IF YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH THE BIBLE,
YOU’LL FALL IN LOVE WITH GOD
I believe the Bible is the best gift God has given to man.
I sat face-to-face with a man who had a five-inch scar running down his left cheek from ear to chin. The cut, gouged into his flesh by the butt of an army rifle, had never been stitched closed, nor had it ever been given medical attention. The result was an unsightly scar to say the least. But often it is the scars— either physical ones or emotional ones—that serve as reminders of what really matters in life.
It was 1976—six years after I first discovered the power of God’s Word—and I sat on the floor across from this man in a thatched-roof hut in the jungles of what was then known as Burma. Only a small, low table separated us. The one-room house where we gathered—which was built on stilts above the ground—had twenty-five other people jammed inside. Most of them were relatives who had come to meet this special family member, whose personal faith and courage seemed to stand as tall as Mount Everest. As I would soon find out, Jonathan Chan was an amazing person, a man with a love for God that oozed from the pores of his skin.
Jonathan had traveled for two weeks through dangerous mountains and jungles just to meet with us and make arrangements to distribute Bibles. He would take thousands of copies, even tens of thousands, if our ministry team could provide them.
We had been told that Jonathan wanted to give Bibles to the people of his country on the border of Burma. But it was a perilous mission. The government had banned the Bible and made it a crime punishable by imprisonment to preach, evangelize, or distribute Christian material of any kind. This law, I would soon learn, was the reason this man bore the nasty scar on his face.
Jonathan was a preacher of the Scriptures, and he had traveled far and wide telling people about God’s love. He knew the laws of his country forbade him to speak openly about God and Jesus, but he believed his allegiance to the King of kings trumped earthly rules and decrees. He had a higher authority to answer to. Eventually, he was arrested and thrown into prison.
Being jailed did little to silence the man, so great was his faith that God’s Word was the true source of freedom. He began telling fellow inmates about the God of the Bible, and many accepted God’s redeeming love. Even the prison guards would listen to him expound from the stories of the Bible, and some of them, too, made commitments of faith.
After a few months of moving Jonathan from one cellblock to another, from one prison to another, the authorities made him an offer. It was a plea bargain of sorts. He could go free if he would only stop preaching and renounce his faith in God. If he would publicly proclaim that his stories about Jesus were bogus, he could be a free man.
One morning, authorities took Jonathan to the village square of his hometown, stood him up on a box, and positioned armed soldiers around him. There, he was given his opportunity: Denounce the Bible, and tell the gathering of people—including neighbors, family, and friends—that Jesus was not God’s Son, nor was the Bible “God’s book,” nor was it true and accurate. He would then be released on his word that he would never again try to promote the Bible.
If he complied with those conditions, he would be free to rejoin his family and move on with his life. When his hands were loosed from the ropes that bound him, however, he told the people boldly that the Bible is indeed the Book of Truth and that it declares the wonderful story about the Creator of all things. He proclaimed that this God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, to die on a cross for our sins.
This humble and soft-spoken man told me what happened next. “It was at this moment in my brief sermon that the soldiers threw me to the ground and beat me with their rifles,” he said.
As the crowd stood stunned at the demonstration of brute force, the military personnel issued a gruff threat to everyone present and then left the area. Jonathan’s limp body lay broken and motionless on the damp ground. Frustrated with dealing with this relentless man of faith, the authorities gave up and left him for dead.
Little did I know that my meeting with Jonathan would have a major impact on the rest of my life. Without a doubt, my pastor, Chuck Smith, had instilled in my heart a great appreciation for the Bible. But Jonathan had demonstrated to me the concept of devotion and commitment to the Bible—at all costs. This man truly loved the Bible, and I would leave our jungle encounter and walk the busy streets of San Diego with a new view of life and faith. The citizens of “America’s Finest City” would be encouraged for the rest of my life to read the Bible and to discover God’s greatness on every page.
Jonathan’s story has been etched in the depths of my soul for three decades now. Even though I have met thousands of Christian men and women from dozens of countries over the years, his story has remained vivid in my mind. There was something very special to learn from this particular man.
This humble man of faith was willing to endure suffering, imprisonment, beatings, and even death for one simple yet powerful truth: God’s Word is the expression, the representation, and the articulation of God Himself. The Bible is not paper, ink, and binding—it is power, strength, and truth. It has a life of its own. And when its truths become real for the reader, the Bible’s power transforms even the hardest skeptic.
There is a supernatural component to the Bible that elevates it far above the millions of other books written and published through the centuries. The writer of Hebrews tells us that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (4:12). We may read other books that are exciting or insightful or helpful—but only the Bible is the Holy Spiritinspired, life-giving, joy-producing revelation from heaven. That is why people dedicate themselves, even under perilous circumstances, to preaching and teaching the Bible. It has the power to change everything about our earthly lives and our eternal destination.
GOD REVEALS HIMSELF TO US
The Christian faith can seem so mysterious, so incomprehensible. After all, to many people God is a “far out” concept. Who is He? Where did He come from? How can we possibly know this Supreme Being who lives way “up there”? If we can’t see God or touch Him, how do we know He’s really with us?
For most of my life I wrestled with these very issues. From an early age I questioned things about God. I remember hearing Bible stories when I was four years old that stimulated my young mind to question matters of life and faith. I would look out my bedroom window in the morning and see the sun’s rays breaking through Portland’s ever-present clouds, and I’d think that they were stairways for angels to come to the earth.
As a teenager in science class at school, I would look through the microscope at all those infinitesimal organisms and think, Someone had to have created all this. I can’t believe the world with all its creatures and systems came about by an explosion. At home, I would watch TV shows about our universe and distant galaxies. I’d wonder if there was a God out there keeping the planets spinning.
Of course, it isn’t only children who ponder the great mysteries of creation and the Creator. Throughout the ages, men and women—educated and uneducated, scholars and simpletons—have been trying to understand God. Indeed, humankind’s ideas about God and “gods” are found in mythology and archeological discoveries that date back thousands of years.
But there is one major source of literature on old planet earth that gives us a clear understanding of God, along with a clear understanding of creation and its purpose. That source is the Holy Bible. The more you read it, the more you understand yourself, the world you live in, and the One who made both.
Saint Paul wrote in the first century to a young student of his the following words:
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory (1 Timothy 3:16 KJV).
He puts it succinctly, doesn’t he? Godliness is a mystery, and mankind, with all of its worldly frustrations, has formed and shaped a myriad of religions and spiritual disciplines to try to uncover the truth about God. Listen carefully to me, please: With just a modicum of detective work you can easily understand this best-selling book of all time. Yes, it is true that throughout the ages people have built shrines and cathedrals and monuments to the God of the Bible. I am not sure He has asked for all of that. Yes, it is also true that throughout the ages people have designed religious schools and training centers for disciples of many cults, sects, religions, denominations, and beliefs.
Sometimes all of these institutions and rituals can make us feel more intimidated about reading the Bible. For instance, when the Midnight Mass is celebrated in Rome on Christmas Eve, people from just about every country in the world watch via television. The ceremony is full of ritual and tradition. Last time I watched this event on TV, it dawned on me that the church probably scares away many people. What I mean is that the liturgy of the cathedral is a bit overwhelming. The candles and the incense mixed with chanting and Latin words can overpower a person who is from a humble background. How in the world can you or I ever interpret the Holy Bible? After all, ministers have gone to college, graduate school, and seminary; they have studied Greek and Hebrew. These are learned and wise people talking about the Bible!
The church can make the Bible appear to be a very sacred and holy book that only certain people can read, let alone interpret and understand. That is really sad to think about, but without doubt the church at large has failed to encourage and enable people to understand the Holy Scriptures. The Bible is not a musty old historical book for aged men to analyze. It is a book everyone can enjoy and learn from.
The Old Testament prophet Daniel said this about God: “He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. … There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (2:22, 28). We may at times struggle to grasp the complexities and enigmas of the faith, but the Lord discloses all we need to know in order to grow and prosper spiritually.
In the New Testament we are told that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16–17 KJV). God inspired the writers of both the Old and the New Testaments for the express purpose that the Bible could instruct, correct, and direct us onto the path of righteousness.
KNOWING GOD BY KNOWING HIS WORD
Respected theologian A. W. Tozer said: “God is not silent. It is the nature of God to speak. The second person in the Trinity is called ‘The Word.’ The Bible is the inevitable outcome of God’s continuous speech. It is the infallible declaration of His mind.”
God speaks and reveals Himself through His Word. He describes His character, qualities, desires, and plans. He gives us a glimpse into His background and “history.” In short, He provides us with lots of information so we can know Him. We can approach the Bible not as a dry manuscript or history text, but as a way to develop closeness with our Father. God inspired His Book to be written and given to us that we may know Him intimately.
John Kass, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, wrote about a waiter he met named Bouch, who worked at a tavern in Chicago. Bouch decided to write to the king of his homeland, Morocco. King Mohammed VI is immensely popular because he often interacts with his subjects in public, he has freed political prisoners, and he helps the poor and disabled. When Bouch wrote to him from the United States, King Mohammed VI, true to form, wrote back.
“Look at the letters,” Bouch told Kass. “These are letters from the king. If I meet him, I’ll be so happy.”
In his column, Kass mused, “How many guys hauling beer and burgers in a Chicago tavern have a correspondence going with a royal monarch?”
The journalist was intrigued, so he talked to Morocco’s deputy consul general in Chicago. Kass was told that it isn’t unusual for the king to write personal letters to his subjects abroad.
“It happens a lot,” the official told him. “The king loves his subjects.”1
We fancy the idea that a king would correspond with a commoner. But there’s something far more incredible. The King of kings, the Creator of the universe, has chosen to correspond with us. He has given us an entire book full of letters, stories, and poetry. The true King, the God of all creation, wants to communicate with you and me.
THE GREATEST LOVE STORY THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN
For many people throughout the centuries, the Bible has been known as a book about love. It is filled with passionate love stories in the Old Testament. It also tells about “lust stories.” Our society is, of course, consumed with the subjects of sex and romance. These topics are found within the pages of the Bible from beginning to end. However, sex as God intended it is revealed in very healthy terms.
When you begin a fresh journey in the Scriptures, you will read of people from all walks of life, from all cultures, financial positions, and emotional states of mind. The Bible is blunt and honest, and it tells stories of rape and incest and adultery. Bible stories could actually fill many seasons of prime-time soap operas if the networks were interested.
However, the real love story contained in the Bible is found from the first page to the very last page of the book. It is almost as if it has to be deciphered much like a military code. But, thank God, you and I do not need to be cryptologists to unravel the mysteries of this fascinating book.
When you read the Bible, you learn very quickly that God loves His creation. It becomes obvious, and you can see He loved the people of the Bible from the first humans He created to the last generation of humans described in the Book of Revelation. Yes, Adam and Eve and their offspring have all been recipients of His wonderful love. It is mysterious, but it is something that, with a little bit of work on your part, you can understand and receive all the things God wants to tell you.
Make a commitment to yourself right now: “I want to know God, and I will be open to hearing from Him!” This book is written to make it easy for you to discover everything God has for you. He loves you so very much, and He is calling you to get to know Him in a deep and personal way. Listen to Saint John, one of the early apostles of Jesus Christ. He wrote the following words to the early believers:
The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love (1 John 4:8 MSG).
The fact that God is love opens the door for us to be loved by Him, and not only to love Him in return but also to love other people as well. That is a divine revelation that most people miss. Love is how we know whether God is in someone or not. I am sure that you know that there are a lot of very “religious” people who don’t have an ounce of love within them. This fact of life may have been a stumbling block for you to believe in God. But let’s work together to bring more of God’s love into your life. It will take faith on your part.
Jesus said, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39 KJV). Many people do search the Scriptures but never accept the Jesus of the Scriptures.
You and I want to be people who read the Scriptures, not to dispute them, but rather to embrace them. The Bible is for today, it speaks of yesterday, but points the way for tomorrow. It is active and alive and thrilling to read. It is the means to draw you closer to God and His love for you.
Many years ago, a doting, devoted young husband named James Bracy got in the habit of writing love letters to his bride, Sallie. Stationed at a California military base during the 1950s, he was separated from her by thousands of miles. James’ link to the lovely woman waiting for him to come home was their love letters, which they wrote with great care and consistency. But one of James’ letters didn’t get delivered. Somehow it was misplaced and became lodged between two walls in the mailroom at Fort Ord, an army base a few miles from Monterey, California. The letter was lost in the shadows, with its romantic affections of a youthful marriage, sealed with a kiss.
Jump ahead a half-century later. James and Sallie Bracy had just celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary and were relaxing in the living room when their song, “Once in a While,” began to play on the radio. Sallie remembered affectionately the 1950s tune and how she used to get calls and letters from the man who owned her heart. They joked together, knowing there would be no letter or phone call this time because James was present in person, right by her side.
Meanwhile, a construction crew was dismantling the old post office at Fort Ord, and they discovered a long-forgotten letter from a young army corporal. The crew turned the letter over to Bob Spadoni, the postmaster in nearby Monterey. Spadoni began the process of delivering that letter, tracking down the Bracys through post office records and phone books.
Just a few days after hearing their song and enjoying their fiftieth anniversary, the letter dated January 28, 1955, was delivered to Sallie Bracy. The letter filled her heart with warmth and romance. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she again felt like that love-struck twenty-two-year-old from long ago.
“It meant a lot to me then,” said Sallie. “It means even more now.”2
Many years ago, God wrote His love letter to us. For some people, it’s been forgotten or misplaced. But it’s waiting to be delivered, to be opened at just the right time. When we read the words God wrote to us, our hearts will be filled with love and appreciation for Him. Everything about our lives will be changed for the better.