Archive for December, 2004

Reading The Bible

December 27, 2004

For years I’ve struggled to read (and understand) the Bible. I’ve heard it described as “eating sawdust”, and I have to admit it has often seemed that that way to me. One day I heard a wonderful preacher named W.G. Henry tell a story about reading the bible that really inspired me. I don’t know where he first heard it, or if it is his original story, but he really knew how to tell it! Here’s the story:

There once was a young man who wanted to walk closer with God. He asked everyone he knew how to do that and no one could help him. He finally ran acoss someone who directed him to a holy man living on the edge of the desert. The young man found him the next day.

“Master”, he said, “I want to walk closer with God. Can you help me?”

The holy man looked him up and down and said “My son, I have two questions for you. First, can you follow directions?”

“Yes Master!”

“Fine. Now will you follow my directions?”

“Yes Master!”

“Then this is what you must do: Walk north into the desert and you’ll come to a cave. Inside the cave you’ll find a table and a chair, and on the table will be the Holy Bible. You will also find a cot and a cabinet with some dry goods. Outside the cave you’ll find a bucket and a basket. When you arrive, fill the basket with sand. You are to spend two weeks in that cave, studying the Scriptures all day long. You may stop only twice per day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Each time you stop, eat some food, then take the bucket and walk due east for 2 miles. You will find an oasis with the purest and best tasting water you’ve ever had. Drink your fill, then bring a bucket of water back to the cave. Pour the water over the basket of sand. Do you think you can do this my son?”

“Yes Master, if it will help me walk closer with God, I’ll do it!”

So the young man walked north into the desert, found the cave, and all day every day studied the Bible. Each morning and each evening he walked to the oasis, drank his fill, came back to the cave, and poured the bucket of water over the basket of sand. After two weeks he went to the holy man who said “Welcome back my son. What have you learned?”

“Master, you were right – that water was the purest and best tasting I’ve ever had!”

“Very good my son. What else have you learned?”

“Well Master, I find the Scriptures to be dry and dusty and boring – I can’t understand them at all.”

“Very good my son. Two more weeks!”

So the young man went back to the cave, and all day every day he studied the Bible. Each morning and evening he walked to the oasis, drank his fill, came back to the cave, and poured the bucket of water over the basket of sand. Two more weeks passed and he returned to the holy man who welcomed him and asked again “What have you learned?”

Master, I no longer find the Scriptures so dry and dusty and boring – sometimes I feel like I can even understand some of what they are trying to say to me.”

“Very good my son. What else have you learned?”

“Well Master, as you instructed, every morning and evening I carried a bucket of water from the oasis and poured it over the basket of sand. But each time I did, I washed out some of the sand. A few days ago I washed out the last of it, and since then have been pouring water into an empty basket.”

“Excellent my son! Do you know what this means?”

“No Master, please tell me!”

“My son, the basket is your mind. The sand is the darkness in your mind. The water is the Word of God. If you pour the Word of God over your mind every day, it will eventually wash out the darkness.

For years I’ve struggled to read the Bible. Finally, after many stops and starts, a couple years ago I started reading it consistantly every day. I pray for the persistance to keep trying and for the wisdom to understand what I read. As I continue to read and pray every day, I am finding that the darkness is ever so slowly being washed out of my mind. It is a long, slow process, and we must not become impatient. Give it time and it will come.


Faith Without Works is Dead

December 25, 2004

Someone recently gave me a list of Bible verses on obedience. The most familiar passage to me was James 2:14-17 (ESV):

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

As I read that, I feel that we must have both. I know lots of people who have works without faith – I’ve heard them referred to as “moral athiests” or “moral agnostics”, and I used to be one of them. But they aren’t Christians. I see faith and works as two legs – you can’t stand as a Christian without both of them. They go together, and talking about one without the other is similar to asking whether your liver or your kidneys is more important.

Actually, I don’t see how it is even possible to have faith without works. If God is really in one’s heart, then works will naturally flow from that faith. I have to question anyone who claims to have a relationship with God who isn’t fairly well compelled to be doing lots of works. In the same way, I don’t see how a person can have God in his heart and not feel tremendous compassion and empthy for everyone he meets. I think there are a lot of people who claim to have faith, but are just putting on a mask, and unfortunately for them, God sees right through that.

I also suspect a lot of people try to work their way into Heaven, but I don’t think it can be done. In my walk with God, I’ve never really thought about being rewarded in Heaven, or punished in Hell. I’ve come to see it as C.S. Lewis puts so well in Mere Christianity (p. 147):

“Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”