On Thursday, March 14, 2019, Southside Christian Upper School Teacher Mark Sandlin delivered an excellent message on the Holy Spirit’s role in our understanding of God’s truth. If you would like to read my summary of Mr. Sandlin’s message, in the words of his own transcript, “Taught by the Spirit,” please read on. . . .
“Taught by the Spirit”
By Mark Sandlin, International Homestay Program English and Bible Instructor/Educational Technology Support
Middle School and High School Chapel
Southside Christian School
Simpsonville, South Carolina
Thursday, March 14, 2019
Summary of and Editorializing by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Upper School Principal (All errors are mine alone.)
Pastor Colin Urbanick, Campus Pastor/Director of Discipleship, welcomed the students to chapel. He reminded people why we gather in chapel. He talked about learning and growing and worshipping though chapel experiences. Each student “has a choice” as to how s/he will respond to chapel, with disengagement resulting in a student missing what God has for the individual. It’s “not a time to relax and socialize.” It’s a time to hear from God’s Word, he said.
Pastor Colin prayed.
High School French Instructor Brett Henderson (on guitar and lead vocals) and senior Coby Greene (on percussions) led a time of worship through song.
Mr. Henderson prayed as a bridge between worship through song to worship through the teaching of God’s Word.
Mark Sandlin (All emphasis is original to Mr. Sandlin.)
If I were to ask you, “What is consistently the best-selling book in all the world?” what would you say? — the Bible
“What is the most important book in all the world?” — the Bible
“What is the most life-transforming book in all the world?” what would you say? — the Bible
“If you were stranded on a desert island and could choose only ONE book to have with you till the end of your days, which book would you choose?” –the Bible
But if I were also to ask you, “What book do you find really hard to read consistently?” –the Bible
“What book do you absolutely have to DISCIPLINE yourself, force yourself to try to read, even though you know that book is super important?” — the Bible
“What book more consistently bores you and makes you sleepy than any other book?” — the Bible
“What extremely important book have you (many of you, probably) never been able to actually finish reading (the whole thing)?” — the Bible
And it’s not just you! It’s not just children, or young people. I’ll let you in on a secret. Adults. Teachers. MINISTERS. Multitudes of Christians find the Bible very hard going. And that’s weird: It’s our Book! Our book of books! The most important book in all the world! It’s a thick book, yes, but it’s just ONE book, and multitudes of Christians can spend 10, 20 years just trying to read the whole thing all the way through ONCE. They can easily read 7 Harry Potter books this thick (and I’m not criticizing Harry Potter books; that’s not at all my point) within a few days of them hitting the bookstores–but can’t finish this one book after 20 years.
I used to teach at Bible colleges in Thailand, and one of my students, a future minister, future pastor, said to me, in front of the whole class, “Mr Sandlin, the Bible is the best sleeping pill.” And no one in the class disagreed!
That’s a problem. In fact, there’s no natural, rational explanation for that at all. It’s supernaturally weird that this book would be so hard to get through, to read regularly, to cherish. Especially when almost every person in this room would say, “This is the best book in the world!”
There’s a problem here. When I used to go into a Christian bookstores I could tell there was a problem. I go to the bookstore and I can see that the Bible is really, really important to Christians (because there’s a huge Bible section) but I can also see that Christians don’t like the Bible much nor understand it very well. I can see that by all the ways the publishers try to make the Bible more understandable, and more fun, and more relevant. I fall into the same trap; when my son was in elementary school I bought him a Bible with a gecko on the cover. I thought he’d like it more if it had a gecko on the cover–and he did. But if you think about it, how random is that? “An ancient, sacred, holy book. Now all it needs is a lizard on the cover!”
I wrote a poem once about going into a Christian bookstore; this is a small part of that poem, about the Bible section in a Christian bookstore:
[In the bookstore] There were Bibles in every shape, color, and size
So many to choose that it dazzled the eyes.
So many–the choices just made the mouth water:
A Bible for mother, a Bible for daughter,
Taped Bibles for people too busy to read,
Bibles for every conceivable need.
Bibles for teens who want God to be cool,
Bibles so small you can take them to school.
A Bible for sisters, a bible for brothers,
A bible for golfers, for singles, for lovers!
Bibles with God less severe and less bloody,
Self-esteem Bibles with God as our buddy.
Bibles with maps and footnotes for the nerds,
Bibles with hyperlinks: click on the words!
Spirit-filled Bibles for those with afflictions,
Codependency Bibles for those with addictions.
And each new translation with slight variation
Caused the consumers to buy with elation
With new Bible frenzy they thought it a must
To buy them and take them to gather new dust.
I did not then and do not now believe that cool Bible versions or politically correct Bibles or brainy study Bibles will solve the fundamental problem of the Bible being, for most people, so hard to read and enjoy.
This book is a magic book; and that is the reason for the problem at hand.
Jesus said, “The words I that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life…” John 6:3
“For all Scripture is God-breathed…” 2 Timothy 3:16
“…when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (There is a fundamental difference between the words of men and the words of God)
“…no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” 2 Peter 1:21
It’s a magic book, full of magic words, the words of God from the mouth of God (even from the finger of God sometimes), mostly given through prophets who were given special, occasional ability to know the thoughts of God and write them down, even when they themselves sometimes didn’t have a clue what those words meant. (I’m thinking of, for example, Daniel, Ezekiel, and John the writer of Revelation.`)
Now, many people think that if we could only understand the background of the Bible, of the ancient languages, etc, we would understand the Bible. Those Christian bookstores are full of study Bibles. Have you seen those, where half of every page is footnotes? I used to have so much struggle reading the Bible that I preferred just reading the bottom of every page. Let me have man, please, explaining the words of God. Because I don’t get this book. But do you know who probably understood the cultural and historical background of the Bible better than anyone living today? I mean better than the smartest seminary professors? Who could speak Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, pretty much fluently? The people in these pages, the people who lived in Bible times. Those closest to Jesus should have understood Jesus’ words, right, even though we don’t? They were with the Master Teacher day and night for years; living with Him, walking with Him, eating meals with Him, they had every opportunity to ask questions. And yet we see passages like this:
JOSEPH AND MARY: …and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them. – Luke 2:48-50
THE DISCIPLES: He said to His disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this statement, and it was concealed from them so that they would not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this statement. — Luke 9:43-45
Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.” But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said. – Luke 18:31-34
Some of His disciples then said to one another, “What is this thing He is telling us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?….We do not know what He is talking about.” – John 16:17-18
And again and again the Bible is filled with examples of people (even the people of God!) who didn’t understand the Word and the Messages of God.
It’s a magic book. Supernatural. Jesus’ words were spiritual words, conveying spiritual realities and truths.
And how are we going to understand a magic book?
With a magic Teacher!
And we have One: The Holy Spirit.
“These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.
1 Corinthians 2:10-14
For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
(Slide) But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God,
for they are foolishness to him;
and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
The solution to the problem of an opaque, boring Bible is not a method, but a Person; that Person is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom, the Spirit of Truth. The same Spirit who inspired the writers of this Book lives inside of us who have believed, who have been born again. And He can teach us and make this book come alive. The theologians call this ILLUMINATION (Revelation–Inspiration–Illumination); I didn’t come up with this concept myself.
But the Holy Spirit’s teaching ministry is not, I believe, automatic. We’ve got to pray. We’ve got to inquire. We’ve got to ask for His assistance.
But we will probably not seek His assistance if we don’t first believe that this is a supernatural book, and that we are BY NATURE, of the earth, earthy. That is our natural state. 1 Corinthians 2 says that “the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God….” The natural man. For many years I had a Bible version that translated this verse interpretively; It said “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things of the Spirit of God…” For years I ignored this verse–because I do have the Spirit! It wasn’t till I realized that the plain original wording is “the natural man”. I well remember the day I was reading 1 Corinthians 2 and I realized, “Wait: I have a natural man. The natural Mark [that’s my name].” The gray matter, the noggin, the thinking cap, my reasoning skills, my academic studies, my 2 master’s degrees, all of my brain power, and all the power of the Internet: all of my own natural resources brought to bear upon spiritual matters, according to this verse, were useless. That day these words were impressed upon me: The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, and cannot understand them. Does not accept; cannot understand. Does not. Cannot.
The verse was conveying bad news. But as this “bad news” began to truly dawn on me for the first time in my Christian life, I began to rejoice. I began to read verse 14 aloud. Right there in a public park I practically started shouting the verse. I almost started dancing, so great was my joy. Does not! Cannot! Hallelujah! What a relief! What good news this bad news was! Because what I, according to Scripture, could not do I saw that I need no longer strive to do.
Starting from that day the Bible came alive. I no longer tried to read 3 chapters a day, or whatever the Bible-in-a-year calendars said; if I wanted to park on one verse for a week, I would. There were no visions, I didn’t start speaking in tongues, and I didn’t do the close eyes put finger down approach. I kept reading methodically, for the most part, book by book. But I waited upon the Lord to teach me as I read. And in the years following, as long as I have honored the Holy Spirit in His teaching role (and I do have need to remind myself to do so) my enjoyment of the Scriptures has continued. The main discipline I have tried to maintain over the years, during my Quiet Time, is to pray and ask, as I read, for the Holy Spirit to teach me this Book, to open my eyes, not as some ritual lip service, but because I really need His help and want His help, and want the Scriptures to come alive.
Are you kind of like me? Do you struggle to enjoy the Bible? Have you struggled to figure out this book on your own? Is it possible you and I have been dishonoring the Holy Spirit? Leaving Him unemployed? Going around Him, asking everyone but Him, and getting little out of this book? Is it possible that, like me, you’ve been reading this book as though it was just any book and not a magic book?
Why not repent of that, like I did about 20 years ago (and still have to keep reminding myself to do), and ask Him to teach you the book?
Some additional thoughts and suggestions (not all of these were covered in chapel):
- I don’t mean that no other “human” helps can be used. I myself am a Bible teacher; I’m human, and I explain the Bible to people; in fact teaching is one of the spiritual gifts. But not even spiritual gifts are ever meant to be exercised apart from complete reliance on the Holy Spirit.
- I have maps in the back of my Bible; they are so helpful. I google verses sometimes (or look at a concordance), when I can’t think of where a verse is in the Bible. The people who write commentaries often have great insights. I’m not saying these helps should never be used.
- I don’t recommend reading the Bible on your phone. There are way too many distractions and even too many tools and helps. The goal is to seek the help of the heavenly Teacher. Don’t insult and dishonor Him by reading the Bible while texting, or googling something. No. The phone is far too fun. Also, this (physical, paper) Book never has a low battery, and you can mark it up, and you have a much better sense of past to present, left to right, in a physical book. If you only take your phone and not a Bible to church, I beg you to reconsider.
- Don’t read the Bible with only your intellect! Read it humbly, knowing that some of the most brilliant people in the world think this Bible is absolute foolishness, and even those people in the Bible closest to Jesus misunderstood the truths of this book until given insight by the Holy Spirit
- Verse memorization is much easier once the Holy Spirit begins to impress verses upon your heart.
- Don’t jump all over Scripture, especially if you haven’t yet read the whole Bible. Read sequentially, book by book and chapter by chapter. After you’ve really read and processed the whole Bible at least one time through, you can allow yourself more liberty.
- You are not, as a general rule, listening for a voice. You are praying and reading by faith that the Holy Spirit delights to lead you into all truth, that’s one of his key roles. Read slowly and prayerfully believing that “He is (He exists) and that He earnestly rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6)
- This chapel message is not intended to promote anti-intellectualism. I am advocating a submission of the intellect to God, an admission that “His thoughts are not my thoughts”, that “In the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God” (I Cor 1:21).