A few years ago they came out with an interesting list, of the books that people most frequently lie about reading, in order to appear well-read!
The top four were George Orwell’s 1984, (42%), Tolstoy’s War and Peace (31%), James Joyce’s Ulysses (25%) and, of all books — the Bible (24%) which is pretty ironic, that people would LIE about having read the Bible! If they HAD really read the Bible all the way through, they would have come across the 9th Commandment, which tells us not to bear false witness!
Well I don’t know how many of us here today have ever read all the way through the Bible, but I hope that by the end of 2022, you will be able to say that you did. It is a big deal – to know that you have read entirely through THE single greatest book in all the world.
As a young man, Bill Tolar was an atheist, and he was very proud of his intellectual ability. But one day he was asked by a friend, since he was so intellectual, if he had ever read through the world’s #1 best-selling book of all time? He asked, what IS the best-selling book of all time? His friend told him it was the Bible. When Bill heard that, he wanted to read it just so he could say, for his own intellectual pride, that he had done it. But as he read the Bible, God’s Spirit began to work in him. He later said I began to realize that if this book was right, my life was wrong. And he ended up giving his life to Jesus as his Savior — and went on to become one of the most amazing professors, at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth.
God does great things when we get into His word. So I hope you’ll join us January 1st as we begin a year-long journey reading through the Bible together as a church family, “In The Word 2022.” To help us prepare for that, I want us to look at the commitment that Ezra, one of the great men of God in the Old Testament, had to the word of God, which we find 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 because Ezra had developed some habits in his life, in the scriptures.
I. The HABITS he developed in God’s word:
A. First of all, He was committed to STUDY God’s word
This Hebrew word here (“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 “beat a path” to the word of God regularly.
After I got sick in 2012 and we moved to Norman, Oklahoma, after some time I began to recuperate and feel better. At first I began just to walk, and then after some time I started running. I decided to make it a goal to run the mile section around our condo complex. Most of the way around was pretty convenient to run on, as there were sidewalks. But there was a stretch that had no sidewalk. But on that stretch, the grass, and all the other plants and everything that had grown up around it, had become worn down, because so many people had walked on it, day after day after day. There was no “official” sidewalk there, but all the people had “beaten a path” on it by walking and running across it so often.
That is the picture this Hebrew word gives us of what Ezra did with the scripture. He “beat a path” to the God’s word. He was in it every day; reading it, studying it, memorizing it. And that is what we need to do, too: we need to “beat a path” to God’s word every day.
Many of you were in the big MasterLife discipleship class we did two years ago. One of the things we learned in MasterLife was the importance of being consistent in our Daily Bible Time with the Lord. To do that, we saw we needed 3 specific commitments:
— a specific time that we will read God’s word (hopefully first thing in the morning).
— a specific place that we have set aside to do it, and that is prepared for us.
— and a specific plan or procedure — like the plan we’ll do together in 2022.
Having a specific time, a specific place, and a specific plan or procedure will help us “beat a path” to the word of God and consistently seek Him in His word.
Are you “beating a path” every day to God’s word? If there were grass on the way to your Bible, would it be worn down because you’d gone to it so often — or would the path be overgrown with weeds and cobwebs? Do you have a specific time you get up to read God’s word? Do you have a regular place where you read it every day, that is comfortable and familiar to you, because you have “beaten a path” there so often?
We were grateful that our son Michael came down from South Carolina with his girlfriend Abigail for Thanksgiving. I remember years ago, when Michael was just 3 or 4 years old, one day he walked into our living room where I was sitting, and he looked over at the blue wingback chair where Cheryl usually sat to do her quiet time in the morning. And Michael said matter-of-factly: “That’s where Mom reads her Bible.” I thought it was really striking that he would mention that. It had obviously made an impression on him — Cheryl had “beaten a path” to that chair every morning – and Michael knew it. Are you “beating a path” like that to God’s word every day? It’s one of THE most important things you can do.
I remember years ago, while riding the bus on the way to school, listening to pop singer David Cassidy on the school bus radio. A couple of years ago, they reported that David Cassidy had died. His daughter was there when he passed away, and she reported that his final words were: “So much wasted time.”
David Cassidy’s final words ought to speak to us 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 next year, or in five years, or in eternity? And yet, many people say they just “don’t have time” to read through the Bible. It takes on average about 20 minutes to do the 3 readings that will be included every day in our Bible reading plan. 3 chapters; two different chapters in the Old Testament, and one in the New. 20 minutes. 20 minutes is less than ONE 30-minute sitcom; how many of those do you watch a week? And how much do they profit you? 30 minutes is less than ONE show on Netflix. How many of those do you watch a week? It’s less than one chapter in most any other book you’ll read; or maybe one good round of your favorite video game.
As you look back on this past year, you can see a lot of things that you will admit, quite honestly, that they were a waste of time. But one thing that will NOT be a waste of time is reading through the word of God next year. Let’s “beat a path” to the word of God in 2022. Like Ezra, let’s make a commitment to “Study the Law of the Lord” by reading through the Bible this next year.
B. Next, Ezra was committed to PRACTICE God’s word.
It is significant that the next words here are: “and to practice it.” The Hebrew word translated “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 His word just to feed our minds, or to entertain us. He gave us this word so that we would DO what it says. Jesus said, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but do not DO what I say?” (Luke 6:46)
Hudson Taylor was an Englishman who founded the Inland China Mission that touched so many 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, (his dad) 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. God did not give us this book just to read for information; He gave it to us so that we might read it and DO what it says!
There are some books we read that don’t really impact our lives in any significant way. We read them for relaxation, or entertainment. I know when I want to read something just for fun; or to get my mind off of other things, I might read Rudyard Kipling, or Mark Twain. But I was thinking about this 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, has changed in my life because of them.
But if we are reading the Bible that way, we missing the whole point. This is not just a novel, or a mere book of philosophy; This is your instruction manual; this is your guidebook; these are your orders from God on High, for you to put into PRACTICE!
Your life should be different because of what you read in this book:
— There should be things that you will not say because of what you read in this book.
— There are people you will not hate, and whom you will forgive, because of what you read in this book.
— There are attitudes you won’t allow to fester in your mind, because of what you read in this book.
— Reading this book should change the way you do business.
— Reading this book should change the way you treat your family.
— Reading this book should 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. I tell our Sunday School teachers repeatedly on our weekly videos: be sure you APPLY the word of God in your class. We aren’t there in Sunday School just to learn “facts” about the Bible; we should come out LIVING differently because of our time together in God’s word.
And that’s how it should be with us individually too, as we read through God’s word next year. We’re not reading it just to say we’ve read it through. We’re reading it to spend time with God; to hear what He Himself is saying to us, to change our lives. This is why I want to encourage you: as you read the Bible this year, have a notebook, or a journal, or make a document on your computer or iPad, or some way take notes on what God is saying to you while you are reading, and specifically what He is showing you to DO because of what you have read.
Ezra had set his heart to STUDY the Law of the Lord, and to PRACTICE it; to DO it. And that must be our commitment as well.
C. Thirdly, Ezra was committed to TEACH God’s word.
“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. He “taught His statutes” in Israel.
As human beings, we want to SHARE what we are experiencing. That’s part of human nature. That’s why social media is so prevalent, with FIVE BILLION people on our planet now using social media! Because people want to share with other people the things they 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.
— you want others to appreciate your grandbaby’s beautiful smile.
You WANT to share the good things you are experiencing. That is part of human nature. God made to want to share.
And that is why God’s people share His word. Telling other people about God’s word is not a “chore” for a Christian person; when we are excited about what He’s showing us in His word, it is our privilege and joy to share it! And it’s good both for us 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 those who don’t know the Lord, and in the course of daily conversations as God gives us opportunities.
This is one of the reasons why it will be so beneficial for all of us in the church to do this Daily Bible Reading together next year. If we will all read from the same scriptures every day, we’ll be able to share with our family and with other church members what God is showing us in His word — and they will know exactly what we are talking about, and will be able to connect with it, because they have been reading in the same place too:
— We’ll be able to share as families around the dinner table, or as we drive, what we each got out of God’s word that day.
— We’ll be able to share in our Sunday School classes what we have read the previous week. I am going to encourage each of our teachers to take just a couple of minutes at the beginning of each class to allow 2-3 members to share something special they got out of the reading that week, and everyone there will be able to appreciate what they’re saying, because they have read that same passage that week too.
— In each one of our worship services starting in January we’ll have a testimony from someone about something they’ve read in the Bible that week.
— And all of my Sunday morning messages next year will come from one of our scripture passages that previous week. So you will have read that week, the passage I got the message from for Sunday — and you can see how God spoke to me through it — and maybe He did you as well!
So this will give us each multiple opportunities next year to share with others what we are hearing from the Lord in His word: some formal, in class or in church; and some informally: with people on your job; or at school; or wherever you are, just informally share some the things that God is showing you in His word each day. Just make it a part of your everyday conversation. Cheryl is so good at doing that; I have heard her share that way so many times with so many different people. She’ll just say, “This morning in my quiet time I read in Genesis ….,” or wherever, and she’ll share with them what she read. If we will each do that, God will use those little testimonies to minister to people around us in a great way.
So let’s “beat a path” to God’s word every day; make sure we DO it; and then SHARE it with others.
II. But Notice also the COMMITMENT that Ezra had to God’s word.
All the things Ezra did: “study … practice … teach …”; they 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 how Luke 9:51 says that when the time had come for Jesus to go to the cross, that He “set His face” to go up to Jerusalem. It wasn’t going to be easy; He knew what it would involve, but He “set His face;” He was committed to go up, and die for us on that cross.
This is just what Ezra did 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 that’s our challenge today: to commit OURselves, to study this word, practice it, and share it with others.
See, if you are going to accomplish anything worthwhile in life, you have to make a commitment to do it. You never just “drift” into doing anything significant in life. You have to commit yourself, and discipline yourself, in order to accomplish it:
— You don’t just “happen” to get all the way through college, or get your Master’s degree, or doctorate. You have to be committed to it; discipline yourself, and only THEN do you receive the fruits of that goal.
— You won’t just “accidentally” get in better physical shape in 2022. If that’s going to happen, you’re going to have to be committed to get on a specific diet plan; or join a club or get into an exercise routine. You have to be committed to do it.
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 Lord & Savior. You can’t just say: “Well, I believe in God; I’m gonna go to church some; and hang around God’s people; I’ll try to be better” — you will never be saved that way. You have to face up to the fact that you have sinned against God, and have no hope of heaven on your own. You have to believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins, and then you have to make a personal commitment to follow Jesus as YOUR own personal Lord & Savior. It’s not enough to say you believe in God. James says the demons believe there’s one God; It takes a personal commitment, to repent of YOUR sins, and trust Jesus as YOUR own Lord & Savior, for you to be saved. If you’ve never done it, you need to make that commitment to Him today.
— And then once you’ve done that, the Lord commands us to commit to baptism. Baptism doesn’t save you, but it is the outward sign of your commitment to Jesus; in a way it’s like a marriage ceremony, that shows the world 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: to join a specific local church body, where you can “plug in” and serve, and build fellowship, and be accountable to other believers; to put away specific sins He convicts us of; to show that He is really first in our lives by giving the tithe (the first 10% of our income) to Him. You’re not just going to “accidentally” tithe. You have to make a specific commitment in your budget to do it.
— There are all kinds of commitments God calls us as His people to make. And I believe He’s calling us today to make a commitment to read through His word next year. Just like with all these other commitments, it won’t just “happen.” I guarantee you, there is no way you’re just gonna “accidentally” read through the Bible in 2022. The Bible is about 1,200 pages of fine print in most versions. You’re not going to get through that accidentally. You have to commit yourself to do it. But if you will, I can confidently say it will be one of THE best things you do in 2022.
I can look back on this year, and thank God that it was a good year for me in many ways. I read the most books I’ve ever read in a year (43 so far). I’ve lost almost 10 pounds this year — that’s not a lot, but it’s some. But I have to say that THE best thing I did this year, was to get up every day and open the word of God, and “hear what God the Lord will say,” as Psalm 85:8 says.
And that can be the best thing that YOU do next year too. GOD HIMSELF has something He wants to say to YOU every day next year, if you will put yourself in position to hear it. We should be excited about the possibility that God will speak to US every day in His word.
When 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 straight up on his bed, and just quivered with excitement: “What is it?! What is it?!”
We might laugh at his enthusiasm, but really, we SHOULD be that excited about what God has for us, shouldn’t we? God Himself really does have plans for YOU! That’s exciting! GOD HIMSELF really wants to speak to YOU — every day in 2022 — through His word. And He WILL speak to you — IF you put yourself in position to hear from Him by getting into His word every day. I tell you, I CAN’T WAIT to hear what God will show us in His word in the days ahead — and I am really looking forward to hearing how He is speaking to YOU in His word every week. As He speaks to you next year, shoot me a text, or an email, or send me a Facebook message, about what He’s showing you — and as I said, we’ll have one of us share a brief word every Sunday morning next year.
I really believe that Lord willing, 2022 could be one of the most exciting years we have ever had as a church, IF we will really seek Him every day in His word. I hope you’ll join us, and make the commitment to be like Ezra, and “set YOUR heart: to study the Law of the Lord, to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances”!
With our heads bowed, would you ask the Lord what commitments He wants you to make for the year ahead?
— In His word: to read it, study it, take notes on it, DO it in specific areas of your life. To read through the Bible with your church family, and to share with others the things He shows you in His word.
— Maybe you need to make commitment to salvation …
— Or a commitment to baptism …
— Or to church membership …
You respond as God has spoken to you.