Talking The Same Language

It was a great conversation. I really enjoyed talking to my friend, Yuri Rabayev. You could hear the excitement in his voice; it was tangible, almost contagious! Yuri is from Republic of Azerbaijan. He is the “fish monger” where I buy all of my seafood. Our friendship began out of my recognition of the quality of the product that he sold, and he appreciated the fact that I knew this, and sent business his way. Unfortunately, his store was damaged by a fire this past July, and they’ve been in the midst of an approximate six-month renovation project.

As a result, Yuri has some free time and opportunities that passed him by because of his working long hours, six days a week. He’s been able to spend time with his grandchildren. Then, there’s the inevitable “honey do” list (every husband can relate to this). The most exciting part is that he’s been learning English better, and investing this time in discovering the meaning of words! He would take a word, look it up in both the Russian and English dictionary, and add it to his vocabulary. Here was somebody genuinely enthused about learning the meaning of words such as....profound, compel, disclosure etc. Some of these words he had heard, but wasn’t quite sure what they meant. The revealing thing to me though was that a whole new world of understanding and opportunities were opening to him though the power of words!

I’ve got to admit that this was right up my alley; he was speaking my language! As a preacher of the Gospel, I have a passion to communicate and I love words, possessing a deep appreciation and affection for them. I have come to realize that words are powerful, they are enlightening and life expanding. This is one of the reasons I believe that you should learn the language of the place you reside, since it opens or closes doors of possibilities to you. There’s a program on my iPad that is helpful, dictionary.com. One of the features I enjoy is that it sends me each day the word of the day. This reminds me of one of the first, big events as a young Christian: where I was able to purchase a Strong’s Concordance! Now I had the ability to find any particular verse of scripture along with a lexicon that gave me the meaning of the Greek or Hebrew word(s). It was Mark Twain who once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Words, most importantly, God’s words, are the heart and soul of the preacher’s craft. The closing words of the “Preacher” in the Book of Ecclesiastes informs us (Eccl.12:10,11)TM, “The Preacher did his best to find the right words and write the plain truth. The words of the wise prod us to live well. They're like nails hammered home, holding life together. They are given by God, the one Shepherd.”

We’re moving into a powerful realm here. (Heb.11:3) says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” This is a rich, descriptive word, “katartizo.” It means to thoroughly complete; to mend; to repair, adjust, restore. Of course, this is a statement about creation; but it’s also true that people’s worlds, their relationships, marriages, money, jobs, even ministries are being repaired and adjusted by the word of God! Yeah. This Bible is the record of God speaking to people at many times and in various ways. When you open your Bible, what do you expect? A lesson on morality? An inspirational story? Support for something you’ve already made up your mind to do? Or, do you expect to hear God’s voice speaking to you?! There was an on-line article that caught my attention. It was entitled, “If The Bible Still Relevant?” It’s worth repeating:

Skeptics scoff at it. Atheists denounce it. Agnostics question it. Scientists try to debunk it. The faithful value it. Yet, all agree it has an impact on the world. The Bible. There are many books in the world ranging from fiction to non-fiction. There are autobiographies of great men and women, wonderful best-selling fictional takes from Shakespeare to “Harry Potter” to “Lord of the Rings.” However, the Holy Bible continues to be sold more than any other book on the planet. The Bible is still the most widely published and distributed book in the world. It continues to be the world’s best-selling book, with billions being sold. It is a book hard to ignore. It is filled with riveting stories about life and death, tragedy and triumph, war and peace, love and hate, fear and courage, sadness and joy, darkness and light, good and evil, heaven and hell, God and Satan, destruction and salvation, sin and redemption. It is a book that is never short on topics addressing our human existence.”

The Hidden Power of Language

remember the quote that said, “Hinduism lives by ritual and social organization; Buddhism by meditation; Confucianism by a code of ethics...only Christianity lives by the power of preaching.” Go to Acts 2, the Day of Pentecost, the birth of the church, and three times we’re told that the people were “amazed.” The focal-point of the people’s astonishment is found in vs.11b, “we hear them speaking in our own languages the wonderful works of God.”

This is not an exhaustive list, but the Bible gives a rather large rallying-point of statements about the power of words. Just to name a few, there is the timely quality (Prov.15:23) “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply — and how good is a timely word!” There’s the refreshing quality (Prov.25:25) “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” How delightfully satisfying they can be, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” (Jer.15:16) The fact that words can be tried and true (Prov.18:30) “As for God, His way is perfect! The word of the Lord is tested and tried; He is a shield to all those who take refuge and put their trust in Him.”

The best argument, and the most effective example here comes from God’s judgment at the Tower of Babel. The unifying and empowering factor of humanity at the time is (Gen.11:1) “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” The problem, however, is this degenerated into man united in rebellion against God. What follows is God’s visitation and assessment of the human condition (Gen.11:5-9) “God came down to look over the city and the tower those people had built. God took one look and said, "One people, one language; why, this is only a first step. No telling what they'll come up with next — they'll stop at nothing! Come, we'll go down and garble their speech so they won't understand each other." Then God scattered them from there all over the world. And they had to quit building the city. That's how it came to be called Babel, because there God turned their language into "babble." From there God scattered them all over the world.”  This has proved disturbingly effective down through the ages, hasn’t it?

The reality in our world is that WORDS MEAN SOMETHING. It’s not just a matter of linguistics, but also a matter of the heart!I was very interested to hear Reinhard Bonkke tell a group of pastors in Jamaica that he loves to be able to preach in English, that it was the preaching language. Now, I’m not a linguistics expert, and I’m probably a bit biased, but I think what he was referring to was the language’s ability to lend itself to the richness and nuance of Gospel truth. This is not a political statement, here, but this is one reason I believe people need to learn the language of the place they reside, or else they are robbed of so many opportunities to live life to the fullest.

Here’s where discipleship is defined for us. Jesus said (Jn.8:31,32) “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." Disciples are not known by what the “believe” or “profess” but whether or not they make following Christ in His Word the priority of their life. Dallas Willard: pointed out that the word “disciple” is used 260x in the New Testament; while the word “Christian” is found only three times. “The NT is a book about disciples, by disciples and for disciples of Jesus Christ” For me the clincher is “For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian” I’m not original, but let me add my voice to those who’ve referred to the deliberate order of (Acts 11:26b) “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” Hmm, disciples, first, then Christians. It was Jonathan Leeman who correctly diagnosed today’s malady when he said, “The basic disease behind all these symptoms, the disease which, I admit, courses thru my own veins, is the assumption that we have the authority to conduct our Christian lives on our own”

The Central Revelation

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I love the story of Reggie White (born-again Christian, who played football for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers) when he decided to play for the Packers, which was a small market city. He responded to the reporter doing the interview, “I spent a lot of time praying about this. And one day as I prayed, I heard God say, ‘Reggie, go to Green Bay.’ So that’s what I did.” He either saw something in the way the interviewer looked at him or maybe the reporter chuckled at this response. For whatever reason, what White said next was, “You know, when you tell people you’ve been talking to God, they don’t have a problem with that. That’s praying. If you believe in that sort of thing, its okay for you. But when you said that God talked to YOU, then they think you’re crazy or something! Isn’t prayer supposed to be a conversation with God? And in a conversation, don’t BOTH parties talk?” Yes, yes, I know that this has been abused. Trust me, after forty years of being a pastor, I’ve seen the “God card” used in countless foolish, selfish, and unjustifiable ways (“God told me....” so end of story).

Don’t let this throw you off track, so you lose the scent. One of the great Christian dinstinctives is that GOD IS A SPEAKING GOD!  Listen to this irresistible argument (Heb.1:1,2) “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God's own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command.” This book, the Bible, is a vast history of God speaking to men and women (“in many times and in many ways”) from revelation, direction, rebuke and correction, encouragement, hope....all molding the hearts and mindsof people. This why it resonates, “Some people say, ‘God never talks to me.’ But I believe it’s more likely that they don’t listen, are not aware of the ways God speaks or have become desensitized to God’s voice.” This is why the church possesses a stewardship of words. “In the beginning was the Word!” Christians cherish the declaration that our Savior, the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, is first known as the Word. The Logos, God’s self-expression, fully manifest and incarnate in Jesus Christ. William Barclay in his classic, New Testament Words writes, “This word is something which came from God; it is not the discovery of man, but the gift of God; and it is something which tells about God, something which man could not have discovered for himself.” We are saved because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us!

Martin Luther observed that the church house is to be a “mouth house” where words stand at the center of the church’s attention and concern. We live by words and we die by words. Truth, life, and health are found in right words. Lies, disaster, and death are found in the wrong words. This was the life-giving pattern that Paul entrusted to Timothy, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2Tim.1:13,14) You see, when it comes to words the stakes are very, very high. It’s not just a matter of linguistics, but a matter of the heart. In our politically-correct world, words become the tool or instrument to make peace with the spirit of the age and drift from “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” This process is Theological-liberalism intentionally deny the pattern of sound words in order to devise new words for a new age, departing from the faith of Jesus Christ. J. Gresham Machen observed almost a century ago that we do not really face two rival versions of Christianity. We face Christianity on the one hand and, on the other hand, some other religion that selectively uses Christian words, but is not Christianity.

The title of an article written by Albert Mohler Jr. Caught my attention. It said, “Falling On Deaf Ears? Why So Many Churches Hear So Little of the Bible.” I believe that the observation is true: more and more the Bible is becoming almost incidental to our church’s worship. The article contained some reflections from Mark Galli that are definitely worth pondering, because they represent a larger reality. “Indeed, in many churches there is very little reading of the Bible in worship, and sermons are marked by attention to the congregation’s concerns, not by an adequate attention to the biblical text. The exposition of the Bible has given way to the concerns, real or perceived, of the listeners. The authority of the Bible is swallowed up in the imposed authority of congregational concerns.” He continues, “It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out. Don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible, we tell our preachers, but be sure to get personal illustrations, examples from daily life, and most importantly, an application that we can use.” This fixation on our own sense of need and interest looms as the most significant factor in the marginalization and silencing of the Word. Galli asserts that many congregations expect the preacher to start from some text in the Bible, but then quickly move on “to things that really interest us.” Like...ourselves!?

The Gravity This Carries

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This is very much a part of and contributor to the tone of the national conversation today. The New York Magazine ran an interview with Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia. It is part of their fascinating “In Conversation” segment. One of the opening statements in the interview states, “Scalia is perhaps more responsible than any American alive for the mainstreaming of conservative ideas about jurisprudence in particular the principles of originalism (interpreting the Constitution as the framers intended it rather than as an evolving document) and textualism (that statutes must be interpreted based on their words alone).”

It was fascinating to me that when Judge Scalia was asked about how he arrived at originalism as a philosophy he said, “I don’t know when I came to that view. I’ve always had it, as far as I know. Words have meaning. And their meaning doesn’t change. I mean, the notion that the Constitution should simply, by decree of the Court, mean something that it didn’t mean when the people voted for it frankly, you should ask the other side the question! How did they ever get there?” Words have meaning, and we’re not called to tamper with those words or meanings. The other legal philosophy views the Constitution as a “living document” meaning that it is constantly changing to our times. What it conveniently omits, however, is then it is a document to be manipulated by whoever happens to be in power and to coincide with their particular worldview.

This has profound implications with how we approach the Bible, the written Word of God. What is our unchanging reference point as Christ followers? (2Tim.3:15-17) “And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Inspiration of God literally means God-breathed, meaning that it contains the very life of God in them! This is why we believe the Bible to be the INERRANT, INSPIRED, INFALLIBLE, WORD OF GOD!

Patience with me, to understand what this means. “Inerrant” means that the Bible in all it teaches is free from error in its very words and parts in the original. As I mentioned, “inspired” means God-breathed, or there is the divine influence of the Holy Spirit acting on the writers of Scripture in a way that protects the truth of the message, making it the Word of God! “Infallible” comes from the Latin, “not/to deceive”. It is the doctrine that the Bible is incapable of error, not liable to mislead, deceive or disappoint. The Bible is essentially a self-disclosure, a revealing of a loving God and his purpose and plan for humankind. It is nothing less than a supernatural word from a supernatural, other-dimensional Being, the Creator of the universe. Dan Schlesinger said, “When sharing the Bible with others, Christian’s must always be mindful to represent it as accurately and faithfully as possible; as it was originally given: the inerrant Word of God. It is a divine revelation, the basis of absolute truth and can be trusted above all other so-called sacred books. Revelation may be defined as that act of God by which He communicates to the mind of man truth not known before and incapable of being discovered by the mind of man unaided.” So, in short, revelation concerns the discovery of truth; inspiration, the communication of truth; and illumination, the understanding of the truth. (5)

Billy Graham just celebrated his 95th birthday. In typical fashion, he celebrated it by preaching to a national audience his burden for America, in a television special named, My Hope.   This reminds me of one of the watershed, life-defining moments in his life and testimony. It has to do with his battle whether or not he could trust the Bible thoroughly. At the beginning of his ministry, Billy Graham was confident that the Bible was the true Word of God. After reading several authors who did not share his conviction, and having a good friend, Chuck Templeton who was telling him that not everything in the Bible was true; raised some troubling questions for Billy Graham. His confidence and trust was shaken. So what did he do? He began with careful study. He read scholars on both sides. He studied what the Bible taught about itself, the many self-declarations to be the Word of God. He was openly mocked by his friend. “Billy, you’re fifty years out of date. People no longer accept the Bible as being inspired the way you do. Your faith is too simple. Your language is out-of-date. You’re going to have to learn the new jargon if you’re going to be successful in ministry.”

One evening he went to his room to study God’s Word alone. He studied how Jesus trusted in and used Old Testament scriptures. He read all the verses he could find about the Bible’s truth and authority. But, he could tell that the issue was not yet settled in his heart. So, he left his room and walked out into the forest. It was a warm August night. The moon was out, and he came to a tree stump, where he knelt down, with his Bible on the stump in front of him. He prayed something like this—

O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution....I can’t answer some of the questions Chuck and others are raising. Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word–by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word. When I got up from my knees at Forest Home that August night, my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.

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Let me conclude, and point you to Irv Gordon to wrap all this up. Irv is a 74-year old retired teacher from Long Island who bought a Volvo P1800 in 1966. In an age of built-in obsolescence, something that lasts and still functions is worth noting. The odometer on Irv’s car hit 3 million miles this September. He has made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most miles driven by a single owner in a non-commercial vehicle. He was asked about the secret of the car’s longevity and he said that the secret to the car’s longevity was in the glove box. He told reporters, “I read the owner’s manual, and I service the car just the way the book calls for it. I figured the people who wrote the book are the people who built the car, and they should know.” Brilliant! I can’t help wonder what would happen in this world if we as God’s people, the Church, viewed and approached the Word of God in the same way! “People of the Book” should be the calling-card of ever true born-again Christian. God bless you, all!

The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Fox News, Is The Bible Still Relevant, September 19, 2013

Confessional Integrity and the Stewardship of Words, AlbertMohler.com   May 1, 2013

Deaf Ears? Why So Many Churches Hear So Little of the Bible, AlbertMohler.com October 14,2013

The Bible is the Inerrant, Inspired, Infallible, Word of God by Dan Schlesinger, January 30, 2011