Sermon series: Open Your Trauma Toolbox
Philosopher Emile Cailliet was born in a small French village near the end of the 19th century. His early education was committed to naturalism, leaving no room for God or supernatural intervention in human affairs. But his philosophical views of a no-God universe crashed hard against his front-line experiences as a young soldier of 20 in World War I.
An entry in his journal reveals the struggle. "What use, the ill-kept, ancient type of sophistry in the philosophic banter of the seminar, when your own buddy - at the time speaking to you of his mother - dies . . . in front of you, a bullet in his chest. Was there a meaning to it all? A [person] can endure anything if only it appears meaningful . . . I, too, felt - not with my reason, but with my whole being - that I was naked and, war or no war, destined to perish miserably when the hour came."
One night a bullet found Cailliet. An American field ambulance crew saved his life, and after a nine-month hospital stay, he was discharged and resumed his graduate studies. But the books no longer seemed like the same books. And His motivation seemed to fade. There was something missing here, and it nagged at the mind and soul of this man.
"During long night watches in the foxholes I had in a strange way been longing - I must say it, however [unusual] it may sound - for a book that would understand me. But I knew of no such book. Now I would in secret prepare one for my own private use. And so, as I went on reading for my courses, I would file passages that would speak to my condition, then carefully copy them in a leather-bound pocket book I would always carry with me. The quotations, which I numbered in red ink for easier reference, would lead me as it were from fear and anguish, through a variety of intervening stages, to supreme utterances of release and jubilation."
But when he reviewed his completed anthology, he realized that it wouldn't work. It held no power for him because it was of his own making. As it would happen, on that very day, Cailliet's wife had come into the possession of a Bible in an unusual way. She had stumbled across a Hugenot chapel and intrigued by it had gone in and had been given a Bible by the elderly pastor.
Now, Emile had always been adamant that religion would be taboo in their home, and at the age of 23 had never even seen a Bible. But at the end of that disappointing day, when she apologetically tried to explain how she had providentially picked up a copy of the Bible, he was eager to see it. He describes what happened next:
"I literally grabbed the book and rushed to my study with it. I opened it and 'chanced' upon the Beatitudes. I read and read and read - now aloud with an indescribable warmth surging within . . . . I could not find words to express my awe and wonder. And suddenly the realization dawned upon me: This was the Book that would understand me!
"I needed it so much, yet, unaware, I had attempted to write my own - in vain. I continued to read deeply into the night, mostly from the Gospels. And lo and behold, as I looked through them, the one of whom they spoke, the one who spoke and acted in them, became alive in me . . . While it seemed absurd to speak of a book understanding a man, this could be said of the Bible because its pages were animated by the presence of the living God and the power of his mighty acts. To this God I prayed that night, and the God who answered was the same God of whom it was spoken in the Book." (Emile Cailliet, Journey into Light, Zondervan, 1968, p. 12-18.)
Those of you who have a saving relationship with Christ understand exactly what Cailliet means. We are a people of this Book. We know God through this Book. We meet Christ in this Book. We see the cross in the Book. Our faith and love are kindled by the glorious truths of the Book. We have tasted the divine majesty of the Word and are persuaded that this Book is God's inspired and infallible written revelation
This is the second installment in a series of messages titled "Opening Your Trauma Toolbox." We are taking a look inside to see if we have what it takes when the day of trouble comes. We are marking six non-negotiable, bedrock truths upon which to build your life. If you have them firmly in place, the inevitable storms that will blast against the walls and rattle the windows of your life will not move you. You will endure. Omit any one of these six and your will be like the foolish man in Jesus' parable who built his house upon a foundation of sand. When the winds come and the water rises, great will be the destruction of it.
Last time, we nailed down the first of these pillars, the foundational truth that God is God. What you and I need when the bottom drops out is a big God who is strong enough, wise enough, and caring enough to wade into it with me, to intervene with grace that keeps me going and peace that calms my heart. And one day when you are knocked off your feet by trouble or disease or unexpected news, what you'll need is the Alpha and Omega who is personal, a living God who draws near with grace and healing and peace that passes understanding.
But let me tell you what else you need. You need His Word. The Bible is the best-selling book in the history of the world. Since it's first "commercial" printing on the Gutenberg Press in 1455, more than six billion copies of the Bible or parts of the Bible have been distributed around the world.
In the U.S., 86 percent of the households own or have a Bible. Go to amazon.com, and type in Bible, and you will find 3,730 Bibles, varying in color, size, version, and quality. There is simply no book like it in publishing history. And yet every statistical report out there is saying the same thing: only 16 percent of Americans say they read the Bible every day; 21 percent say they read it weekly; 12 percent say they read the Bible monthly; 10 percent say less than monthly, and 41 percent say they rarely or never crack open their copy of God's Word. (Woodrow Kroll, Taking Back the Good Book, Crossway Books, 2007, p. 64-65.)
I don't know where you fit on that continuum, but let David change that today. In Ps. 19:7-11, he states some truths about God's Word that ignite the mind and stir the appetite for the words of God.
The Scriptures are the Word of the Lord
David almost trips over himself as he pours out his description of God's holy Word. In v. 7, he calls it the instruction of the Lord and the testimony of the Lord. In v. 8, God's Word is described as the precepts of the Lord and the commandment of the Lord. In v. 9, David adds the fear of the Lord, and the precepts of the Lord to his list. Slow that down a little and you'll see that David isn't just using poetic repetition. He's telling us about the place the Word holds in his life. He's unfolding the value of this great pillar for our lives as well.
Look carefully at the verbs in these phrases and let me ask you something. Do you want your soul revived? Do you want to grow in wisdom? Do you want a happy heart, and a discerning mind? Do you want to be connected to something that will live forever, something that you can always count on to be completely true and thoroughly right? Then I commend to you this book, the book that knows you.
Consider the nouns David uses in this description of the Bible. The first one in v. 7 is instruction. Literally, the Hebrew word means "instructions or directions for how to reach a goal." It is a very comprehensive word for God's will for your life.
Then there's the word testimony. This is a word from the legal or judicial sphere that actually pictures God Himself as a witness, attesting to the truth. 1 John 5:9 says, "If we accept the testimony of men, God's testimony is greater, because it is God's testimony that He has given about His Son . . . And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." Numbers 23:19 reminds us of the integrity of this witness when it says, God is not man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind. Does He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?"
In v. 8, David adds the words precepts and commandment to his inspired picture of the Word of God. Precepts emphasizes the care and attention and oversight of God that flows through the Word to the person who studies it. God meets us in His Word. It is Him there, speaking.
In Isaiah 55:10-11, God Himself amplifies this: "For just as rain and snow fall from heaven, and do not return there without saturating the earth, and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and will prosper in what I send it [to do]." There is no other book like this one, in which the author actually works His purposes in and through the words!
Commandment emphasizes the authority of God in what He says, binding us to obedience. Moses understood this, so when he finished giving God's requirements to the people of Israel, he said in Deuteronomy 30:15-18, "See, today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I am commanding you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the Lord your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not listen . . . I tell you today that you will certainly perish."
Two more nouns finish the list for David. He calls the Bible the fear of the Lord. Precepts focuses on God's active work through His Word, fear focuses on our response to God in His Word. God's word teaches us how to rightly respond to Him as the living God. It shows me what He wants me to do.
And how am I to respond? Jesus answered: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." (Mark 12:30) And included in this whole-hearted love for God is a saving trust in Christ, the Son of God, who sets sinners like you and me right with God forever!
And oh how necessary that response is because God's Word is also the standard by which we shall be judged. Hebrews 4:12-13 reminds us that "the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart. No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account."
So get this now. We gather every week to study a book that is about 2,000 years old. Try that with a 2,000-year old book on psychology or science or human relationships, if you can find one. They would be a joke! And yet this book is relevant, it is without error in all it says, and it changes people's lives every day. Soldiers carry it into battle in their shirt pockets. Presidents take the oath of office with their hand on it. Gideons cover virtually every hotel room in the county to leave a copy near your bedside when you stay. Prisoners of war recite as much of it as they can from memory. It is the book that knows me.
And David uses adjectives to tell us that it is perfect, trustworthy, right, and radiant; that it is pure and reliable, and more desirable than gold - than an abundance of pure gold; and sweeter than honey - than honey drippings from the comb. Verse 11 says by God's Word we are warned, and there is great reward in keeping His Word.
Listen and I will tell you the story of a young boy named Nard and the living power of God's word. "In March of 1956 (when I was about 6), a tall, pale, white man stumbled into my home village of Dibagat in the northern jungles of the Philippine island of Luzon. The man didn't speak our language, so our elders asked him the best they knew how, 'Why are you here?'
"'I've come to learn your language,' he said. 'I'd like to write it down and then give you God's Word in your language.' 'Who is your God?' the elders asked. 'He's the God of Heaven and earth,' the man answered. "He's the Creator of the universe. He created you, too.' 'Is he powerful?' the elders probed. 'More powerful than the spirits that have controlled our lives from the beginning of time? Is he more powerful than our ancestors, the head-hunters?' 'Yes, he's more powerful.' Hopeful, we started teaching this man, Dick Roe, our language. Maybe his God could free us from the spirits.
"When I was about 13, Dick had to return to the United States to raise support for his ministry. But before he went back, he translated the Gospel of Mark and gave me a copy. While he was gone, I started reading the Bible for the first time, beginning with the Easter story... Sitting on top of a rock, I read the Gospel of Mark in my heart language. It felt like I was actually there, seeing the characters.
"But the further I read, the more distressed I felt. A mob of people came to get Jesus out of the Garden of Gethsemane. What did he do wrong? I read as fast as I could. They accused him of all kinds of false things. They mocked him, spat on him, beat him, and took him before Pilate. Then the scourge and the crown of thorns. It was excruciating to read that they forced him to carry a wooden cross and then nailed him to it.
"Deep in my heart, a hatred of God swelled. I shook my fist and shouted: 'I hate you, God, for being so powerless! Why should I believe in a powerless God like you?' With all my strength I threw the Gospel of Mark down to the rocks and started walking home.
"I couldn't understand why God wouldn't protect his own Son. Our headhunters defended us to the death. Because of them, no one could touch us. I wanted a god like that - someone who would protect me from the spirits that demanded we sacrifice our cows, chickens, pigs, and dogs. This God didn't even save his own Son.
"Suddenly, God reached down into my heart. 'Nard, don't you understand?' I heard him say. 'That's how much I love you. I gave my Son on your behalf.' For the first time, I understood grace. I understood how much God loved me.
"'God, if you love me that much,' I prayed, 'I want to give you my life, my heart. It's all yours.' I went back and picked up my Gospel, brushed it off, and sat back on that rock to see what happened next. It was an incredible moment as I read that Jesus rose from the grave on the third day. Nobody in all of Dibagat, nobody from among the Isnag people, had ever risen from the grave. This . . . story changed my life.'" (Nard Pugyao, "Penetrating Power," Decision, July-August 2006, p. 18.)
It can change your life too. Open the book. Read it and meet the living God, who not only spoke it thousands of years ago, but lives in it and speaks to you as though for the first time, every time you read it.