By Pastor Tim Nelson
In 1991, Michele and I took 13 Middle School kids to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Canada on a canoe trip. When we got to the outfitters to pick up our gear, I asked the employee to show me how to set up one of the tents. He blew it off with a “It’s a no brainer. If you have any problem, I stuck a sheet with instructions at the top of your pack!” I thought about insisting on a demo, but didn’t. I should have…
The outfitter’s estimate of 4 miles to our wilderness campsite was off by 4 miles. At mile 6, the sun went under a cloud — a large, dark cloud. Knowing Lewis and Clark couldn’t make camp in the wilderness after dark in the rain, we pulled up short on a peninsula, claiming it as our campsite. I pulled out the first tent. It would have been a challenge to pitch in broad daylight. Sure enough, at the top of one of the packs I found the instruction sheet. The instructions…not so much. They were unreadable. I mean you couldn’t make out the illustration or the printed words. Reading this you know I lived to tell about it.
I know what happened to those instructions. When the outfitter opened, they knew us lame city slickers would need step-by- step instruction on how to pitch the tent. So they made a whole pile of copies of the instruction sheet that came with the tent. Over time that pile went down, so they grabbed the last copy and copied a pile more. And when that pile went down, they grabbed one of those copies and did it again. Standing there in the dark in the rain on that peninsula in the wilderness, I was gazing down at a copy from a copy from a copy from a copy…
Now I want to make two points that are important to anyone who holds an interest in the Bible. The first is a question: If each book of the Bible had an original, and that original was copied, and that copy was copied through about almost 3000 years until the printing press, how do you know that God’s instructions didn’t get faded to the point they are no longer recognizable? The answer, at least in part, is to compare a very early copy to one centuries later – a copy from a copy from a copy. And the evidence is encouraging – there is stunning evidence that, unlike my outfitter, great care was taken to preserve the contents of the original.
Following God’s Instructions
A second question is equally important for Christians. Are you getting your instructions primarily from the Bible or from people around you – parents, pastors, or writers of books and songs? How do you know what they tell you is consistent with God’s original instructions? Unfortunately, history tells us that when we get our instructions from others instead of from the Bible, we are getting faded instructions – assembly instructions for our lives that are not from the original, but deteriorated and often unrecognizable to the original. Please don’t get me wrong. We need parents and pastors and writers to help guide us in truth. But their instructions cannot be substitutes for our own pursuit of God’s instructions from His master copy, the Scriptures.