16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Use story from Extreme Devotion, p. 201 as my Time to Reflect.
In light of the story that I read to you at the beginning of our service today, may I ask you, How much does your Bible mean to you? Most of us probably have more than one Bible in our homes and we didn’t have to wait 50 or 20 years to get those Bibles. They’ve always been there. And yet I find it amazing that we who have such easy access to God’s Word often times fail to use it, read it, and treasure it the way that the people wanted to do in the story I just read.
And why is that? Well, that’s a question that we began to explore 2 weeks ago when I began a brand new sermon series that I have entitled “The Foundation of Our Faith.” And just to refresh your memory, we offered 3 reasons people give as to why they don’t read the Bible. Reason #1 was: I don’t know where to start. Reason #2 was: I can’t find what I want in the Bible. And reason #3 was: The Bible doesn’t conform to what I believe. Now if you weren’t here and you want to find out exactly what I said about those reasons, you can find that sermon in both written and audio form on our church’s web site at salemlc.org.
This morning we want to spend our time examining a number of other reasons why people don’t read the Bible, starting with this one: I hear the Bible at church, so why do I need to read it for myself? And hopefully the first part of that statement is true. Hopefully you do come to church so that you can hear the Bible at church. But the question is, how much of it do you really hear at church? Way back in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, there’s a section in chapter 8 which describes an occasion when the Jews came together for a time of worship and we’re told that Ezra the priest read to them from the Book of the Law “from daylight till noon,” or for about 6 hours. And you thought that my sermons sometimes get a little long? But listen to this. In v.3 it says: “And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.” No one fell asleep. No one got up and left. They all stayed right where they were and gave Ezra their full and undivided attention.
In the New Testament this extensive public reading of the Scriptures was also common because the people back then didn’t have their own personal copies of the Bible. But as those copies became more readily available to the common lay person, as is the case today, the reading of Scripture in worship became shorter and shorter. So even though you may hear the Bible read at church, you don’t even come close to hearing it read in its entirety. We really only scratch the surface through our Scripture lessons each Sunday and our sermon text.
And that really leads into a 5th reason why people don’t read the Bible: It’s such a big book. I could never read it all. The first part of that statement is true. The Bible is a big book. But remember what I said in my last sermon? It’s actually a library of 66 books. So if you tackle each book by itself, all of a sudden it becomes quite manageable. In fact, some of those books are very short like Philippians, Malachi, and Colossians that have only 4 chapters. Five books in the Bible have only 1 chapter. And one book has just 2 chapters.
But in all honesty, is the length of the Bible really a good reason for not reading it? I would imagine that some of you have read all the books in the Harry Potter series. The first one, which was the shortest, had 309 pages. By book four, author J.K. Rowling was up to 734 pages. Book five had 870 pages. So the fact that the Bible is long should never be a deterrent to reading it.
I’m not sure how many times I’ve read through the Bible, but I would venture to guess it’s been at least 15 times. And I would say that normally I will read 2 chapters a day, unless I’m in the Psalms because some of those Psalms are rather short so I may read 5 or 6 of them a day. But typically it’s 2 chapters a day. Reading at that rate, it takes me just over 2½ years to read through the entire Bible. Now do understand that the Bibles I read are usually study or devotional Bibles, so my reading also includes any notes or devotions that are found on the pages I’m reading. But when I finish with one Bible, I then move on to another one. For example, I’ve read The Encouragement Bible, The Archaeological Study Bible, Max Lucado’s Inspirational Bible, The Prayer Bible, Today’s Light Bible, The Men’s Study Bible. I’ve read The Life Application Bible, The Evidence Bible, The Concordia Self-Study Bible. Currently I’m reading one that Kala Hunter gave me called The Jesus Bible. And when I retire I plan to tackle The Lutheran Study Bible which is chock-full of lots of notes and articles that help to explain the biblical text. The key is to not let the thickness or bigness of the Bible intimidate you, but rather to just tackle it one verse at a time, one chapter at a time, one book at a time.
And it’s important that you do so in a translation of the Bible that you can understand because a 6th reason why people don’t read the Bible is because: The language of the Bible doesn’t make sense to me. Many of us older folks here today (and I include myself in that category) were raised on the King James Version of the Bible. And while there is a certain beauty to the Elizabethan language that is found in that translation of Scripture, the older I got the more I found myself scratching my head and wondering what different passages meant. For example, James 1:21 in the KJV reads like this: “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.” Could somebody tell me what that means? But contrast that translation with the NIV which renders it this way: “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.” Or how about the translation known as God’s Word which says: “So get rid of all immoral behavior and all the wicked things you do.” I can understand that, can’t you? So don’t let the excuse that the Bible is too difficult to understand get in your way of reading it. Find a translation that you enjoy and understand and let the King of the universe speak to you through it. And if you need some suggestions, give me a call and I’ll be happy to help you.
Here’s another reason why some people don’t read the Bible. They say: It isn’t relevant to my life. I guess I would counter that by saying every time I read the Bible I can’t get over how incredibly relevant it is to my life. Whether I’m reading the Psalms which are pouring out all this emotion before God that I’m feeling in my heart, or whether I’m reading the Proverbs which are giving me all kinds of practical advice on how to live my life, or whether I’m reading the history of the Israelites and the rebelliousness that they displayed toward God that is not at all unlike what we see going on in our own nation today; or whether I’m reading a parable that Jesus told about how people will respond to the preaching of the Word or how I’m supposed to treat my fellow man; or whether I’m reading one of Paul’s epistles in which he tells us that we are saved not by what we do but by what Christ has done for us, I’m sorry, but the Bible has got to be the most relevant book ever written. It’s relevant to my life right now and relevant to my life in eternity. So when you read it, personalize it for yourself. When Jesus says in John 3:16 that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life, understand that to mean that God so loved you that he gave you his one and only Son so that if you would believe in him, you would not perish, but you would have eternal life. And when David says in Ps. 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” understand that the Lord is not just David’s shepherd, he’s your shepherd too. When you start to personalize the Scriptures like that you’ll be amazed at how meaningful and relevant these ancient writings are to you and your life.
Then another reason people give for not reading the Bible is this one: The Bible is boring. Now I’ll be the first to admit that there are places in the Bible that can be a bit boring. For example, when I’m reading the book of Exodus and I get into the detailed instructions that God gave Moses for the building of the tabernacle, I can’t wait to move on to something more exciting. Or when I get to the long lists of names and genealogies in Genesis and I Chronicles and Ezra and Nehemiah, I have to confess that my mind has a tendency to wander. But the vast majority of the Bible is not like those sections.
In the Bible you will find love stories, like the ones between Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Joseph and Mary. You’ll find war stories, stories of family conflict, stories of international intrigue, stories of incredibly bad situations being turned by the sovereign hand of God into incredibly good situations. Most of all you’ll see the story of God’s love for a lost and sinful world reaching its climax in the shameful and humiliating death of his Son Jesus Christ on an old rugged Roman cross and then ultimately culminating in his triumphant resurrection from the dead 3 days later. And I don’t know about you, my friends, but I don’t find anything boring about that at all!
That takes us to one more reason that people give for not reading the Bible. And I would have to say that this is the #1 reason of them all. Here it is: I don’t have time to read the Bible. And I can understand why some people might feel that way. The hectic and frantic pace at which most people live their lives these days is mind-boggling and crippling. It cripples their family life. It cripples relationships. It cripples their health. It cripples their energy. And most importantly, it cripples their spiritual life. After all, there’s work and school and running to the store and basketball practice and baseball games and dinner to fix and clothes to wash and a house to clean and homework to do. “And now Pastor is wanting me to read the Bible every day?” Remember the old commercial where the frenzied and frazzled lady cries out: “Calgon, take me away!” Do you ever feel like that?
I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do know that most of us need to slow down. And it would be to our benefit if we would not only do that, but also spend some time with God each day, reading his Word and letting him calm our troubled hearts. I also feel that if we do an honest evaluation of our lives, we’ll discover that quite a bit of our time each day is spent on useless things that really won’t matter one bit in the grand scheme of life or eternity, whether it’s Facebook, your cell phone, your TV, or that computer game that you just can’t seem to pull yourself away from. I guess what I’m trying to say, my friends, is that we give our time to that which matters most to us. So what we’re talking about here is a 1st Commandment issue. Remember the 1st Commandment? God says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” So if you’re finding time for everything else while you’re claiming that you just don’t have time for God – and we all struggle with that to a greater or lesser extent – then it appears as though we are placing other things ahead of God. We are making gods out of them. And that is a sin. That is a violation of the 1st Commandment. So we need to take that sin to the cross and ask God’s forgiveness. But we also need to do what I said earlier. We need to do some re-ordering and re-structuring and re-prioritizing of our lives so that we can do a better job of keeping the main thing the main thing.
And to help us out here, to give us some motivation to do just that, in my next sermon 2 weeks from today we’re going to spend some time taking a look at some great reasons why we should read the Bible and what benefits we can derive from this wonderful spiritual discipline. Until then, may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds firmly anchored to the Rock of Ages Jesus Christ at all times so that you might make the time and take the time to get into his Word in order that his Word might get into you. Amen.