Accumulating books

Most people know the Bible is the best-selling book of all time. It’s estimated that people have bought more than five billion copies of the Holy Bible. There’s no way any other book will surpass the Bible in our lifetime or any others soon to come.

Praise God!

But we also need some help from God. Even with such a high number of copies sold, is the Bible the most read?

I have my guesses. What do you think?

Did you know there’s a word for buying books you don’t read? It’s a Japanese word: Tsundoku. According to Wikipedia, the word joins two ideas. Piling up and books. So, tsundoku is when you’re good at accumulating books, but, for whatever reasons, don’t get around to reading them.

Of course, reading the Bible is different than reading other material. I can finish some books in a day. I’ll never try to do that with the Bible. We’re meant to read scripture through prayer and study, alone and with the fellowship of the church.

I know I must’ve written and preached before about this. When you read or listen to a daily devotional, do you tend to focus more on the devotion or the scripture text? To be sure, the person’s application is helpful. It’s good to hear a believer’s testimony or discover how others have engaged a Bible passage.

Use those insights to draw yourself back to the text itself. As you do, you’ll have your own engagement with a passage and make your own discoveries. Believe me, those are meaningful moments in your walk with God.

Last year, a Lifeway study found that 32% of American Protestants read the Bible every day. This burdens my heart. There’s a lot we can say about why the church is in the condition it is today. So, I don’t mean to oversimplify things, but our lack of thoughtful engagement with scripture has to be one of the main culprits.

There has never been a time when access to scripture was so abundant as it is today. But we haven’t taken advantage of that blessing.

If we aren’t engaged with scripture, what is shaping our worldview? what other resources are we relying on to influence our judgments and the direction of our lives? what else are we watching or who are we listening to instead of the voice of God heard in scripture? 

It’s okay to buy books you never intend to read. Let them fill your shelves and tabletops. Use them as furniture or mounts for your laptops. But let the Bible be the book that finds it way to your heart each day. 

Stay blessed…john

Low-cost ministry

“Ministry that costs nothing, accomplishes nothing.” That’s what one preacher said in the 1800s.

Of course, we’ve heard the same message in different ways. We have to make sense, for example, of when Jesus said in order to follow him we are to hate our own family. The next thing Jesus tells us is that we can’t be his follower if we don’t renounce all that we have. Indeed, there’s a cost we must account for.

If following Jesus and pursuing kingdom ministry means denying yourself, what does it cost to do so?

One of the churches I served once held a buy-a-brick fundraiser. Part of the project included a brick for every pastor ever appointed to serve there since the church opened in the mid 1800s. With all that great history, I know I was that church’s best associate pastor! Never mind that I was the only one they’ve ever had and there’s only one Associate Pastor brick.

I noticed something when the project was completed.

As I looked over the names of the pastors, early on a lot of them were not around very long. Itinerant ministry was different back then, for sure. But even so, several of the pastors didn’t have more than one year. I asked someone who had been around the church for a while why they thought that was so.

“Well, those were different times, Pastor. My guess is if the people didn’t like what you said, they would let you know. People carried shotguns around back then.”

Of course, that was a joke. Kind of.

Hopefully.

Then again…

Pastoral ministry was different in the 1800s. There was a cost many pastors today might not be willing to pay. Costly ministry in our terms today means thousands of dollars for streaming equipment or new buildings. I’m sure finances have always been a factor in ministry, at least in some regard.

But I’d like to consider the cost of ministry isn’t all about money, not even a lot about money. Instead, the cost of ministry is much deeper. Of course, the ministry I’m talking about isn’t just pastoral ministry either.

It’s your ministry. It’s how you advance the kingdom of God where and when God leads you. There’s a cost we all have to consider.

Luke introduces us to Saul in the seventh chapter of Acts. He’s mentioned almost in passing as the people stone Stephen. In the next chapter, this unknown-to-us Saul is now ravaging the church.

Luke says that a great persecution arose once Stephen died. The church scattered as a result. I appreciate how the NRSV translates what happened. As the church scattered, Saul went from house to house taking people to prison for their belief in Jesus.

But those who were scattered went from place to place to preach Jesus. Evil went house to house, but hope went place to place.

What was the cost of ministry then? It wasn’t money. It was safety and freedom. You could say the cost was humiliation and persecution.

Now, take some time to reflect on your ministry.  If it’s going to be fruitful and faithful and accomplish anything for the glory of God, chances are, it’s going to cost you something. Maybe it will be a financial cost. Then again, maybe you’re going to need to endure hardship for a season or even pushback. Would it be worth it to you?

What is it going to cost you to fulfill your ministry of reconciliation?

Stay blessed…john

After the hymn

One memory I have cherished during the past year was what happened right as the pandemic began to set in for everyone. It was at our church.

We had prayed for and planned to begin a Dinner Church worship gathering. I can’t tell you how excited I was about that. I’m pretty sure I tried to tell you in a devotional or two along the way.

One of the last activities our church did before we stopped meeting was Dinner Church. I recall sharing communion and a meal with everyone. We sang praise to God as a family of God.

I don’t recall what we sang. I only remember everyone standing, many with smiles on their faces as we did. Do you remember seeing the people you love smile, not wearing a mask?

You may have a similar memory in mind. Maybe it was a Sunday morning worship gathering that lifted your soul. God works in small group studies and prayer groups in the same way.

None of us leave those moments with the intention of deserting Jesus. It’s quite the opposite, isn’t it? The old hymn says, “I’d stay in the garden with him, though the night around me be falling.” We love these moments of worship and holy inspiration. But we’ll have to step away from the table to go into the world.

What happens then?

How far does our praise take us?

Peter and the other disciples were with Jesus right before he was arrested, praising God. According to Mark, Jesus waited until after their order of worship to drop the hammer on them. Some translations say when they had sung “the” hymn. Others say “a” hymn. That difference intrigues me. It was then, after their worship, Jesus told them he knew they would desert him. His sheep would scatter. 

Of course, I don’t mean that how you and I fail Jesus leads to his arrest and death. When we read of the disciples’ scattering, it is a telling of a particular group’s failure of discipleship. But we have our own failures, don’t we?

What I’m reflecting on today is how spiritually encouraged and filled the disciples might have felt. I know there were other feelings that final night Jesus spent with them. But they all still lifted their voices in praise.

And they all guaranteed Jesus they would never desert him.

Indeed, none of us leave a worship gathering eager to deny our Lord. What if I offered you this benediction before you left, “Go in peace. You’ll need it because you will deny Jesus.”

Moreover, we’re not always keen on acknowledging our discipleship failures. It’s easier to recognize Peter’s lofty sense of pride than our own.

I want you to examine your walk with God. Where have you, in your own way, denied Christ? failed to walk in his way? followed your own will rather than God’s?

There’s no sense denying our denials. There’s freedom in recognizing when and how we fail to be obedient followers of Jesus. When you’re forgiven, it makes that next worship song all the more meaningful.

Stay blessed…john