Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Study: Can I Understand God Without the Bible?

Week Six: Can I understand God without the Bible?

Psalm 19 tells us:

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.”

If even the skies declare that God is our creator, that He is Lord of the heavens and the earth, then why do we need the Bible? If, as we’ve already discussed, the earth reveals God as the one who made everything, then why is the Bible necessary?

Because without God, men do not realize what the heavens are proclaiming. Paul explains it this way: “They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

“Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles . . . They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise!” (Romans 1:19-25).

We need the Bible because man’s sinful nature has blinded him to the truths revealed all around us in creation. We need the Bible because we needed a Savior to save us from our sin—from our sinful selves. We need the Bible to tell us plainly that we are not God, and that what we think of as human wisdom is usually spiritual foolishness.

Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome about this topic: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, ‘How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!’” (Romans 10:13-15).

We need the Bible to give us the details of how we can follow Jesus. The Word of God is powerful, and it can speak better than any man.

Many years ago I interviewed a young man named Reynard Valdez. The following is his true story:

I am an Apache Indian. Being an Indian has never really been a disadvantage for me; I suppose it has been an advantage at times. But I know my life has been very different from the average American's. I nearly became a medicine man for my people, but one day a ragged Bible came between me and those plans.

I grew up on the Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation in Dulce, New Mexico. My parents divorced when I was about three or four. My father, an alcoholic, died while I was young.

When I was not away at boarding school, I lived with my grandmother. When I was in junior high, my mother remarried and I moved with her and my new stepfather to Oklahoma where I was the only minority in the entire public school—there were no African-Americans, no Asians, no other Indians, only me. I don't think the kids knew how to take me at first, but they eventually got to know me.

I graduated from high school in 1981 and moved back to the reservation with my people. I tried college for a while, but did poorly. I drifted for two years, drinking and partying. I knew I was going nowhere, like so many others of my people, and I was lost. I didn't know how to find what I was missing in life.

I decided to isolate myself from my friends and search for a way to make life better and more meaningful. I moved into my grandmother's primitive two-room house and sought answers from the Apache tradition.

My people are proud. The Apache tribe was the last tribe to stop fighting the United States in the late 1800's and we still have that fighting enthusiasm. We are proud of our heritage and our culture. The old ways are still alive on the reservation.

My grandfather, my uncle, and two of my aunts are medicine people in the tribe. I thought perhaps the answers I was seeking were to be found in religion, so my aunt agreed to teach me the ways of the medicine man. I wasn't sure I wanted to become a medicine man because I couldn't get used to the idea of drinking animal blood. But I knew of nothing else.

I knew there was a God, in fact, I prayed to Him many times but felt that my prayers went no higher than the ceiling. If there was a way to magically connect with Him, I hadn't found it.

The lore of tribal medicine is not written. It is passed down from one medicine person to another. I spent many nights chanting with my aunts and the others. I participated in the morning rituals. I had a feeling it was witchcraft.

One day my aunt told me that my training would be completed by the spirit voices. I'd hear voices, she told me, and if I obeyed them they would lead me into the things I needed to know.

I was skeptical until I heard them. They spoke Apache.

So I went for a walk outside and prayed to God for help. My grandmother called me to come in and help her fold some clothes and put them away. It was an odd request--Apache men do not handle women's clothes. But she was my grandmother and I wanted to help her, so I went inside.

When I opened a bureau drawer I found inside a ragged Bible. My grandmother did not read or speak English, so I knew it was not hers. I tossed it out onto the bed, intending to use it for kindling to start a fire in the woodstove. The pages were torn and dirty, smeared with chocolate and makeup, the binding was splintered and cracked.

Before burning the Bible, I thought I'd look through it. I knew the Bible was supposed to be about God and I was curious. The voices immediately told me the Bible had nothing to do with the Apache way and not to read it. I ignored them.

I could not understand the Old Testament, so I read portions of the gospels. I read about Jesus casting out demons and healing people. I read how Jesus calmly explained the aspect of new birth to Nicodemus in John chapter three. Despite the annoying voices, I continued to read it.

Several days later as I lay on my bed the voices tormented me so that I held my head and writhed under the pressure. Remembering the miracles of Jesus, I said aloud, "I rebuke you in the name of Jesus," and all was silent. The demons left and have never come back. I knew then that Jesus was real. His name had power.

Before I found that Bible I had never heard of Jesus. No one had ever told me about him. But at that moment I knew that He was real and He was the one who should control my life. He was the key I’d been searching for, the meaning that I had missed. As I lay on my bed that night, I accepted Him as my Savior.

My first prayer was for escape from my way of life. I prayed for a job in another city and left for Pagosa Springs, Colorado. With no money and no prospects, I stumbled onto a job at a Pizza Hut. The job was mine, but I had to find a place to stay.

I was in the city newspaper office reading the classified ads when the editor walked over and told me about a house in town where people could stay free. I went to visit the owner, a man who ran a Christian bookstore in town. I stayed with him and his family for five months. There I learned more about the power of God.

Later I went back to the reservation. My people noticed immediately how my life had changed. I did not cut off fellowship from them, but I did not participate in the rituals as I once had. There was no church for me on the reservation, at least, none that taught the Bible.

I began to write for the reservation newspaper. In January 1985 my editor sent me out to do a story about a group of people starting a religious movement half a mile outside the reservation. I interviewed them and stayed two hours past my deadline, excited to find people who believed what I believed.

Those people formed a church--really it was just a group of believers in Christ who met in a living room. But I went to a Christian university and graduated in May 1990. I want to go back to the reservation and help my pastor with the church. There are 261 Indian reservations and we would like to start a church on each of them.

I am an Apache. Some of my people call me "apple," red on the outside and white on the inside, but it doesn't matter. I am proud of my heritage and my culture, but I have found Christ. His love transcends language and racial barriers. I am committed to bringing that love to my people.

Reynard Veldez

Memory verse: “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path” Psalm 119:105).

Discussion questions:

1. On trial for his life, Peter said, “For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).

Could Reynard Veldez have been saved by being a good Indian? By being a medicine man? Why was it so important that he found that Bible?

2. Many people wonder how people in the Old Testament were saved—after all, they didn’t have a complete Bible as we do, and Jesus had not yet come when they lived. The author of Hebrews tells us that just like us, they were saved by faith. Abraham, Noah, Enoch, Sarah—they all believed in the savior that was to come. “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth” (Hebrews 11:13).

How are we similar to the Old Testament believers? What do we have that they didn’t have?

3. The Bible is useful—important—for more than simply telling us about Jesus. It also equips up, teaches us, and guides us through life. Paul wrote: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Can you give us an example of a time when you received help, instruction, or guidance from the Bible?

4. The Bible tells us that God exists, but some people either can’t—or won’t—read the Bible. If someone were to ask you to prove God exists, what would you say?

Think about that until we meet again. Next week we’ll talk about some possible answers.


Leslie said...

Angie - you are writing this for Middle Schoolers, right? Is it ok for me to print 1 copy off to give to a friend of mine? She's been trying to find a Bible study book to give to her 12 year old but the problem is that we haven't been able to - there are tons and tons of life application studies for pre-teens/teens, but not actual Bible studies. Its actually rather frustrating because the girl is to old to be reading stuff for 8 year olds but is still a few years off from being taught about abstinence, drugs, and alcohol (etc...) - she's not a typical 12 year old.

Also if anyone reading this has any suggestions as to a Bible Study book, that would be great.

Angela said...

Fine for you to print and use, Leslie--just not to publish on the web or anywhere else. :-)

Thanks for asking!