    Study with Pastor Soper at Mission 119. The website and app are totally free.
    Grab a copy of the New Living Translation of the Bible at our Information Center. Free!

    Read a verse. A chapter. A book. A great place to start is the book of Mark. It’s the shortest biography of Jesus.

    If you want a challenge to your lifestyle, read the book of James. It will rock your world.

    Looking for a way to connect with God in praise? Study the Psalms.

    Jesus said,

    My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

    Do you know Jesus? Do you know His voice? The Bible is one of our primary tools for knowing Jesus, hearing His voice, and obediently follow Hiim.

    In closing, most people who say they don’t believe the Bible have never read it! I think most people who say they do believe the Bible have never read it! This is God’s special revelation to us! The Creator of the universe! You owe it to yourself to read it…not for information, but for transformation. It’s all about Jesus!

    Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Absolute Truth, 5 August 2018

    Absolute Truth
    D6 Series—Truth on Trial
    John 14:1-7

    Series Overview: God is truth and the source of all truth.

    Big Idea: Despite statements to the contrary, absolute truth exists; truth is a Person and his name is Jesus.

    Questions. I love questions. I love asking questions.

    I love it when people ask me questions. I don’t always know the answers, but those are often my favorite questions because I can do research and learn, too.

    When it comes to questions, children are notoriously good at both asking and answering.

    Do you like questions?

    I’ve often said the two most important questions in life might be

    • - Who is God?
    • - Who am I?

    Those questions do not exactly appear in the Bible, but there is one question which might be the most brilliant question of all time.

    What do you think it is?

    See, I asked another question!

    The setting is Jesus’ trial. He is standing before Pilate on account of religious leaders who want Jesus crucified, though Pilate cannot understand why. There is a discussion about Jesus being called the King of the Jews.

    “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

    Jesus answered,
    “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37)

    Then Pilate asks the zinger, the question, maybe the most important question in the Bible.

    “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. John 18:38

    What is truth?

    It’s a simple question with profound implications, especially in a world drowning in information and data. How can you discern fake news from the real stuff? If you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, what can you believe?

    What is truth?

    Many today say there’s no such thing as absolute truth. Is that true? Isn’t saying absolute truth does not exist a statement of absolute truth?

    What is truth?

    In a world where billions of people practice Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism and even atheism, how we do we know Christianity is true?

    Even the realm of science is slippery.

    This Is Why Eating Healthy Is Hard (Time Travel Dietician). Written by Charles (Chuck Armstrong & Charlie Stockman). Directed by Elliot Dickerhoof. Produced by Darren Miller for Funny or Die. Used by Permission.
    What is truth?

    We are devoting this month of August to addressing this fascination question. Are you ready?

    What is truth?

    The dictionary uses words such as “fact,” “reality,” and “honesty” to describe that which is true or truthful.

    It’s easy to be skeptical of things today. How many times have we heard a story about something in the news, only to determine it was fabricated?

    Not only can you not believe everything you hear or read, thanks to Photoshop and other tools, you can’t believe everything you see!

    If you’ll allow me to get philosophical for a moment, one of the problems with true involves language. Words have meaning and that meaning is derived from our interpretation.

    In the 1990’s Stanley Grenz offered “A Primer on Postmodernism,” a book about the emerging post-Enlightenment philosophies influenced by Nietzsche who famously asserted “the death of God.”

    Grenz writes, “Nietzsche claims that there is not truth as such but only relative truths for a certain sort of creature or a certain society. Because all knowledge is a matter of perspective, knowledge is really interpretation—and all interpretations are lies.”
    Words and language have limits, which is why we often find ourselves misunderstood. Here’s a simple example: he is old. What does that mean? If I’m talking to a group of toddlers, I might be referring to a seven year-old. If I’m talking with my step dad, it could be someone in their nineties or later. What does the word “old” mean? It might even mean 200 years old if we’re touring Boston or 2000 years old if we’re in Egypt.
    Stay with me! When we speak of truth, we’re looking for something universal and timeless. If you drop a bowling ball on your foot, it will not be comfortable, no matter if you’re in Toledo or Timbuktu, in 2018 or 1818 or 18 BC (if they had bowling balls back then) because gravity is a universal truth.
    Tensions arise when competing worldviews or scriptures or philosophies claim to be true over and against others. Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “What’s true for you isn’t true for me.” That would describe relative truth, a reality based upon a context or individual. I could claim the Mud Hens are the best team in baseball, but surely others would disagree. We could all agree, however, that the Philadelphia Eagles are the 2018 Super Bowl Champions. That’s a fact. That’s true.
    But what about God? Christianity? The Bible? Is it true? How do we know? If the Bible is true, why do so many people interpret it different ways? How can it be trustworthy? How do I know my understanding of God and the Bible is correct?
    We will spend much of our time in this series talking about the Bible, but I want to begin by saying truth is not a religion, a philosophy, or even a book. It’s a person.
    In a conversation with Thomas, one of Jesus’ twelve closest friends—the doubting one…

    Jesus answered,
    “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

    Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Truth is a Person. Jesus is the truth. God is the truth. Let’s back up a moment and look at the context (something that often gets people in trouble, failing to look at the context of a verse). Jesus is talking to his disciples, his followers, and says,

    “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)

    Jesus equates himself with God. This was radical. Who does he think he is, God or something? Yes!

    Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5)

    Jesus answered,
    “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)

    Again, Jesus says he and the Father are one. There is mystery to the Trinity, one God in three Persons—Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

    I’m going to make a radical, politically-incorrect statement: God exists. I know church is a shocking context for such a declaration, but I’m feeling a little edgy today! Seriously, though, either God exists or He doesn’t. If God exists and He created our universe, we can safely say He makes the rules.

    It amazes me how many people have the audacity to ask God to conform to their will, rules, and desires when God is…God. We can trust God and His will and word knowing He’s God and we’re not. You can deny His law of gravity and jump off a cliff but you’ll quickly realize there are consequences to doing so, whether you believe in gravity or not.

    Parenthetically, if you don’t believe in God, God still believes in you!

    How do we know God exists? There are two types of revelation, things that reveal God to us. The first is called general revelation. God speaks through creation. Psalm 19 says,

    The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
    Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
    They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
    Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
    In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. (Psalms 19:1-4)

    Centuries later Paul wrote to the church in Rome,

    For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

    Special revelation refers to God revealing Himself through supernatural means, including dreams, visions, physical appearances, the Bible, and most of all Jesus.

    Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, is filled with declarations about God’s Word.

    Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Psalms 119:89)

    Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true. (Psalms 119:142)

    All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal. (Psalms 119:160)

    That’s the God that we serve. His words are true. He is true. Jesus is truth.

    So What?

    If God is true, He can be trusted. He wrote the rules. He knows best. Obviously this does not mean we can’t doubt or question God. In the midst of our grieving, we all have plenty of questions for God…and He welcomes them. But we must recognize God is God and we’re not. God is in control and we’re not. God can be trusted. He has been good and faithful from generation to generation and He’s not about to change now.

    You can build your life around what is popular or politically correct, but just like “science,” it is likely to change. I’d think twice about devoting yourself to the lifestyle or teaching of any celebrity, author, or expert. Even pastors such as myself are far from perfect. At FAC, I am not the authority, nor are our elders or District Superintendent or C&MA President. Our authority is Jesus. God, through His Word and example of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, shows us how to live. As Jesus prepared to return to heaven, He said to the Father,

    “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (John 17:13-19)

    Finally, God’s truth can set us free…free from lies, bondage, sin, and death.

    To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

    Do you know the truth? It is contained in God’s Word, the Bible, but ultimately truth is a Person—Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life.

    Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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