Now, my husband likes to save money. And those do-it-yourself jobs tend to be more economical. But then again, he's not exactly the handiest guy. I mean, piano fingers and hammers don't keep good company. Even so, by following the manufacturer's instructions--VERY carefully--he's managed to assemble a book shelf, a CD cabinet, a hutch that holds his organ music, and some nifty laundry room shelves that got all the junk up off our basement floor.
Getting things like toys and bookshelves together without instructions is hard enough. Getting our lives together without instruction can be disastrous. When you unpack a new appliance or hook up a computer, you need to read the manufacturer's guidelines. Likewise, when we come into this world of sin and moral chaos, we need to read--and know--OUR manufacturer's instructions--the Bible. THIS [hold up] is our user's manual for LIFE. One 19th century commentator [Mercersburg theologian, Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. VII] declared that the Bible is "by far the best guide of instruction in holy living and dying." Indeed!.
Second Timothy 3:16-17 says, "All Scripture is God-breathed"--that means, inspired directly from God Himself--"and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." But maybe you're like me. You don't like reading directions. They're boring!. After all, I'm creative; I like to figure things out myself. And I'm independent. I don't like to be told what to do--especially in microscopic print, and in five foreign languages I don't know. For many of us, that's our attitude toward the Bible, as well. "It's old, it's hard to understand." I agree. It is old. It is hard to understand. Others of us think, "Hey, I've got a brain. I went to school. I have the knowledge to run my own life." And still others feel, "I'm a good person. I don't need a set of do's and don'ts--and outdated rules--running my life."
Yet Colossians 3:16 urges us to "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly"--What a wonderful word, "dwell," meaning to live very intimately and with stability. Just as traffic would be hopelessly snarled and dangerous without rules, just as our military could not successfully defend our country without regulations and discipline, we cannot run our lives properly without God's laws. And we have no way of knowing God's laws--or Christ's teachings about them--except through the Bible.
Yet for most of us, our Bibles get far less use than, say, our TVs. I know I can be guilty of that! Moreover, many of us totally take for granted what a privilege it is to even own a personal copy of God's Holy word--and, to have it in our native tongue. We do, thanks to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.
On the calendars of the Reformed Churches--of which the Methodist communion was a kind of stepchild--today is Reformation Sunday. Except in the Lutheran and Calvinist churches, you probably won't hear many Reformation sermons preached today. Because in this day of global peacemaking, it isn't politically correct to commemorate a religious war. In the ecumenical, one-world-religion climate of the 21st century, it isn't popular to assert Protestant doctrine.
But without the Protestant Reformation, you probably wouldn't be sitting in this church today, and you most certainly would not have an English-language Bible in every pew. It is thanks to the blood of the martyrs that in our time you can own and read the Bible in peace and freedom. Many of us today don't even know that in 1486 the Archbishop of Mainz issued an edict threatening to excommunicate anyone who translated or circulated the Bible. Or that in 1536 William Tyndale was burned at the stake for translating the Scriptures into English.
You see, before the Protestant Reformation, the common people everywhere were absolutely forbidden to read or interpret the Scriptures. In Greek and Latin, these were not to be translated, and no one was permitted to explain the Word of God except a priest. The Church was mired in unscriptural tradition, and corruption reigned at all levels among the clergy. The Church of Rome taught that salvation was through the sacraments, good works, and indulgences. An indulgence was forgiveness that could be bought from the Church. The Scriptural doctrine of salvation by faith, through the grace of Jesus Christ alone, was ignored or suppressed in the interests of power and money.
Then along came Martin Luther, whom one source [Philip Schaff] describes as a "poor, emaciated" Roman Catholic monk. On October 31, 1517, Luther posted on the door of the castle-church at Wittenberg, Germany, ninety-five Latin theses on the subject of indulgences--those cash-and-carry pardons.
In his statements, Luther called for repentance, asserted salvation by grace, and pointed to the authority of Scripture. Wesley would later agree with him, that Scripture is "the sufficient rule of faith and practice."
Folks, this was an absolutely revolutionary idea, for its time! To put the Bible in the hands of the common person gave men and women direct access to God, bypassing the religious authorities! Quickly, the movement to reform the Church spread from Germany and Switzerland to all of Europe and eventually North America. Thanks to the earlier invention of the printing press, Protestant Bible societies circulated more Bibles in one year than had been hand-copied during the *previous fifteen centuries*!
When all was said and done, the three fundamental principles of the Protestant Reformation were:
Jesus said He came to fulfill the Scriptures, and that God's word is so valuable it will not pass away as long as Earth exists.
He says something we need to hear: "Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." James 1:22 reaffirms this, as it counsels us: "Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only."
By emphasizing good deeds, are we back to salvation by works? No! Jesus is calling us to practice God's law, which today's Psalm reminds us is perfect, reviving our souls. To practice God's law will result in good works, the outcome of our faith. But we can't know God's law unless we know the Bible.
See this T-shirt with a picture of the Bible on it? For those of you who might not be able to see it from where you are, the lettering says, "When all else fails, read the instructions."
The religious wars of the 16th century may have ended long ago. But we are still in a spiritual battle today. You may not know it, but you've been drafted--into the army of Christ. No, I don't mean shaving your head, putting on fatigues, moving to Montana, and joining some kind of Christian militia. Ephesians 6 [10-17] is clear: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
We need to arm ourselves against the powers of evil, the flaming arrows of the evil one. How well Christ knew Satan's power to attack--when Jesus was alone in the desert, trying to discern His call to ministry; when He hung on the cross, crucified for crimes He did not commit, and bearing the weight of the sins of the whole world on His shoulders.
The Bible refers to the devil as the enemy of our souls, the father of lies, and the accuser of the brethren. He is that voice of condemnation that drags our spirits down, whispering "you're not good enough, hope is useless, give it up," Yet God's word promises, "there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" [Romans 8:1]. Satan is the one who seeks to destroy the harmony of our marriages, our relationships with our children, and peace between neighbors. He is the one who murmurs to our unarmed hearts and minds, telling us ever-so-subtly, how easy, how convenient, how expedient, how reasonable, sin is . . .
But Scripture--the Scripture we now have in our own hands, in our own language, thanks to Martin Luther, the Reformers, and John Wesley--Scripture urges us to take up the sword of the Spirit. To arm ourselves against the power of evil with the word of God. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, he answered back, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" [Matthew 4:4]. The word of God is to be our spiritual food, as well as our spiritual armor.
We can better withstand both the wiles of the devil, and the moral chaos of our world, when we are armed with God's word. Things really do go better when you read the instructions, are open to what's in them, and FOLLOW THEM. If you don't have your very own [hold up Bible] manufacturer's manual--or you don't have one in a modern translation you can actually understand, Christmas is coming. Ask for one! Or buy one for a friend or family member who doesn't have one.
And if you do have a Bible, and it hasn't been getting much use lately, *dust it off*. Pick up a copy of "The Upper Room" or "Our Daily Bread," and start doing some daily lessons. Read a praise Psalm aloud at the dinner table with your family, every evening. Get a copy of a Couples Devotional Bible, and read it with your spouse. If you're too busy to read, listen to Scripture tapes in your car or while you do things around the house! And if you prefer fiction, there are lots of great, inexpensive Scripture-based novels available at the Family Christian Bookstore across from [the] Mall or over the Internet. My dear ones, if you don't go away with anything else today, I hope you will at least leave this service thankful that you even allowed to own a Bible in a language you can read--something that, to this day, many Christians in oppressed countries around the world are still forbidden to do, and are tortured and killed if they dare to.
The blood of the Reformation martyrs is what enables us to affirm with Luther, his Thesis #62: "The true treasure of the Church is the holy Gospel . . . and the grace of God."
May that precious saving, teaching, guiding grace of God be yours this day, and may Christ's call to obey God's commandments guide you to a renewed love of God's word--the Sword of the Spirit, with which we can win the battles of our lives. Amen!
[Followed by pastoral prayer for Christian martyrs and for today's Bible translators working around the world to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.]
copyright - Rev. Nina George Hacker - October 29 2000; 2004 page by Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2006 please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.
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