How to do a sermon encouraging people to “read the bible” without giving a trite message encouraging them “read the bible’?
Answer: start with a classic of early contemporary Christian music, throw in some obligatory Led Zeppelin and Lynrd Skynrd, tie it all into regret prevention, and then show them how Scripture is both penetratingly counter-intuitive and brilliantly artistic.
And pointed out the irony of a sermon TITLED after a soap opera and a sermon DESIGNED to prevent your life from becoming one.
And land it here: God’s direction IS his protection.
Opened the sermon with singing of 90s tune Thy Word. I didn’t sing it; one of our gifted vocalists did.
Ah, classic, classic, classic. If you spent any time in church at all in the 1990s, you remember that little ditty. If you, like me, did NOT grow up in church (by the 90s, I was in) just so you know: that tune was modern, edgy music back in the day because it wasn’t found in the hymnal. But it was catchy, memorable, and undeniably helpful in memorizing ONE VERSE of Scripture: Psalm 119:105. And it no doubt sounds more regal, more eternal with that ancient THY word is a lamp UNTO my feet & light UNTO my path. We use words like THY and UNTO & you know we’re talking serious bible! Let’s say that verse together: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path.
Now, the sharpest points in this room might be thinking: verse 105?! What in the world? Yes, Psalm 119 is the longest “chapter” in all of Scripture. It’s really not so much a chapter as it is a really, really, really long poem or song. Since the Psalms is the song book, then Psalm 119 is a song & if it’s a song it’s like Kashmir long. It’s like Free Bird Live long. What song is it you wanna hear? Psalm 119!! It’s like the Grateful Dead or Phish doing a long, live JAM long. Psalm 23 is a pop single; Psalm 119, all 176 verses of it is AOR that you hear on The Ride 95.7. At 3 a.m.
And the subject matter of this epically long song? 119:1 & 9 lay it out:
Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.
How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
Now: immediately when we hear Law & Word, we think, “Ah! This!” And we hold up our bible, the whole thing in leather. All the pages! And the study notes! The whole kit AND THE kiboodle! Not so fast. Remember: Scripture can mean something to us unless it first meant something to them, the first readers and hearers. And when the ancient Jews heard Psalm 119, they knew it was talking about these (AV Scrolls). The Torah. The Law. The first five books of what we now have as our bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy. You know, the parts of the library you usually avoid, especially Leviticus with its food laws. THAT’S what Psalm 119 is saying is the light and the lamp. Yet I give you that background just for historic context more than anything else; to make sure you don’t jump to conclusions. We at GS come from the perspective that the same HS who inspired the beginning of the library miraculously and mysteriously inspired it all the way to the end.
So with that proper historic context, I think we can see the setting of Ps 119:105 so that it is saying something about the entire library, Genesis to Rev, as it relates to the latboftt.
And guess what? To know v. 105 well, it helps so much to see the build up to it! Context! Look at 119:97:
Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
I love that! LOVE YOUR LAW! Meditate on it! Like this from Leviticus 13:18-20. Great! Bring your pimples to your priest!
Anyway, back to Ps 119; look at 98-100:
Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
100 I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
Now THAT’S something worth pursuing! A promise of a life where you are wiser than your enemies, better insight than your teachers, and deeper understanding than the old sages. I don’t care how old you are or what stage of life you’re in, THAT’S appealing.
And then 119:101:
I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
READ and circle “from.” Oh gosh. To go TO one thing you gotta AVOID something else. Every bit of direction towards the positive in life involves protection from the negative. And that word FROM there in 101 – protection – changes so much for how we approach THIS WORD & THE LIGHT.
Because is there anyone here who today from the perpective of hindsight in the middle of your tunnel – or even near its end – WOULDN’T have benefitted from protection? That arriving at your destination would have gone so much better with so many fewer regrets if you hadn’t taken those unholy detours? You’ve got a life full of “I wish” & the main person/thing you needed protection from was YOU?! You’re filled w/ regret because you only see your kids on the weekends now and you realize DOH! That’s how I was raised! I wished I’d been protected from foolin’ around that time! Or you wish you’d been protected from getting in so much debt, from losing your temper with the people you love the most. Oh, I wish I’d been protected from starting to drink because once I started I never could stop. Or you know what comes in my office a lot? I wish I’d been protected from those Playboys as a kid because that started a habit I never quite grew out of & it’s ruining my marriage today. Maybe the next most common is those folks who say I wish I hadn’t left faith in college because I’ve got a lot of dark memories & broken relationships as a result. You need some guardrails that weren’t there and even today you’re paying the price. You didn’t know what you didn’t know & the lack of clarity then leads to an abundance of pain now.
Which all leads up to 119:105:
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.
Ah. In an era before electricity, lights and lamps were mobile and indispensable and you know what the author of this LONG poem is saying IN CONTEXT? That here at the beginning there IS a light for my long tunnel, and that light is from BEYOND me, not within me, and that light when I use it directs my steps in such a way I can live a regret-free life. But the direction of the word always combined with protection from the world. Here it is: God’s direction IS his protection.
Yes! His guide is his guard! Every step TO is also a step FROM. God directs you towards himself and a regret free life by protecting you from you and a regret-full life! The direction of the Word always contains protection from the world. Always. God’s direction IS his protection
Now listen listen listen: this is SO IMPORTANT. Because what I’m talking about here is NOT “oh read the bible to get smart.” It IS that realization that the bible is not there to fit in to our lives. It is there to shape them. The bible never asks for your agreement before it expects your allegiance. It is the radical realization that you, me, and everyone else EVER needs a light from BEYOND to inform your thinking and guide your decisions. Because what’s the alternative? Your conscience? Like Jiminy Cricket? Hah! We’re masters as self-deception and geniuses at self-justification! Conventional wisdom? Please. Conventional wisdom brought us The Bachelor. MSNBC? Fox News? The Deans of Duke & Chapel Hill & Clemson? Dr. Phil? All so limited, so flawed. All the wrong gods.
Here’s one of the most liberating affirmations of my life: I am not smarter than the people who wrote the bible! What a relief? Even if I somehow become THE SMARTEST MAN ALIVE! . . . I still won’t top the smartest men dead. Paul? Smarter. Matthew? Smarter. Luke? Way smarter. What a relief to acknowledge I need a source from beyond written by people under the Spirit’s insp. And I need it not only to me where to go in life but what to avoid. God’s direction IS his protection
Now: this is NOT magic. Like the preacher who was late for an appointment and after searching desperately for a parking place, finally found one. In front of a NO PARKING sign. So he put a note on his biz card & left in window: Late for appointment. Tried ten times. Forgive us our trespasses. He came back out an hour later to find a note attached to his ticket: Been riding this neighborhood for 10 years. Will lose my job if I don’t ticket you. Lead us not into temptation. No! It’s not magic! It will most frequently NOT astonish you with its brilliance. It is instead to amaze with its odd, odd practicality. It’s the kind of library that when it seeps in to shape you (rather than fitting in to comfort you) will give you this uncanny ability to know the truth and have the truth make you weird.
Can I give you an example? Those of us born in the US are pretty quick to assert “my rights.” You can’t get in my stuff, you can’t get in my seat, you can’t sing a song I don’t like, because I have rights. That’s conventional wisdom. Look at Romans 14:14-15, 20-21:
I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died . . . 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
What? Not a problem for YOU but IS a problem for bro or sis, so you don’t do what you have the right to do? Exactly. In the church, having the right doesn’t give you the right! It’s not intuitive! We’d never figure that out! So God unveiled and exposed it to us! And when you walk by that kind of light, you walk into relational health and away from relational death. My gosh, in Monroe, in that community YOU DID NOT MOW THE LAWN ON SUNDAY. NBD to me, but there, a huge deal. So what did I do those nine years? I had the right to mow the lawn any day I darn well pleased! But nope! Because God had given me Romans 14 wisdom way in advance and I knew: no Sunday mow. Protected from self and for service. But you’ve got to be in the Word to reap those kind of odd benefits from the Word. It saves so much trouble and you’d NEVER think of most of this stuff on your own! God’s direction IS his protection
You know what else it’s not? An Instruction Manual. That’s maybe the worst analogy ever. It is a wild, epic library in which the stories in it teach you as much as the straight instruction. And through it all it has this odd wisdom – sex for marriage alone?! 10% to God?! no such thing as my rights?! – that lights your way and makes life work the way God designed it to work. And when you love it, it’s always fresh. Can I show you another? I’ve always loved this back & forth with Jesus & JimmyJohn in Mark 10:35-38:
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said.
Love the ominous: you don’t know what you’re asking. Because fast forward in Mark to 15:27:
27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.
OMG. That’s what they were really asking for, just didn’t know. What incredible artistry; what brilliant narrative skill. But here’s why I show that to you: I only learned that this year! Been reading it forever, been reading it PROFESSIONALLY for 25 year and just this year saw that incredible artistry of Mark. If you’re one of those artistic people who appreciates hidden clues and deft touches, oh Gospels are YOU. REF
Teenagers: dig into it. Read it. Don’t see if it fits into you. You fit into it. I only came to faith my jr year of high school, somehow spent about 15 minutes a night the next two years reading it and guess what? Enough light came in – stuff I’d never figure out on my own! – that my college years were regret free (except for an unfortunate haircut)!
Young people: it’s not too late. You might have trusted what Beyonce said or what your conscience told you, and you’ve got the scars to prove, but you can still change course. You’re still at the beginning of your tunnel and that oddly bright light is there to show you the way to life and keep you from the way leading to death.
Older folks: you never know it all. I think I’ve got a good mind, I know a lot, I love Scripture . . . but I’ve learned more about this wild, epic, strangely life giving library in the last five years than in the previous 30. It has seeped into my subconscious. Let it do the same for you. It’s like the father and son in the days before electricity who were walking through muddy streets of London. And the boy held the lantern, except he held it way too high. As a result, both sank deep in the mud. “Ah,” the father said, “you must hold the lamp lower to see where not go! That shows you where to go.”
Indeed it does. God’s direction IS his protection
And we’ve got an ideal follow up for this . . . Next Step promo & LifeGroups contacts in lobby