I want to make a brief post about a topic close to my heart. Its a simple one and not exactly "Radical" for a Christian. Its called Bible reading. I have become more convinced than ever that there has been a drastic decline in this spiritual discipline among contemporary Christians. As a result we have become for the most part a very scripturally ignorant people.
It amazes me when doing ministry with life long Christians how much of the bible they simply do not know. I realize that as a "professional" Christian AKA clergy, I am going to be more involved with the scriptures than the average person. But I just assumed that people that have been Christians for 20, 30, 40, years would know the basics? Genesis? The tower of Babel? The divided Kingdom? The Psalms? Proverbs? The Gospels? Paul's letters?
The overwhelming majority of Christians I meet have rarely heard of Balaams donkey!? Which makes it hard to minister to them when your using that story in an illustration! Why am I using that story you may ask? Well, thats an entirely SEPERATE post ;-) But just go with me on this one OK?
I will NOT repeat NOT stop preaching for people to pick up their Bible and READ IT! I can not stress this enough.
Now, I know some will say, But I do read the bible. I go to church every Sunday and the lectionary takes us through the entire bible. Or, I pray daily morning and evening prayer from the prayer book and the daily office lectionary takes us through the entire bible. Ummmmm sorry but no. It really doesn't.
Before all the haters get all upset let me make clear I am TOTALY BEHIND PRAYING MORNING AND EVENING PRAYER AND USING THE SUNDAY LECTIONARY.
So chill :-)
What I am saying is that the lectionary leaves plenty of gaps in the cycle of readings and often jumps around so much that you are not reading in a systematic way through any one book or letter of scripture. Which is fine in a liturgical setting. To be honest there is really no other way you could make that work unless we cut portions out. Can you imagine sitting there on Sunday as the lector read seven paragraphs of genealogy from the book of Genesis?! That would put anyone to sleep!
Here is the problem. A recent study found out that 90% of contemporary Christians have never read the entire bible in their lives. 90%!!??
That just realy upsets my spirit.
Realize this is NOT a post about "proper interpretation" or "Preaching exspository vs Preaching thematically" WHAT you DO with the Scriptures can only truly happen AFTER YOU READ THEM!
So for the sake of this post all that stuff is irrelevant.
As many of you know I have many pastor friends from almost every denomination on the planet! Two of my best friends in the world are pastors. One is a Roman Catholic Priest. (Shout out Padre Casey) ;-) And the other is a non denominational country pastor. These two pastors could not possibly have more different theological views. But one thing that both these men agree with me on as well as ALL the pastors I know, Anglican, Roman, Orthodox, Baptist, Church of Christ, Pentecostal, Presbyterian etc. Is our people are spiritually starving for lack of biblical knowledge.
And maybe thats our fault? Maybe we as the clergy and your shepherds have failed you in that regard? I can not blame the individual denominations theological confessions, catachisms or church teachings for this lack of devotion to scripture. The Catechism of the Roman Church for example is clear that scripture study is necessary outside of the confines of the liturgy. Even citingg the great St Jerome who said "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ!" As Anglicans our 39 Articles are clear on this topic as well. How about this Collect from our Prayer Book tradition?
"Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
So on behalf of all the clergy I would like to apologize to the faithful if we have ever failed in this regard. I know I have on many occasions. And for the clergy that have been steadfast in preaching this sacred truth I commend you and have the greatest respect for you!
So, now what?
Well I have been experimenting for several years and have come up with some "stuff" that worked for me. This is not a ground breaking idea by any stretch of the imagination but it helped me so I wish to pass it onto you. Its simple. Just two steps!
1) PUT DOWN YOUR SMART PHONE.
Im not saying ditch it. I tried that last year and realized despite how much I loath my iPhone its just very hard to do ministry in 2016 without one. People like having instant access to their pastor. My ministry encompasses far more than just the 130 members in my congregation. I have a hospital ministry, a veterans ministry an online ministry and on any given day about 100 other "pastor" things going on at the same time. And I LOVE IT! Im a tightly wound guy and it suits me to be always on the move. Even if my body maybe disagrees with my lifestyle ;)
That being said, iPhones need not be CHAINED to our hands. When I ditched my iPhone last year for six months I realized how much time I freed up! I realized for example while waiting in a doctors office that since I wasn't glued to my iPhone I could actually look up and witness my surroundings! What a shock. Turns out there were actually OTHER PEOPLE in the room! imaginee that! And one in partecular it seemed received very devastating news. My heart broke for this woman. And so I prayed and did what I could to comfort. Sometimes all we can do IS PRAY. But see if I was glued to my iPhone I would of missed this entirely.
2) PICK UP YOUR BIBLE.
The other thing I noticed when I fasted from my iPhone was all the time I wasted! So what did I do? I decided to read the bible straight thru. I carried it EVERYWHERE I went. it took me 30 days! yep ONE MONTH! One month of iPhone usage took up that much time apparently? Now your milage may vary and this is not a contest. Heck you may not even use a smart phone. But maybe there is something else that consumes a large portion of your week?
I mentioned that I had to return to using an iPhone but this time its structured. Here is how it works for me.
upon rising. READ SCRIPTURE, PRAY.
THEN...Check Email and instant messages. (Obviously TRUE Emergency prayer requests or sick calls trump reading scripture and will be handled ASAP.)
When stuck in waiting rooms, which as a pastor takes up a large chunk of my time, READ! I spend much time waiting on a patient to come back from X-ray, or the doctor is doing a consult in the patients room etc. Lets just say I know all the best places to find a quiet corner to read and pray in pretty much every medical building, hospital, hospice and doctors office in all of NW Arkansas.
You most likely don't have these moments but I'm sure you have similar ones? Heck I read scripture waiting on line in Walmart! Sometimes I think if I didn't I would lose my mind! haha
How about when you get home for the day? Do you HAVE to watch an hour of the alphabet soup of news channels? Do you have to read that best selling novel? Play XBOX?
Look, Im not saying NEVER do ANYTHING but read scripture. There is nothing wrong with reading a fictional or non fiction book, watching the news, or looking at the candy on display in the check out line at Walmart or even inviting friends over for a good old game of Call of Duty. There is NOTHING wrong with going on social media and checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. As a matter of fact I hope you do! Or you wouldn't be reading this!
What I am saying is you can take a break, a fast, a season to step away, limit your usage and spend that time in Gods Holy Life Giving Word.
There is simply no reason 90% of Christians have not read the COMPLETE Bible. Not in todays world. When its more accessible than ever before.
Lastly I honestly don't care how you read it. Just read it! Use your iPhone app, iPad app, Kindle, or hard cover old school leather version.
What is the best translation to use? Let me answer in the words of the Rev Billy Graham "The one you READ!"
I hope this post was helpful? This was not intended to make anyone feel inferior or bad or guilty for not reading their bible. It was written with the hope and prayer that by reading this Holy Book your life and those around you will be transformed by the healing love, compassion and mercy of Jesus Christ.
If people only knew the power of this book! We would never put it down!
Until next time.
Blessings and love! John+