The mediations for the following few months will continue along the theme that we have been following for the past couple of months – how to read and understand the Bible more effectively.
The national director, who coordinates all our mission work in Nepal, and his assistant were spending the night in a guesthouse near the Tibetan border. Not long after they checked in, a Buddhist rinpoche (the highest-ranking lama, or holy man) and his entourage of monks checked in as well. When the missionary saw the lama surrounded by his disciples, he remembered a particularly large Bible that he was carrying for just such an occasion. Whispering a word of prayer, he approached the holy man, and, after the preliminary introduction, respectfully asked if he would like to have the most precious pustaka (Nepali for “book”). When the rinpoche replied that he would be delighted, the missionary – in typical Nepali fashion – reached forward and presented him the Bible with both hands. Immediately, the monk started to read and became so engrossed that there was absolute silence as his students watched in awe as he read. The monk continued reading on and on until his followers approached my friend, asking, “Sir, what kind of book did you give him? Look; it has been hours, and it is almost midnight. We are starving, but we cannot eat unless he eats first! Is it a magic book you gave him?” No, the rinpoche was given a magic book, but he did have the one book that is more sustaining and satisfying than physical food – the very word from the mouth of God by which he could live. (Matthew 4:4) No, the volume wasn’t magic, but it was the most extraordinary book that has ever existed. Unfortunately, I don’t know the end of the story, but I have heard of a high-ranking lama who teaches his disciples from the words of Jesus as well as the sayings of Buddha. Perhaps – just perhaps – this is the rinpoche who was introduced to that extraordinary book in that Himalayan guesthouse one night a few years ago.
The Bible is the most exceptional book that has been written in all of human history. Through history, it has been outlawed, confiscated, and burned by the thousands of copies. Armies have marched in attempts to destroy it. Whole organizations have been created within different governments to seek out and imprison those among the populace who have Bibles. There have been all types of legal attempts to make this Bible disappear. In addition, some of the most astute minds of human history have written books to try to counter the Bible. Some have dedicated their entire lives to trying to disprove this book. There has never been another book in all of human history that has had so much of an attack against it legally and philosophically. Yet, this is a book that refuses to die. It is a book that refuses to disappear. In every place where the enemy has tried to stamp it out, it has proliferated. Curiosity about its message continues to grow, making interest more and more intense and the book more and more important to the people.
It is not just a common book. It is a book that was written over sixteen hundred years of history with forty different people contributing to it; yet, all of them flow together to tell us the same truths. This book is made up of many books. Inside this book, you can read history, mysteries, predictions of the future, poetry, and intrigue. This is a book that even has cookbook characteristics when it tells us what to eat and what not to eat. It is unique in that it takes even its greatest heroes and exposes their flaws.
The Bible holds a unique record in being the most translated book in all of human history. In addition, the Bible holds the world record as the book that has been translated first into most languages. There are many tribes living in the far jungles and distant deserts who had no written language until their written language was given to them by Bible translators who came into their world and dedicated their lives to studying the language and translating the Bible into their tongue. After studying the language spoken by that tribe and transcribing it into written form, they hand the tribal people a book to read; that book is always the Bible, the Word of God.
The Bible is unique in that this one book has spurred literally libraries of other books. Literally millions have read this book and received insight, revelation, and inspiration to write other books on what they have found in this one book. Many of the most brilliant minds of human history have dedicated their lives to translating and interpreting this book. This one book is not only a wealth of knowledge in its own right, but also a springboard for conveying all sorts of information.
The Bible is probably the most candid piece of literature ever published. The Bible is very honest and unabashed about the lives of all its great heroes. It doesn’t just tell us about all the battles that David won; it doesn’t just tell us about all the anointed psalms David wrote; it also tells us about David’s failures.
The Bible has become the basis for human living and human government all around the world. Almost every nation’s legal system is patterned – at least in part – after the Ten Commandments and Old Testament laws. It is a book that is the foundation for all of human living and all of human society.
It is also very interesting how the Bible was preserved so accurately. Before the invention of the printing press, scribes had to transcribe the Bible by hand. If these scribes found that they had made an error, they would tear the whole page up, destroying an entire day’s work because it was not perfect. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, they provided us with copies of the Old Testament which were about a thousand years older than the oldest existing texts. Amazingly, there were only minimal changes in the words of the texts, even though the scriptures had been through the hands of hundreds of transcribers in the centuries between the two versions. The Bible was preserved point-by-point, word-by-word through all of human history. There are very few variances in the Bible. The basic texts of the Bible have been preserved for hundreds of years without any error. Someone once joked that the Bible is accurate from Genesis to Concordance.
This book is unique. Throughout history, people have criticized it and called it inaccurate. But every time it has been challenged, the Bible has stood victoriously in defending itself against that challenge. Just one example is the loss of an entire world-class empire that only those who believed the Bible knew of. For centuries, historians said that the Bible was not true because it contained the story of the Israelite conquest of the Hittites as they journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land. Because archeologists had never uncovered any secular records referring to the Hittite nation, historians believed that no such people had ever lived. For centuries, they accused the Bible of being only a myth. However, in the late nineteenth century, records were uncovered that the Hittites did exist and constituted one of the great empires of history. Before archeology confirmed that there was indeed an entire nation of Hittites, the only ones who knew the truth were those who believed the Bible. The Bible disproved everyone else’s theories. I could go on for pages with more and more examples of how the accuracy and validity of the Bible have been vindicated repeatedly – in fact, I did exactly that in the first draft of this manuscript but later edited out the other examples for brevity’s sake.
The prophet Isaiah challenged the prophets of the idolatrous deities to prophesy future events to prove that they were indeed gods; however, they could barely predict that the sun would rise the next morning. (Isaiah 41:22-24, 8:19-20) On the other hand, the Bible is filled with predictions that have been fulfilled with exacting precision. Everything that it said would come to pass has come to pass. The Bible prophesied that Jesus would be born of a virgin – and He was born of a virgin. Prophesying Jesus’ death, the Bible gives many very explicit details about the crucifixion – even down to the fact that the soldiers would gamble for His clothes. These prophecies were fulfilled from the jot to the tittle. In fact, I heard a statistician explaining how significantly the crucifixion fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies by giving an illustration of the probability of one man on one day fulfilling all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the arrest, trial, scourging, and crucifixion. The comparison was that if someone were to cover the entire state of Texas with quarters, having marked one specific coin with an “X,” and then fly over the state in a helicopter and randomly descend and pick one quarter – the probability of picking up the quarter with the “X” on it would be the same as seeing all these prophecies fulfilled by one man on one day!
Ezekiel prophesied that the city of Tyre would be destroyed. And your very dust will be cast into the sea. Not long after Ezekiel’s time, the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar marched into Tyre and destroyed it exactly as the prophet had said, but he didn’t throw its dust into the sea. Almost three hundred years passed as the ruins of the city lay on the shores of the Mediterranean – until Alexander the Great began his campaign to conquer the world. When he came to Tyre, he discovered that a new city had been built on an island just off the coast. In his siege of the city, Alexander swept all the rubble that Nebuchadnezzar had left into the sea, making a bridge for his army to march across to conquer the new city of Tyre. Even though there was a delay for the period of almost three centuries, everything happened exactly the way God said it was going to happen.
Jesus prophesied that Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed. When Titus attacked the city, he commanded his soldiers not to destroy the temple because he wanted it to remain as a symbol of the great city he had conquered. Seeing the temple covered in gold, one of Titus’ infantrymen held up his flaming torch to loosen a piece of gold from the wall to stick into his pocket. The torch ignited the building and the temple burst into flames. Seeing what was happening, the rest of the army began to ravage the building, claiming their own nuggets of gold. By the time the frenzy was over, not one stone was left upon another. The man who would eventually become emperor of Rome – the most powerful human on the planet – gave orders not to destroy the temple, but Jesus – a lowly preacher – said that it would be destroyed. The Word of God never fails. Like everything else that has been prophesied in the Bible, this prediction was fulfilled precisely – no matter what others said.
The rebirth of Israel is something we have seen in our own time. For almost two millennia, there was no nation of Israel. But – suddenly, in the fullness of time – a nation was reborn. Gathered out of countries all over the world, a nation was reborn in a single day in exactly the same geographical location where God said that it would happen. We could visit a multitude of scriptures in regard to this one historic event, but let’s limit our study to just three of the Old Testament references and one New Testament mention. The prophet Amos, who lived almost twenty-seven hundred years ago, said that there would come a time when the exiles of Israel would again have Israel as their own land and that they would never be uprooted again. (Amos 9:14-15) Despite many centuries of exile, May 15, 1948, saw his words fulfilled when the nation of Israel was reborn after almost two full millennia of the land being under foreign domination and the people being scattered to the ends of the earth. Ezekiel had a vision in which he saw Israel as a valley full of dried-up bones. In this vision, God showed the prophet that the bones would be brought back to life. (Ezekiel 37:10-14) Twenty-six hundred years later, the Jews – many like dried bones from the Nazi concentration camps – were brought back from the ends of the earth to re-establish a dead nation. Isaiah predicted that Israel would be birthed in one day. (Isaiah 66:7-8) Modern Israel was literally born in a single day when, within a twenty-four-hour span of time, foreign control of the land of Israel formally ceased, Israel was declared an independent state, and its existence was acknowledged by the United Nations and a majority of the free-world nations. In the eleventh chapter of the gospel of Mark, we read the story of Jesus’ cursing a fig tree. The very next day, He returned to the same spot and began to teach His disciples about coming events. As part of this discourse, He told them a parable about the fig tree. (Mark 13:28) Certainly, each and every disciple’s mind flashed to the fig tree which they had seen wither that morning. Jesus did not say “learn a parable from a fig tree”; He specifically said, “the fig tree.” Here – just a matter of paces away from the tree which had so dramatically perished only hours before – they couldn’t help but realize that the up-coming parable was going to be based on the fruitless tree which had been cursed. The parable was a depiction of the future of Israel. Since the tree had withered so remarkably, the disciples certainly understood that the nation was facing a sudden demise, a message that came through loud and clear in the rest of His teaching that day. However, Jesus undoubtedly shocked them with His next line, When her branch is yet tender, and she putteth forth leaves… The withered tree – the one dried up from the very roots – would someday have tender branches again and begin to put out new leaves! Even though Jerusalem was facing utter destruction and Israel was facing a world-wide deportation, God promised that she would live again! And He fulfilled the promise some nineteen hundred years later when Israel became a nation again and actually became one of the most significant nations on the modern political scene.
Dr. Lester Sumrall told the story about a Protestant missionary who was giving away Bibles in a predominately Catholic region. The local priest was so enraged that a Protestant had invaded his “territory” that he snatched one of the Bibles from the missionary’s hand, ripped it to shreds, and threw the fragments into the gutter. A local vegetable vendor reclaimed the pages to use as wrapping paper for the produce he sold at his stand. As the local women unwrapped their vegetables, they began to read the pages and visit their neighbors to try to find the rest of the story. Before long, the entire village was engaged in a giant game of jigsaw puzzle as they tried to reassemble the testament. As the people read the story of the book, the whole village became aflame with a revival that eventually brought the entire village to Christ.
Another testimony also comes from a Latin American country where a gentleman became so angered by having been given a gospel tract that he ripped the pamphlet to pieces; however, he couldn’t sleep that night as his mind kept replaying the incident. Eventually, he got out of bed and pieced the tract together again, read its message, and prayed the prayer to receive salvation.
Over half of Christians in the world attribute their salvation to the printed page, a testimony to the power of the scripture and proof that the Word of God doesn’t lose its power with time. One furniture mover came to Christ by reading a tract he found under a sofa. That little voiceless witness had been hidden there for about twenty-two years. One gospel publishing company reported receiving mail at an old address which they hadn’t used for twenty-four years, indicating that their tracts were still in circulation and doing their job a quarter of a century later.
One really amazing story which took place in a small village in north central India near the border of Nepal begins with a man who bought three cigarettes from a shopkeeper in this village. The shopkeeper took a scrap of paper from a large pile and wrapped the gentleman’s purchase. When the man returned home and unwrapped his cigarettes, the wrapper caught his attention and he began to read. Suddenly he knew that he had never read anything like this in his life. But he also realized that part of the message was missing because he had only half the page. So, in the heat of the day, the man ran back to the shop and explained to the shopkeeper that he wanted the other half of the paper. The shopkeeper simply laughed, “You see those stacks over there? It might be in there and it might not. If you really want it, go ahead and look.” For the next several hours, the cigarette smoker painstakingly took each piece from the pile and examined it. When he couldn’t find the piece that matched his, he went through the entire stack again. Frustrated and dejected, he finally started slowly home – but he suddenly remembered that on the paper there was an address in a town about twelve miles away, so he borrowed a bicycle and began the hot journey. It was very late that day when he finally found the address and anxiously knocked on the door. When a man answered, the cigarette smoker shouted at him, “Is this your address? Did you write this?” It took the man a few minutes to calm the cigarette smoker and explain that this was the right address but that he had not written the words; the words that had so impacted the man were from the Bible!
Another story of equal interest also involves a cigarette smoker. A missionary tried to sell a New Testament to a man in Zimbabwe who was obviously interested in the book; however, it turned out that he was not interested in the content of the testament but was eyeing the size of the pages and the texture of the paper. The pages of the book were just the right size to use to roll his cigarettes. “I will make a deal with you,” the missionary offered. “I will give you this book if you promise to read every page before you smoke it.” Pleased with himself that he indeed had the better end of the bargain, the man took the New Testament and walked away. The missionary returned to his home country but years later attended a convention in Zimbabwe when the speaker on the platform recognized him in the audience. Pointing to him excitedly, he said, “This man doesn’t remember me, but I remember him.” He explained, “About fifteen years ago he tried to sell me a New Testament. When I refused to buy it, he gave it to me even though I told him I would use the pages to roll cigarettes.” He continued this strange testimony, saying, “I smoked Matthew. I smoked Mark. Then I smoked Luke. But when I got to John chapter three, verse sixteen, I couldn’t smoke any more. My life was changed from that moment!” Now the former smoker is a full-time church evangelist, devoting his life to showing others the way of salvation he found in this little book that had just the right size pages to roll cigarettes. Strange, isn’t it, how God honors the power of His Word to impact the lives of people!
Glen Chambers was headed for Ecuador where he was going to serve as a first-term pioneer in the heart of the beautiful Andes Mountains. When his plane crashed, leaving no survivors, all his friends and family lamented the tragic loss before he could even begin his mission work. However, an unexpected twist came several years later when a stranger knocked on the door of Glen’s mother’s home. The young lady introduced herself as a missionary serving in Colombia where she was ministering among unreached people in remote villages. She explained that she was amazed when she came upon a village where there were already believers even though the people insisted that she was the first person ever to come to them with the gospel. They went on to say that several years prior to this, one of their men was hunting in the jungle when he found a badly burned little case, but inside of it was a book. The villagers read the book and believed its message. The missionary looked at the slightly charred Spanish Bible and found a dedication addressed to Glen Chambers. She determined that, when she returned to the States, she would share the story firsthand with Glen’s mother, proving the power of the written word even when a preacher isn’t able to personally communicate it.
Long ago God gave a promise to His people – one we can only understand in retrospect. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11) This book is the divinely inspired Word of God. Unlike any other religious book – the Quran, the Pali Canon, the Bhagavad Gita, or even your favorite daily devotional – it is God’s direct word to you. This is the word which you must hide in your heart if you desire not to sin against the Lord. (Psalm 119:11)
With almost every major purchase, we receive an instruction manual to help us care for and get the most efficient use out of the product. Household appliances, automobiles, computer software programs, you name it – they all come with their owner’s manuals which, by and large, are simply shelved and rarely read or consulted. Most of us just rely on the brief instructions we received on the showroom floor and what we can gain from trial and error usage of the product. Unfortunately, this is exactly the same way we approach our spiritual lives. We have been presented with an owner’s manual to ensure that we get the best and longest-lasting results out of our spiritual lives; it’s called the Bible. Unfortunately, most of us prefer to rely on a few sermons, an occasional book or tape and a sporadic television program rather than to diligently delve into the truths of this instructional manual. Others who do try to study this manual sometimes find it confusing and simply decide not to force their way into the revelation available through the proper understanding of the book. Maybe we aren’t as bad as the pastor and church council in this little story, but it is true that we often don’t get all the facts straight.
The young preacher was being interviewed by a church for what was to be his first pastorate. The committee asked him, “Son, do you know the Bible?” “Oh, yes,” he replied, “I really know the Bible.” The chairman asked, “What part of the Bible do you know best?” The young man replied, “I know the Old and New Testament – all of it!” The chairman responded, “Well, if you know so much about the Bible, why don’t you tell us a story. Do you know the story of the Good Samaritan?” “Yes, sir.” “Well then, you just tell us that story.” So, the young man began, “Well, there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus. He went down to Jericho by night and fell upon stony ground. The thorns choked him half to death. And he said, ‘What shall I do? I shall arise and go to my father’s house.’ And he arose and climbed up in a sycamore tree. And the next day, Sodom and his wife Gomorrah came by, and then carried him down to the ark of Moses to take care of him. As he was going through the eastern gate into the ark, he caught his hair in a limb, and he hung there for forty days and forty nights. And afterward he was hungry, and the ravens came and fed him. And the next day three wise men came and carried him down to Nineveh. And when he got down there, he found Delilah sitting on a wall. And he said, ‘Chunk her down, boys.’ And they said, ‘How many times shall we chunk her down? Till seven times?’ And he said, ‘Nay, but until seventy times seven.’ And they chunked her down four hundred ninety times. And she burst asunder in their midst and they picked up twelve baskets full of fragments. And in the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” The chairman of the committee said, “Fellows, I know he’s young, but I really think we ought to call him. He really knows his Bible.”
Well, enough of that. Let’s get back to the fact that the Bible is the owner’s manual for our lives. In it, we find all the instruction necessary for every area of living. But because all the answers this book contains are not categorized and listed in the index for easy reference, we need to study the Bible in its entirety and become familiar with all its truths – something that the young preacher had apparently not perfected very well. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (II Timothy 3:14-15)
There is nothing else that can make us wise. It is only the Bible that can make us wise unto salvation. It illuminates our thinking and our spirits. This wisdom will lead us to one thing – to salvation through God. Because I love thy commandments, it has made me wiser than mine enemies. (Psalm 119:98) The commandments of God renew our minds and build up our inner man. They give us an edge over those who come against us because we have the wisdom of God, found only in the Bible.
How sweet are thy words unto my taste? Sweeter than honey to my mouth. (Psalm 119:103) It is amazing to me that many Christians do not have any kind of disciplined regular Bible reading. I find the Bible sweet. When chocolate candy is in my house, it doesn’t go unnoticed. I find myself going back again and again to that candy. I am the same way with the Bible – and every born-again person should also be the same. It is sweet, and I find myself drawn back to it every day. Every day I have to have my “fix” from that Word.
The Bible came from God, guarded by the Holy Spirit and protected from error by the work of the Holy Spirit. Howbeit when he the Spirit of Truth has come, He will guide you into all truth for He shall not speak of Himself but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak and He will show you things to come. (John 16:13) The Holy Spirit inspires and leads us into truth. In other words, He is working on both ends – in those who wrote the Bible, helping them to communicate God’s words precisely; and in us, helping us as we read and understand them accurately.
This book is likely the most read book in all of human history. At the same time, it is also the most unread book in all of human history. The reason I say this is because the Bible is continually the world’s bestseller. In all of history, only once or twice has another book sold more copies in a single week or month than the Bible. But the success of the other volumes doesn’t last long, and the Bible always returns as the number one bestseller. It has been that way year after year after year. More people have read the Bible than any other book ever printed. But, at the same time – since there are so many millions of copies of the Bible – it is probably one of the least read books. How many of us have a Bible that has been sitting on the shelf collecting dust? We may have two or three Bibles for reference and another that we read daily – and the Bible that we claim to be reading, how often has it basically sat on the shelf not being read? It is likely the most unread book in all of human history because we buy copies of it, but we put them down and don’t read them. A recent survey of Christians across America found that only one out of five have any kind of regular, systematic program for reading the Bible. That means that there are four times as many born-again Christians who have Bibles that basically sit around unopened. The survey also found that the average length of time spent reading a Bible is five minutes a day. For two out of five Christians, the only time during the week they ever open and read their Bibles is when they are in an organized group. They open the Bible because the pastor or Bible study leader instructs them to open to a particular passage. The same study went on to say that two out of five born-again Christians don’t even know for sure that the story of Jonah and the whale was part of the Bible or in which book it is found. We are dealing with a book that, even though it is the most popular book of all of human history, is one which remains unread and apart from our daily lives.
If you have been one of those four out of five who don’t have a daily reading schedule, then determine that today you will begin to read your Bible on a regular basis. If you are one of those who only open the Bible once a week in a church service, determine that today is the day you will begin to read the Bible every day. Set a planned program of reading through the Bible so that you have a chance to expose yourself to all that it says.
The Bible is a book that speaks to humanity, telling them about their condition, their need, and their answer. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Scripture is like a lion. Who ever heard of defending the lion? Just turn it loose; it will defend itself.” The lion of which he spoke is the Bible. Let’s not worry what the critics say. Now is the time to agree with the Bible and let it turn our lives around.
Hopefully, the suggestions I will offer in this little volume will help you discover the “umph” in your Bible and you will discover it to be just as enthralling as that rinpoche in the guesthouse on the Tibetan border, women who put together the jigsaw puzzle from their produce wrappers in Latin America, and the cigarette smoker in Zimbabwe.