11 I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I’m going to begin my sermon this morning with a little quiz to test your knowledge of the Bible. Don’t worry. I’m not going to call on you to see if you know the right answer. Just answer the following question to yourself. Here it is: Which of the following quotes are found in the Bible?
- Cleanliness is next to godliness.
- God helps those who help themselves.
- Confession is good for the soul.
- Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.
- Money is the root of all evil.
- Honesty is the best policy.
- Do to others what you would have them do to you.
The correct answer is #4 and #7. Just for the fun of it, how many of you got it right? Hmmm – you know what I think? I think the sermon series that I’m starting today just might be right up your alley because the theme that I’ve chosen for this series is “The Foundation of Our Faith.” And that foundation, of course, is the Bible. Now please understand, the purpose of these messages will not be to heap a lot of guilt on you for your lack of Bible knowledge or your lack of Bible reading or your lack of Bible study. But I will say right up front that one of my goals is to get you thinking and get you excited about improving in those areas in the hopes that the sub-theme that I’ve come up with for this sermon series might be fulfilled. And that sub-theme is: “Getting people into the Word so that the Word might get into people.”
And just to give you a little road map of where we’re heading in this series, we’re going to start by taking a look at some of the reasons people give as to why they don’t read the Bible. Then we’ll examine some great reasons why we should read the Bible. This will then lead to some of the problems that have arisen in our culture and perhaps our own individual lives because of biblical illiteracy, at which time we’ll discover that those problems are not new, that they’ve been around ever since God’s Word has been around in written form. And then we’ll offer hope for ourselves and for our church as we spend some time in what I will be calling “Recovery 101.”
But before we get to any of those things, I’d like you to just think back for a moment to the first Bible you ever owned. You may not be able to remember it, but I can sure remember mine. In fact, I brought it with me today. It’s not a Bible that was given to me. It’s not a Bible that I bought. Rather, it’s a Bible I earned. You see, when I was attending Zion Lutheran School in Staunton, IL, each year around October, we students would sell Christmas cards, or what my teacher, Mrs. Rahm, told us to refer to as Christian greeting cards. We did this as a fund raiser of sorts for our school, although I don’t ever recall hearing about where the money went to. And once in a while they would offer an incentive to get us more motivated to get out and really beat the bushes. For example, one year they said that each student would get back 10% cash of what he or she sold. Well, that sounded like pretty easy money to me, so I went all over the neighborhood, knocking on doors and using my favorite line to get into peoples’ homes: “Hi, my name is Doug Meyer. I’m Pastor Meyer’s son over at the Lutheran church and our school is selling Christmas cards. Would you like to buy some?” By the way, that line about being Pastor Meyer’s son not only came in handy with selling Christmas cards, but it also proved quite helpful when I started my own lawn mowing business in about the 6th or 7th grade. At any rate, that year I can still remember that I sold $118 worth of Christmas cards which mean that I got back $11.80. Not bad for a little kid back in the ‘60’s.
But then there was the year that we didn’t get money back, but we could earn different items, depending on how many boxes of cards we sold. And there at the top of the list was a brand new Revised Standard Version Bible. Oh how I wanted that Bible! And there was only one way to get it. Knock on doors and peddle my wares. And by the time the selling season was over, I had in my hands this Bible right here that still sits on my shelf and that I still refer to periodically.
Indeed, there’s no book like the Bible. Brides sometimes carry it on their wedding day. Soldiers carry it into battle. Presidents place their hand on it when they are sworn into office. Aging men and women draw comfort from its yellowed pages during times of loneliness or discouragement. Members of the Gideons stand in bright sunshine or pouring rain to distribute it on university campuses. Prisoners of war commit it to memory and look for ingenious ways to share it with their fellow prisoners. Some have even been willing to die for their Bible (read Extreme Devotion, p. 241).
Unfortunately, though we live in a country where 87% of American households either own or have a Bible, and Bibles are readily available to those who don’t have them, we’re living at a time right now where Bible reading has been in sharp decline for a number of years and Bible knowledge has simply followed suit. This lack of Bible knowledge used to be demonstrated by Jay Leno on the Tonight Show when he used to do his “Jaywalking” where he would go out on the street, stick a microphone in somebody’s face, and ask them questions. One question he asked was: “Can you name one of the Ten Commandments.” The most popular answer he got? “God helps those who help themselves,” which as we learned before is not even found in the Bible. He also asked people if they could name any of the apostles, for which he only got blank stares. But when he asked if they could name any of the Beatles, the people rattled off “John, Paul, George, and Ringo” just like that. And when he asked who was swallowed by a great fish, back came the confident answer: “Pinocchio.”
So who is reading the Bible these days? Well, according to a Lifeway Research study that was conducted last year, less than half of Americans say they read the Bible at least occasionally, with the most likely readers being women, nonwhites, older people, Republicans, and political conservatives. Readership of the Bible has declined significantly from 73% in the 1980’s to 47% today. In terms of frequency of readership, 22% of Americans say they read at least a little bit of it every day, 30% reach for it when they have a need, 19% re-read their favorite parts, and the largest percent, 35%, say they never pick it up at all. So according to those statistics, in a land where there are Bibles, Bibles everywhere, many of those Bibles are doing nothing more than gathering dust.
It should not surprise us then that when the Barna Research Group polled Americans in 2005 and asked them to rate their maturity in relation to seven dimensions of their spiritual life, the dimension where they rated themselves lowest was Bible knowledge. I guess the good news there is that even though Americans are suffering in this area, at least they’re honest about it.
So what are some of the reasons why people don’t read the Bible? Well, according to Woodrow Kroll, who hosts a radio show called “Back to the Bible”, there are many reasons. For example, some people say they don’t read the Bible because they don’t know where to start. I find that kind of odd because if you handed them a book by Stephen King or John Grisham or some other well-known author, what would they do? They would open up to page 1 and begin reading. In other words, they would begin at the beginning. And what a novel place to start with the Bible! But that’s not to say you have to start at the beginning because the Bible is really a library of 66 books, many of which serve different purposes. For example, when I sense that someone is in need of strength or encouragement and I tell them to read the Bible, I don’t tell them to start at the beginning. Rather I direct them to the Psalms. Or if someone is needing some good practical advice for living, I’ll direct them to the Book of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes. If someone is wanting to know more about Jesus – who he is, why he came to this earth, what he did while he was here, why we call him Savior – I send them to the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But if you’re just wanting to read the Bible and find out what it’s all about, then I would recommend that you start at the beginning. Start with Genesis 1:1 and just keep on reading till you’re done and you will see God’s marvelous plan of salvation for a lost and sinful world unfold before your very eyes.
Then a 2nd reason people say they don’t read the Bible is because they can’t find what they’re looking for. And granted, that can be frustrating. I know because I’ve experienced that problem many times. For that reason you might want to do a couple of things. You may want to read your Bible with an open notebook or computer nearby. Then when you encounter something that strikes you as particularly important or interesting, something that you want to remember, jot it down. Don’t rely on your memory because if your memory is anything like mine, it’s going to leak out of that sieve-like brain of yours faster than you can imagine. I love an old Chinese proverb that says: “The smallest amount of ink is stronger than the largest amount of memory.” So write it down.
Then another suggestion I have is buy a good concordance. A concordance is a book or a computer program that lists every verse in the Bible where a particular word is used. Here’s the concordance I keep on my desk and it has saved me countless hours over the years of trying to locate specific passages in the Bible that were on the tip of my tongue but that I just couldn’t jar loose. With the advent of Google and other computer search engines it’s easier than ever to locate a particular verse or passage you might be looking for. I might also add, the more you read your Bible and get to know it, the easier you’ll find it is to remember where certain passages are located.
Here’s another reason why some people don’t read the Bible: It doesn’t conform to what I believe. One pastor tells the story of the time he received a letter from a young wife who wrote him looking for advice. In that letter she said: “I’m planning to divorce my husband because he isn’t growing as fast spiritually as I am. In fact, I feel like he’s holding me back. I’ve met this guy at our church fellowship who is already divorced. He and I are so much more compatible spiritually and I believe God may be leading us together. It feels right to me. What do you think?”
You know what I think? I think that woman was really interested in what that pastor thought. I think she was just looking for someone who would hopefully justify and support what she knew deep down in her heart was in direct conflict with what God told her in the Bible.
Here we need to understand, my friends, that the Bible is not a dialogue between God and us. Rather, it is a revelation from God to us – a revelation of himself, his will, what he expects of us, and especially what he has done for us and our salvation through the One who is the real centerpiece, the real focal point, the real Hero of Scripture, and that, of course is Jesus. Therefore we should never try to conform the Bible to some pre-existing belief system we’ve come up with on our own or that someone else has come up with. Rather we should conform our belief system to the Bible.
Well, there are a number of other reasons why people don’t read the Bible, but our time for today is up. We’ll pick it up with those reasons in my next sermon 2 weeks from today. Until then, might I suggest that you get your Bibles out this week, if you haven’t done so for a while. Dust them off. Open them up. And begin at the beginning. Start with Genesis 1:1 or Matt. 1:1 if you want to begin with the New Testament and get into the Word so that the Word – the foundation of our faith – might get into you and begin to make the difference in your life and your eternity that God intended it to. Amen.