The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Bible Reading

Bible Illiterates?

O PreacherI read a familiar, but still disturbing, post today entitled, “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy:  It’s Our Problem”.  It’s available in its entirety at http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/01/20/the-scandal-of-biblical-illiteracy-its-our-problem-4/.

The content reveals why most of my posts are “devotional commentaries” (or “little sermons” ) on the Scripture.  Christian bloggers write posts on everything from theological doctrines to practical “how to’s” to church history to personal stories.  Most are worth reading.  I am not competing with them or suggesting mine are “better”.  I write mostly about “The Word”, because I agree with Dr. Mohler:  Christians in American are largely biblically illiterate.

Mohler calls this a “scandalous problem” and declares “it’s up to us to fix it”.   Let me say at the outset the only “fix” is to prayerfully  read and study Scripture.  Neither my blog nor anyone’s writing can substitute.  The “fix” is to read God’s Word.  That’s why I typically quote (rather than just refer to) Scripture.  Even so, at best it’s only part of the “fix”.

Before looking further at the “fix” let’s see how bad our illiteracy is.  This information comes from various researchers, people like the Barna Research Group, George Gallup, etc.).  According to Mohler’s post, “Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels.  Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples.  Barna claims “60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments.  No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are.”

Eighty-two percent of Americans say, “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible.  Eighty-one percent of self-professed born again Christians agree!  Some research results are tragically funny.   Barna polling shows “that at least 12% of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.”  In another survey over 50% of graduating high school seniors “thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.”  And another poll “indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.”

Why does this illiteracy matter?  It matters not so we can win a Bible trivia game at a youth group.  Mohler offers a powerful reason that should shake us if we’re among the “illiterates”:  We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs.”  To put it another way, the quality of our faith is determined by the extent of our biblical knowledge and the way we live is determined by our faith.  Now, knowing  the names of the twelve disciples won’t bolster our faith and thereby shape our lifestyle.  But, as Mohler points out, “An individual who believes that “God helps those who help themselves” will find salvation by grace and justification by faith to be alien concepts.”

How, then, can we improve biblical literacy?

  • Pastors must preach the Bible—what it says, what it means, how to live it out.
  • Members must regularly be good students of sermons—listening, jotting notes, taking away knowledge of the truth taught, coupled with an aim to act on it.
  • Youth groups must include serious Bible study as part of their program.
  • Parents must read the Bible and pray with their children at home.
  • Christians individually, or as a married couple, must make time daily to read God’s Word and pray.
  • Blog-readers should read blogs that focus on God’s Word,  read them with Bible open, and read them prayerfully.
  • Everybody should buy and use a study Bible that gives introductory information to each book.  I think the ESV Study Bible is the best.

An encouragement.  The Bible is an intimidating, challenging book to read, made harder by the dumbing-down of our society as visual media (Internet, smart phones, etc.) push reading off the stage.  But the only way to become Bible-literate is to prayerfully read it.  (I try to write my blog in series so we’re walking through a Bible book or section.)  I know from experience that reading doesn’t just add knowledge of Scripture; as time goes on reading multiplies it.

Mohler’s concluding words are also mine . . .

I’m not suggesting that reading my blog guarantees biblical literacy. 
With my prayers, I just humbly offer it as a help.

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Alone with Jesus

P.Allan My private prayer time is suffering.  Whenever I pray, my illness tugs at my mind—like metal to a magnet—and won’t let go.  I need help to return to God-centered praying.  The following blog, published by “Desiring God,” spoke to me.  Perhaps it will to you too.

One thing.  I wish Chan had shared lessons he’s learned about private prayer.  Here are a few of mine.  (1) Begin with a minute or two of quieting down to become conscious of coming before the Lord.  (2) Dump your read-through-the-Bible-this-year program.  (It’s valuable, but, I, at least, tend to rush through the reading.  Instead, pick a Bible book you’re interested in.  (3) Ask the Lord to speak to you through it.  (4)  Read a small portion or until something “stands out” to you.  (5) Be still and meditate on that portion or your “stand out” verse.  Repeat it over and over in your mind.  (6) Ask the Lord to enable you to believe it or obey it or whatever the appropriate response .

Okay, enough from me.  Here’s what Chan wrote (with thanks to “Desiring God”) . . .

The Greatest Thing You Could Do Today
Francis Chan / November 23, 2015

Imagine walking up a mountain alone. But it’s no ordinary mountain. The ground beneath you is shaking, and the entire mountain is covered in smoke. At its peak is a thick cloud with lightning and thunder. God descends onto the mountain in fire, and each time you speak to him, he responds in thunder. This is what Moses experienced in Exodus 19.

Now compare that experience to your last time in prayer.

Distracted, obligatory, ordinary — I doubt any such words came across Moses’s mind as he ascended the mountain. But some three thousand years later, we rarely marvel that God permits imperfect humans into his presence.

How did the shocking become so ordinary to us? Is it even possible for our experiences with God to be that fascinating?

Going Up the Mountain

A mentor of mine lives in India. Last year, he called me on the phone crying, distraught over the state of the church in America. “It seems like the people in America would be content to take a selfie with Moses. Don’t they know they can go up the mountain themselves? Why don’t they want to go up the mountain?”

When was the last time you enjoyed meaningful time alone with God? Time so good that you didn’t want to leave. It was just you, reading God’s words, in his holy presence.
I was fifteen years old when my youth pastor taught me how to pray and read the Bible alone. Now, more than thirty years later, I still can’t find a better way to start my days. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t refocus daily by going up the mountain.

It is alone with him that I empty myself of pride, lies, and stress.

• Pride: standing before a Person clothed in unapproachable light has a way of humbling you (1 Timothy 6:16).
• Lies: speaking to an All-Knowing Judge tends to induce honesty (Hebrews 4:13).
• Stress: kneeling before the God who causes men to fail or succeed replaces our anxiety with peace (Psalm 127:1).

Professional Gatherers

We often spend a lot of time and effort gathering believers together. We’ve become experts at gathering Christians around great bands, speakers, and events. Where we have failed is in teaching believers how to be alone with God. When is the last time you heard someone rave about their time alone with Jesus in his word? Gathering believers who don’t spend time alone with God can be a dangerous thing.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together:

Whoever cannot be alone should be aware of community. Such people will only do harm to themselves and to the community. Alone you stood before God when God called you. Alone you had to obey God’s voice. Alone you had to take up your cross, struggle, and pray, and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot avoid yourself, for it is precisely God who has called you out. If you do not want to be alone, you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called.

The word community is thrown around quite a bit in Christian circles today. But our gatherings can be toxic if we do not spend time alone with God. I’ve been in many groups where people share their insights. The problem is not only that our insights are not as profound as we think they are, but that we’re so eager to share thoughts originating in our own minds, when we have a God who says,

My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8–9)

I want to know the thoughts of God. I want to gather with people who have been reading God’s words, people who have prayed and interacted with him. I want to fellowship with those who fellowship with God. I couldn’t care less if you have a doctorate in theology or sixty years of life experience. I would rather talk with a fifteen-year-old who has been in the presence of God.

Can You Love Sermons Too Much?

There is so much discussion around books, sermons, and conferences. I’m not against those. After all, I’ve given a significant portion of my life to preaching sermons and writing books and going to conferences. But sometimes I wonder if it’s time to shift our focus.

We have to look at the facts. American Christians consume more sermons and books than any other group in the history of the world, but consider the state of the church. Has the increase in resources led to greater holiness? Greater intimacy with Jesus?

You could argue that the state of our churches would be even worse without the resources. Maybe that’s the case. Or could it be that these resources (and even this article) has the potential of distracting people from the Source itself? Maybe all of these books and sermons about Jesus have actually kept people from directly interacting with him. It may sound blasphemous to suggest our prayer lives may be weakened by all of the consumption of Christian material. Nonetheless, I want to throw it out there.

We live in a time when most people have a difficult time concentrating on anything. We are constantly looking for the quick fix and for faster solutions. So the thought of sitting quietly to meditate on Scripture and praying deeply in silence can be eagerly replaced by listening to a sermon while driving to work. While it’s definitely better than nothing (considering all of the other messages we are bombarded with daily), the point of this article is to say that there is no substitute for being alone with God.
We must learn to be still again.

Something Has to Go

It was simple for Paul. He loved being with Jesus. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Knowing Christ deeply consumed him (Philippians 3:8). There is no substitute for being alone with God. If you don’t have time, you need to quit something to make room. Skip a meal. Cancel a meeting. End some regular commitment. There is literally nothing more important you could do today.

God literally determines whether or not you take another breath. “He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). Could anything be more important than meeting with the One who decides if you live through this day? Could anything be better? How can we not make time to be with the Maker of time?

What plans do you have today that you think so important that you would race past the Creator to get to them?

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“God Wrote a Book”

P.Allan“God Wrote a Book” is the title of a short, dynamic video by John Piper and Desiring God.   It is probably the most heart-stirring , motivation-empowering video on reading God’s Word I’ve seen or heard.

I know Pastor Adam Powers (SonRise Community Church) has already posted this on his blog, so some of you may have already seen it.  But in case you didn’t, here it is. Along with the video, Piper provides helpful information for Bible reading.  Please take a look.  Access by right-clicking on the link—http://www.desiringgod.org/run.

I can’t let this post go by without making three comments, starting with . . .

A Problem.  When it comes to regular personal Bible reading we’ve got plenty of problems.  Time, for instance.  For most of us, there is none.  So it’s get up a half-hour early.  Or go to bed a half-hour later.  Or give up a TV show.  Or shower only on Saturday night.  Or skip a meal a day.  We gotta face it:  something will have to be sacrificed.  Is God’s Word worth it?  That’s what we have to decide.

Another problem:  regularity.  Typically in January I’m determined to read the Bible through for the year.  Long about Leviticus I’m bogged down in sacrifices and required priests’ clothing and holy days.  The only cure for inconsistent reading, though,  is discipline—which gives us something specific to pray for.

A final problem I’ll mention:  Leviticus (again).  Let’s be candid:  even though Leviticus is part of God’s Word to us it usually doesn’t get the juices flowing and often we (maybe I should just say I) have to slog through it. Piper doesn’t mention the “slog factor” in his video.  In fact, you could come away presuming that every verse you read will seem as if God himself is speaking directly to you from his heavenly throne.  And Leviticus isn’t the only “hard” book.  Exodus‘ laws about slaves and social justice don’t make me misty-eyed.  Isaiah‘s chapter-long judgments on Egypt and Tyre and Sidon and Babylon bore me with ancient history.  And some of Ezekiel’s visions just seem plain, well, “weird”. (I put that in quotes because I don’t consider them actually weird; they just seem that way.  After all, this is God’s Word and I don’t want a fiery prophet breathing down my neck!)

Anyway, all this talk about “hard” Bible books brings me next to . . .

A Commercial.  For only $22 from Amazon you can buy the ESV Study Bible in paperback.  There are other study Bibles; I mention this because it’s my favorite.  It contains important information like an introduction to each book, date of writing, historical context (extremely important), purpose and occasion and background (also extremely important) and a running commentary throughout.  But wait!  If you call today you can get a second . . . Sorry.  To be a serious reader of God’s Word you need a study Bible like this.  (I get no commission, bear no responsibility for Amazon’s service, and mentioning my name will get you an ESV Study Bible for $22.)  At least check it out at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_9?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywhttp://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_9?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=esv+study+bible&sprefix=ESV+study%2Caps%2C190ords=esv+study+bible&sprefix=ESV+study%2Caps%2C190

 Product Details

Finally . . .

A Prayer.  “Father in heaven, it was your Word that taught me the gospel of your salvation.  It’s been your Word, coupled with the Holy Spirit, that’s been sanctifying me.  It’s your Word that builds my faith in a world of unbelief.  It’s your Word that gives me hope in the darkness of my hopelessness.  It’s your Word that makes sense of my life and tells me where we came from, who we are, and where we’re going.  I praise you for writing this book that lies open before me on my desk.  I pray you will use this video—and maybe even my comments—to move everyone who sees this to daily enter your presence and feed on your Word.  Give those who started, but quit, the motivation and courage to begin again.  Move the hearts of those who’ve never started to take the first step.  Grant that we all might be able to say with the psalmist . . .

“How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)

And may this prayer be ours as we read . . .

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law!” (Psalm 119:18).

In the name of the Living Word.  Amen.”

open bible with cross and lily flower top view of a open bible ...

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