A few weeks ago they came out with an interesting list of the books that people lie about reading, in order appear well-read: among them are George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, (42%), Tolstoy’s War and Peace (31%), James Joyce’s Ulysses (25%) and, of all books — the Bible (24%). It’s more than a little bit ironic, of course, that one of the top books people LIE about having read all the way through, is the Bible, of all books, when one of its most prominent commandments says not to lie!
Well I don’t know how many of you here today have ever read all the way through the Bible, but I hope that by the end of 2018, you will be able to say that you did. It is a big deal – to have read THE single greatest book in all the world. I know one young man who claimed to be an atheist, who was asked by a friend if he had ever read the world’s #1 best-selling book of all time? When he found out it was the Bible, he decided to read it just so he could say that he had. And as he read God convicted him, and saved him. God has great things for us, if we will only turn to Him in His word.
So I hope that you will join us tomorrow as we start on a year-long journey of reading through the Bible in 2018. As we prepare to do that, I want us to look at the commitment that one of the great men of God in the Old Testament had to word of God, in Ezra 7:10:
“For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10)
God used Ezra in a great way – and one of the reasons He could, was that Ezra had developed some habits in his life, in regard to the scriptures.
I. Notice the HABITS that Ezra developed in God’s word:
A. First of all, He was committed to STUDY it
This Hebrew word “darash” means “to seek with care.” It literally means to “beat a path to”, or to read repeatedly. So Ezra was first of all committed to seek the word of God, to “beat a path” to it.
When I started to get recuperate in Norman after I had gotten sick, and I started to feel better, at first I began to walk, and then after some time I started running. I decided to make it a goal to run around the mile section around our condo. Most of the way around was pretty convenient as there were sidewalks there. But there was a stretch where there was no sidewalk. But on that stretch between the sidewalks, the grass, and all the other plants and everything that was growing up around it, was worn down, because so many people had walked on it, day after day day. There was no “official” sidewalk there, but all of us running and walking on it had “beaten a path” down there because we were on it every day.
That is a picture of what Ezra did in God’s word. He “beat a path” to it. He was in it every day; reading it, studying it, memorizing it. And that is what we need to do, too: “beat a path” to God’s word every day.
For discipleship in January we are going to do something special: a combined Youth MasterLife class, with adult prayer partners/mentors —and I am really looking forward to it. (If you are a student, and have not yet signed up, tell me or Bro. Keith, and we’ll sign you up. If you are the parent of a student you’d like to have MasterLife, shoot me a note this week and we’ll get them enrolled. We’ll start Sunday night, Jan. 14)
One of the things we learn in MasterLife is the importance of being consistent in our Daily Bible Time with the Lord. To do that, we need 3 things: a specific time, a specific place, and a specific procedure. Doing that day after day helps us “beat a path” to the word of God and consistently seek Him in His word.
Are you “beating a path” to God’s word? Do you have a place where you read it every day, that is comfortable and familiar to you – and perhaps even others expect you to be there, because you have “beaten a path” there so often?
I’ve shared before how years ago one of our kids walked into our living room and looked at the blue wingback chair Cheryl usually sat in to do her quiet time in the morning and said: “That’s where Mom reads her Bible.” She had “beaten a path” to that place every morning – and our kids knew it. Are you “beating a path” to God’s word every day? If not, why not?
A few weeks ago, the news reported that 1970’s pop singer David Cassidy had died. I remember listening to his songs on the radio on the school bus on the way to school each morning. But Cassidy’s daughter was there when he passed away, and she reported that his final words were: “So much wasted time.”
His final words ought to speak to our hearts as we prepare to turn the page to a New Year. How much time do we just flat out waste every day on things that won’t matter in a year, or five years, or in eternity? And yet, many of us say we “don’t have time” to read through the Bible. It takes roughly 20 minutes to do the 3 readings that are included every day in this Bible reading plan. 20 minutes. That is less than one 30-minute sitcom; less than one show on Netflix. Less than one chapter in most other books you read; or one good round of your favorite video game.
As you look back on your year, you can see a lot of things that are, quite honestly, a waste of time. But one thing that will NOT be a waste of time is reading through the word of God this year. “Beat a path” to the word of God in 2018; “seek with care” what God has to say to you in His word. Like Ezra, make a commitment to “Study the Law of the Lord” by reading through the Bible this year.
B. Next, He was committed to PRACTICE it.
It is significant that the next words here are: “and to practice it.” The word in Hebrew we translate “practice” just literally means “DO IT!” One of the key commitments Ezra made in regard to the Bible is that he didn’t JUST read it; he read it in order to DO what it says.
This is a key. God did not give us this word merely to entertain us, or feed our minds. He gave us this word so that we would DO IT.
I’ve spoken before of Hudson Taylor, the Englishman who founded the Inland China Mission that touched so Chinese with the gospel in the 1800’s. One of Taylor’s secrets was the time he spent every day in God’s word. One of his children remarked on how Taylor “beat a path” to the word of God every day. He later wrote: “When over seventy years of age (Hudson Taylor) paused, Bible in hand, as he crossed the sitting room in Lausanne (Switzerland, where they were staying), and said to one of his children, ‘I have just finished reading the Bible through, today, for the fortieth time in forty years.’” That is a great accomplishment. But then his son added: “And he not only read it, he lived it.” (TAYLOR, p. 240)
See, THAT’S the key. This book is not only to be read; it is to be read and obeyed. It is to be lived out.
There are books that we read that don’t really impact our lives in any significant way. They are just for relaxation, or entertainment. I read a variety of books in my spare time (I keep a list of what I’m currently reading on my blog, shawnethomas.com). And there are fiction books that I read just for fun; to get my mind off of other things. But I was thinking about these the other day: I can’t think of a single change I have made in my life, because of these books. My attitude is not any different; my habits are not any different; nothing that I know of, if specifically different in my life because of them.
But if that is how you are reading the Bible, then you are FAILING at it! This is not a novel, or a mere philosophy book; this is something for you to DO. These are your orders; your instruction manual; your guidebook; this is for you to put into PRACTICE!
Your life should be different because of what you read in this book:
— There are things you are not going to say because of what you read in this book.
— There are people whom you will not hate, and whom you will forgive, because of what you read in this book.
— There are attitudes you will not allow to fester in your mind, because of what you read in this book.
— Reading this book is to change the way you do business.
— Reading this book is to change the way you treat your wife and kids.
— Reading this book will change the way you spend your money.
And if it doesn’t, then you are not reading this book rightly. The word of God is not “merely” to be studied; it is to be put into practice.
This is one of the reasons why I want to encourage you: as you read the Bible this year, have a notebook, or a word document on your computer or iPad, or some way to take notes on what you are reading, and be sure to include in those notes, what God is showing you to DO because of what you have read, and ask God to give you the grace and power through His Holy Spirit, to do it.
Ezra had set his heart to STUDY the Law of the Lord, and to PRACTICE it; to DO it. And we are to as well.
C. Then He was committed to TEACH it
“and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.”
Ezra was blessed personally because he spent time with God in His word every day, and as a result he turned around and shared what God was showing him, with others.
That’s what we do as human beings. Whenever you experience something good, you want to share it. That is part of human nature. That is why social media is so prevalent, with 2.5 BILLION people on our planet now using it. We want to share with others the good things we are experiencing:
— you want others to see how much fun you are having at Disney World
— you want others to be jealous of that gourmet pizza you are about to sink your teeth into; so you snap a shot of it and post it just before you do.
— you want others to appreciate that grandbaby’s beautiful smile that you love so much.
You WANT to share the good things you are experiencing. That is part of human nature. God made us that way.
And that is why God’s people share His word. Telling other people about God’s word is not a “chore” for the Christian person; it is our privilege and joy! We get to share the good things that God has showed us in His word. It’s good both for ourselves and for others when we do.
We can share it by formally preaching or teaching; we can share it as we counsel and advise others personally; we can share it as we witness to people, and in the course of daily conversations as God gives us opportunities to share.
This is one of the reasons why it will be beneficial for us all to do this 2018 Bible reading together as a church and in our families. We can all be reading from the same place every day, and we will be able to share with our family and others what God is showing us in His word — and they will know what we are talking about, and will be able to connect with it, because they are reading in the same place too:
— We’ll be able to share as families around the dinner table, or as we drive, what we have each gotten out of God’s word that day.
— We’ll be able to share with our Sunday School classes what we have read. I am encouraging each of our teachers to take a few minutes at the beginning of class to allow members to share just a brief nugget they got out of the reading that week — and all the members will be able to appreciate what they are sharing about, because hopefully all of us will have read that same passage that week too.
— In each of our worship services starting next week we’ll have a testimony from someone about something they’ve read that week.
— And I will also be taking my Sunday morning messages for at least the first part of the year from the Bible readings that we are all doing together. So you will have read that week, the passage I get the message from for Sunday – and you can see how God has spoken to me through it.
So we’ll have multiple opportunities to share with others what we are hearing from the Lord in His word: some formal, in class or in church; and I hope we’ll have many other opportunities also to share informally: with people on your job; or at school; or wherever you are, the things that God is showing you in His word each day. Just make it a part of your everyday conversation: “This morning in my quiet time I read in Genesis ….” and God can use that little testimony to minister to people.
“Teaching His statues and ordinances” doesn’t just mean standing at a podium and instructing a group, although it does include that. But there are a lot of different ways to share God’s word, and if you are letting God speak to you in His word every day, then like Ezra He will give you opportunities to share the things He is showing you, with others.
II. But Notice also the COMMITMENT that Ezra had to God’s word.
All this that Ezra did: “study … practice … teach …”; didn’t just “happen.” They happened because he had COMMITTED himself to do them. Verse 10 says “For Ezra had SET HIS HEART” to do these things.
In Hebrew this word “set” is literally, he had “made firm” (kun) his heart.
It reminds me of when Luke 9:51 says that the time had come for Jesus to go to the cross, and it says He “set His face” to go up to Jerusalem. It wasn’t going to be easy; He knew what it was going to involve, but He “set His face;” He was committed to go up, and die for us on the cross.
This is just what Ezra had done with the word of God: he had “set his heart” to study and practice and teach it. He was COMMITTED to the word of God.
And this is our challenge today: to COMMIT ourselves, to study this word, practice it, and share it with others.
You see, you’ve got to be committed if you are going to accomplish anything significant. You don’t just “drift” into doing anything good. You have to commit yourself, and discipline yourself, in order to accomplish something:
— You don’t just “happen” to get all the way through college, and med school, and become a doctor You have to be committed to it; discipline yourself, and only THEN do you receive the fruits of that goal.
— You aren’t just “accidentally” going to get in better physical condition in 2018. If that is going to happen, you have to be committed to make it happen: get on a specific diet plan; join a club or get an exercise routine.
And it’s the same spiritually. God calls us to make commitments to Him:
— First of all, He calls us to make a specific commitment to follow Jesus as our Savior. You can’t just say: “Well, I’m gonna go to church some; and I’ll hang around God’s people; and I’ll try to be good” — that’s not going to cut it. You will never be saved that way. You will never become what God wants you to be. You have to make a personal commitment to really follow Jesus as the Lord & Savior of your life. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” It is a personal commitment. If you have never done it, you need to make that commitment today.
— And then once you’ve done that, the Lord commands us to commit to baptism. Baptism is the outward sign of your commitment; like a marriage ceremony, that indicates that you have committed your life to Jesus.
— Then, as we follow Jesus in the course of our Christian life, He calls us to make other commitments: He call us at various times to make commitments to put away specific sins that He convicts us of. He calls us to show that He is really first in our lives by giving the tithe (the first 10% of our income) to Him.
— And I believe that He is calling many of us here today to make a commitment to read through His word this year. Just like with all these other commitments, it won’t just “happen.” I guarantee you, there is no way you will just “accidentally” read through the Bible in 2018. It’s about 1200 pages in fine print in most versions. You have to commit yourself to do it. Will you? I can confidently say if you will, it will be THE best thing you will do in 2018.
I can look back on 2017 and give God thanks that it was a good year for me in many ways. I have been very blessed in my family, and my church this year. One great blessing for me last year is that I lost weight and got in better physical condition. I went from OVER 225 pounds to 189.6 pounds this morning! – over 35 pounds. I cut down on the amount I eat, and stopped eating big meals late at night, and I was very consistent in running and walking every day. I am thankful for it; I feel like it was a really good achievement. But as good as that was, it wasn’t the best thing I did this year. THE best thing I did this year, was get up every day between 5 and 6:00 in the morning, and open the word of God, and hear from God. And that will be the best thing I do in 2018 as well.
And it can be the best thing that you do too. GOD HIMSELF has something to say to you every day this year, if you will put yourself in position to hear it. We should be excited about the possibility of hearing from Him.
When our son Michael was very little, I used to teach him memory verses and talk with him about what they meant each night before he went to bed. One night, the memory verse was Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.” I remember Michael was sitting up on his little bed as I told him the verse, and I began to explain: “Michael, this means that God has a plan for your life …” and before I could say any more, he sat up on his bed, and waved his hands, and exclaimed: “What is it?! What is it?!” Well, we’re starting to see now what God’s plan for him was — and it is good. Michael is going to be a worship leader, and he’s changed his major at school to focus on that.
But we SHOULD be that excited about what God has in store for us. God really does have plans for you. GOD HIMSELF really wants to speak to YOU — every day in 2018 — through His word. And He WILL speak to you — IF you will put yourself in the position to hear from Him by reading His word every day. I tell you, I CAN’T WAIT to hear what God has got to tell us in His word this week — and I can’t wait to hear people share next week how He has spoken to us in His word.
Will you join us? Will you be like Ezra, and “set your heart to study the Law of the Lord, to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances”?