The preacher begins his sermon by telling the congregation to open their Bibles to draw close to God and select passage. For those who do not have a Bible, he invites them to take one from the ushers walking up and down the isles. Once everyone is settled in, he begins to read from that selection.
Why would he do that when the whole purpose of the sermon is to unpack the selected text and explain it. Simply stated, it’s to engage the congregation in building community. Together they go through the text and learn.
People often say that religion is something that people should keep private. But the whole idea behind people reading the Bible together is to strengthen their faith, gain knowledge and insight into God’s plan for their lives. Think of the Bible as a manual for the human condition, an instruction book that contains everything you need to know to draw close to God. Believers can learn together, encourage one another and create a loving family.
Religion can get in the way
Religion gets in the way. Churches are social institutions and as such, churches naturally are subject to human frailty. We make up rules and regulations, way beyond those taught in the Bible. We watch each other to make sure everybody stays in line.
There’s an old joke that says if you take a Baptist fishing with you, he’ll drink all your beer. But if you take two Baptists, nobody will drink any beer. You see, our personal convictions are all too often manipulated to align with those of the group.
When I went to confirmation class as a child, I learned about the structure of the church. Also I learned about the importance of bishops, priests and deacons. I never learned about salvation through grace, the eternal promise of heaven offered through faith in Jesus. I learned about that which had no bearing on living a happy and fulfilled life. What a waste of time. I learned nothing of value.
Religion can actually keep a person away from God, because when you are constantly looking for that bolt of lightning to strike, it’s hard to cultivate a loving and lasting relationship.
Ironically, the Bible talks of forgiveness and grace; a reconciliation with God. The idea that sinners are struck down is a fantasy promoted by those who want you to look away from what they are doing.
Reading the Bible allows us to draw closer to God
The whole idea here is to draw closer to God, to develop a real, lasting relationship. Instead of do’s and don’t s, it allows us to focus on wants and needs. That is, what God wants for your life and what you need to do to allow that to happen. Keep it simple. You and God.
I encourage you to read the Bible for yourself. Many churches offer really good small groups, so people can study together and talk about what they’ve read and learned. Churches that focus on the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God, will offer opportunities to grow in the faith. It’s you and God.
Read the Bible with the mindset that it is God speaking directly to you, unfiltered, with a message that is intended to benefit you and those you love. It’s not religion, it’s relationship.