The Prophet Amos spoke to the prosperous Northern Kingdom of Israel. He told them, “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.”(8:11) Our country has a large majority who say they are Christian. We have the largest percentage of people attending church each week of any country in the world. Yet, surveys of Biblical knowledge reveal pitiful results. Many say they honor a book of which they have virtually no knowledge. Within 40 years of Amos’ prophecy the Northern Kingdom was destroyed. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”(Matthew 4:4) People may have all the appearances of an active physical life, but without the recreating power of God’s Word they die. What I would hope is that some could begin to see the Bible as a book of grace, spoken by our Father in the deepest love, seeking the best for all of us, and then long to know more of Him.
Statistics have shown that the level of knowledge of the Bible is generally very poor, even among regular church goers. There are some, completely outside the faith, that have a better knowledge of Scripture than many Christians. This really is a terrible statement. Without having a knowledge of God’s Word a person cannot really understand who God is, and who we are in relationship to Him. God is reduced to a series of sentimental stories, and moral platitudes. One misses completely the tremendous magnitude of God’s grace, and the depth to which His love has gone for the good of mankind. This is not so much an indictment as it is a deep sadness in missing the great joy, and depth of strength and peace that God offers in a relationship with Himself. That relationship is through Jesus Christ and seen on the cross at Calvary. But without God’s Word we really don’t understand why that cross had to be there. Scripture offers us a treasure of life. John said of his Gospel, “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that in believing you may have life in His name.”(20:31)
Famine is a serious problem. We know the extreme dangers of famine in Africa, for example. Many are working to alleviate it. But suppose you were told that we have a severe famine in the U.S. You wouldn’t believe it, especially considering the many current campaigns against obesity. It’s true. We are in a severe famine. The prophet Amos wrote, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.'”(8:11) Statistics show that Biblical literacy in the U.S. is at an all time low, even among church goers. Many churches no longer preach from the Scriptures, opting for social causes or life affirming messages. We are the richest, most well fed country in the world, but are starving for the truth of God’s Holy Word. Even further, we don’t recognize it. I can’t really see this condition changing. All I can say is that it must not be so among us. We must feed daily upon God’s Word. It is the only real food for life.
Throughout all of Scripture the love and grace of God comes through. Unfortunately, this is too often misunderstood. Some will see the Old Testament as law and wrath without any love, and the New Testament as love without absolute values. Neither of these is correct. When we come to Scriptures, we are reading a book written by a Father who brought us into being, and with all His heart, desires the best for His children. That best is expressed in values, and patterns of life that do not change. Because of His love, He will use discipline to guide His children in the right direction. He has great patience with our childish ways. He has done things for us that we could never do for ourselves. He has even taken the greatest punishment that we justly deserve into His own life. As children, we anger and disappoint Him at times, but He never abandons us. As you read the Bible, keep in mind that this is your Father’s letter to you, and that He loves you very much.
We do a lot of Bible study in our congregation and individually. The more we read the Holy Word the more we see the good that our Father very much wants for our lives. Believing in God is not about being careful to follow a bunch of laws so that we stay in good with Him. It is about falling more in love with Him, and deeply desiring to be a part of all that He is and all that He does. From the beginning, God’s heart for His creation has been to draw us into His love. That love is supremely displayed at the cross of Jesus Christ, the willingness of God to take all of the sin that separates us from Him into His own being. In that act of grace He grants us forgiveness and life. If we truly realize the love His has for us why would we want anything less? Jesus’ invitation to “see first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” would be our deepest desire. As you read the Scriptures, I pray that you see God’s hand extended to you in true Father love.
A friend of mine told me of a man who was confined in his house for several weeks, whether by snow storm or whatever, I don’t remember. He had nowhere to go and nothing to do. He made it his project to read through the Bible from cover to cover. Afterward, he said it was an amazing experience. It was like reading a message of love from a father to his children. The man had it right. Too often, we get hung up in the details. We don’t like the harshness of this passage. We find that part confusing. We don’t understand the chronology of events. But we fail to see the Father’s heart from Genesis through Revelation. The Bible is a book about God’s work of redeeming mankind from the sin he has brought into the world. It is about His patient, gracious efforts over all of human history to turn man’s heart back to Himself. All of the details have their place. They are all working together for God’s glorious purpose.
I once had a church member ask me where in the Bible was the verse, “neither a borrower nor a lender be.” They were convinced it was scriptural, but couldn’t remember where. It is actually not scriptural at all, but a quote from Shakespeare. I’m not sure they were convinced, but it brings up an interesting caution for us all. We have certain truisms used in life, often thinking they come from a Bible verse, when they are actually misinterpretation, and even bad theology. It is so easy to do. I’ve done it myself. Certain “truths” have gotten ingrained in our thoughts from years past. We continue to use them without critically thinking through what they mean. This is another reason why the continual study of Scripture is important. God’s Word is true, both Old and New Testaments. We take the whole of the Bible to understand what God is saying to us, and not just a few favorite verses, or read back into Scripture what we think is true. The whole Bible is our guide for all matters in faith and life.
How many Bible do you have in your house? I can count at least 20. Four of them are on my desk. I know, I’m the Preacher. I’m supposed to have them, but even so, I suspect you also have multiple copies. There are places in this world where Bible are very scarce. Perhaps one to a community of believers. We’ve heard accounts where Bible pages are torn out, and passed around so each person has a chance to share the Word. In such places God’s Word becomes very precious. One looks forward to receiving the next pages, even memorizing large portions. The problem with our multiplicity of Bible in our busy, affluent culture is that we know the Bible is always there. We can pick it up any time we want, but we are busy, distracted by many things. It is too easy to put it off. This is why foreign people who have very little, often teach us a great deal about the true values of life. God’s Word is food for life. Food that we all need.
A person buys a new car. The car comes with an Owner’s Manual. The manual gives the recommended service schedule, the type of oil needed, various part specifications, transmission and radiator fluids, recommended tire pressure, and so forth. But the new owner say that he has owned cars before, knows how they work. He will take care of the car just the way he wants to. He ignores the break and transmission maintenance for many miles. Come oil change time he decides to put the oil in the radiator fill, and the antifreeze in the oil fill. A silly illustration, yes, but we also realize that the new car will not be on the road for very long, and the joy that it was supposed to bring is completely lost. Now parallel the illustration to the Bible, God’s Owner’s Manual for life. It is not a book of laws prohibiting us from things we want to do. It is a set of instruction leading us to the best joy we can have in this life. It is a Book of God’s gracious will for our lives, and worth reading regularly.