I love books. I love the feel of books as you hold them in your hand. I love the weight of the book as you hold it up to read. I love the smell of the book as you flip through its pages. I love books, for me an e-reader will never completely replace a book. I realize e-readers are fun to play with, and can make for a convenient travel companion if you don’t want to carry a small mountain of books with you everywhere you go, but for me it can never completely replace a real, ink and paper book. As much as I love books and I love to read I do not get the chance to as often as I’d like. Like most Americans I’d say I’m hard pressed for our most precious commodity…time. In my lack of time I am very choosy when it comes to which books I read. I stay away from heretical books like A New Kind Of Christianity, The Irresistible Revolution and Heaven is for Real and I stick to books that I know, while challenging, are solid like Radical, He is Not Silent, and even books with boring titles like Lectures to my Students. As much as I love to read these kinds of books I often feel the need to chide myself for not reading THE book instead…of course I am referring to the Bible. I am deeply grateful for what God has given to us in His word. He has not left us guessing about who He is and what He wants from us and instead has gifted us with His spoken word. He has done this so we may know Him, so that we may make His name known among the nations and so that we would enjoy Him forever. I often though, feel myself gravitating toward books about the Bible instead of the Bible itself and this tendency of mine troubles me.
It is said that the average American home has 4.3 Bibles in it and yet we live in a country where nobody has any idea what the Bible actually says. Just last week President Obama said in a speech “God wants us
to help ourselves” Like it was scripture and one of his aides or advisors or what-have-you…lackeys I suppose would be the correct term, came to his defense and said: “I believe the actual quote from the Bible is “God helps those who help themselves.” I was disgusted though not surprised. This quote is not anywhere to be found in the Bible (and for the record neither is “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”) The president though has unwittingly given us a perfect example of how the average American really doesn’t know what the Bible actually says. Personally I’m okay with the average un-churched American not reading the Bible. I’m even okay with the average Catholic not reading their Bible, I mean let’s face it, it is wasn’t permissible for the ordinary Catholic to read their Bible for themselves until 1963 it just hasn’t really caught on yet for them. What I’m not okay with is the average churched American not knowing the difference between a quote from the Bible and a quote from Ben Franklin. This is why we have in this country people like Joel Osteen and Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, who tell people what they want to hear and are extremely popular and sell lots of books. We end up with a large group of “Christians” living vicariously through the teachings of one man and nothing…nothing, is as authoritative as what that one man says. There is nothing scarier to me on TV than to see a pastor with a Bible in their hand saying something that is totally contrary to what the Bible actually says and seeing thousands of people nod their head and say “Yes, that’s so true.” It would be foolish to say that the blind following of one pastor or teacher that doesn’t happen in reformed circles because it does, it happens just as much and it is from the same average Americans who don’t read the Bible for themselves or just read bits and pieces of it to support the line of thought that they want to support.
My recognition of my own tendencies to gravitate to what I want to read has helped me further understand the depth of the battle against the flesh and against sin. Even though I’m content to read books about the Bible, I’m still not reading the Bible. It’s a spiritual war zone. The minute I sit down to read the Bible it’s like I can’t focus, the phone rings or the kids are fighting or I want to check the score of the game or my wife has another item on the “Honey-do” list. (Okay so MY wife doesn’t do that whole “honey-do” list as much as I do it to myself, but you get the idea.) It never fails, it’s always something. I struggle with this daily. I’d like to say I’ve mastered the plan for daily personal Bible study a pass along the secret for you to follow, but I haven’t. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying you have to study the Bible “x” number of times a week or you’re not really a Christian. I’m saying I know I need to read the Bible for myself more often than I do, I know the benefits of it, I know how I would grow as a Christian, I know how I would appreciate all God has given me more, I know I would further my knowledge of God and deepen my love for Him, I know all these things and I still struggle to do it.
The more I think about this tendency of mine to not read the Bible more often than I do, the more I realize that the idea of man playing any role in his salvation is a complete fallacy. Recently I read an article on fast food restaurants across America serving “Healthier” food options, and while they had a motley crew of the healthier items on the menu the same old “bad for you” food is what people order. I see this play out in my own life too, if I have to choose between a bowl of ice cream and a bowl of yogurt, the ice cream wins every time-hands down, and it’s not like I’m unaware of the benefits of choosing the yogurt instead of the ice cream I know there are plenty I just don’t do it. It is the same way with us, we don’t choose God, we would never choose God-even though we can see some of the benefits, we like our ice cream too much. This plays out in everyone’s life differently of course; some people are really good at saying “no” to ice cream. Typically, though, those are the same people who warn you about all the problems that come from eating ice cream, or possibly they don’t say anything directly to you about the ice cream, but they get together with their other health-nut friends and talk about how awful it is that we destroy ourselves with ice cream and how good they are for avoiding it.
Although I am far from being as Biblically illiterate as the president has shown himself to be, I am far from being as diligent as I know I should be when it comes to regularly reading my Bible; I know there is grace for that and I know it is a tension that I am going to struggle with probably for the rest of my life. What I pray is that the church, the universal church, myself included, would absolutely fall in love with the Bible and sound doctrine and quit wanting to have their collective ears scratched, That the church would hunger and thirst for the pure Word of God and quit chasing silly irreverent myths. That the church would be the church as it is called to be and quit making excuses as to why they can’t let the dead bury their own dead. I pray that the church would quit choosing ice cream over yogurt. I pray for all these things and I ask you to join me.