This is the fifth message in a series on the artifacts that symbolize the spiritual importance of events, gifts and people in our lives.
There are some who would question whether it is appropriate to consider a Bible, an object produced or shaped by human workmanship. Surely it is when one considers the binding, type-style, translation etc. I own many versions and editions of the Bible. Some of them I have selected by the way they felt in my hand or the readability of the type.
Bible publishing is a tough business. Just walk through the Bible section of a Christian bookstore and consider the colors, styles, and versions of the KJV, NJKV, NIV, NRSV, RSV, REV, NIV, TNIV, NASB, CEV, LB, NLT, God’s Word, The Message, New American, New Jerusalem, Amplified, to name just a few. It is possible to mix and match these versions to say what you want to say and some popular Christian writers do exactly that. Whenever I find three or more versions of the Scripture quoted on a page, I am suspicious that the author is straining to make his or her point not God’s.
The Bible is the key document of my life. I never get enough of reading it. I keep copies in my briefcase, pockets, offices, vehicle and home, just in case I need to refer to it.
One can read the Bible and learn about Christ or they can read it and miss the life to be found in him altogether (John 5:39-40,46). It is possible to follow Scripture to do great and wonderful things in the name of God but still miss eternal life because you didn’t know Jesus on an intimate basis as your Savior and Lord (Matt. 7:21-23).
God must breathe Scripture to life in the open mind and heart of the believer (2 Tim. 3:16). Without that inspiration, the Bible is a collection of dead letters, of literary and historical interest, but without transformative power. Christ came to us as the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth (John 1:1; 14). It takes his light shining in our hearts to empower Scripture to change us (2 Cor. 3:12-4:6).
I learned my Bible from parents who loved me and told me that God loved me making all things possible for me in his grace. I was an indifferent Bible student in school, but the stories my parents told me stayed with me with the warm memory of love, not the cold compulsion of fear. As an adult, the Holy Spirit watered those seeds and brought them to life for me and I came to know what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matt. 5:6). The morning after my rebirth, I awoke to crave the Word and I began drinking it in huge draughts. That thirst has never left me.
On a shelf behind my desk sits a miniature King James Bible and hymnal set in a zippered case that my Dad bought for me at camp meeting when I was 13.
He gave it to me as the two of us drove home. He said, “I want you to have this.” Dad watched the road ahead as I opened the bag and took out the black case. He had my name engraved in gilt on the cover of the case and on the Bible and the hymnal.
It was such a serious, classy, adult gift! Dad’s simple solemnity let me know that he believed he was giving me something very important. I was surprised and overwhelmed and barely got out a shy “thank you.” I remember wanting to say more, but the vocabulary of my adolescent emotions wasn’t up to it. I don’t know if my reaction pleased him, but Dad always gave generously and really didn’t seem to expect much in return except that his children love Jesus, live a good life and stay out of trouble. Even when we got into trouble, he never flinched away from us.
What “thanks” do parents receive for their efforts to pass on their faith? Many mothers and fathers agonize over whether they have said the right thing, done the right thing, taught the good and protected against the evil. They often pour out their regretful anguish to me after I speak on the challenges of busyness and forgiveness. Children wander off the path, dragging hopes and dreams in the dirt behind them, stretching parental hearts until they rip.
Many parents blame themselves for the loss of faith of their children; some with reason, some without. They crucify themselves in shame, again and again, trying desperately to move the possibility of the Christ who died once for all out of the rote memory of proof texts into living assurance in the hearts of their children, battling the oppressive despair that they have cost their children and themselves eternity.
Other parents have hearts filled to bursting as they watch their sons and daughters learn and grow in wisdom and stature, making a difference of help and kindness in the world. They are tempted to believe that the good upbringing and virtuous life mean salvation for their children.
Both of these views are wrong of course. However well-intentioned or poorly-executed our expectations and efforts, parents are not the guarantors of the salvation of their children. Salvation always comes down to God’s gift of a clean heart and a new spirit and the choice of each of us to accept or reject that gift in faith as our way, truth, and life. God says so! This principle is stated with particular eloquence in the paraphrase of Ezekiel in The Message
- As sure as I’m the living God…Every soul–man, woman, child–belongs to me, parent and child alike. You die for your own sin, not another’s…The soul that sins is the soul that dies. The child does not share the guilt of the parent, nor the parent the guilt of the child. If you live upright and well, you get the credit; if you live a wicked life, you’re guilty as charged…If a good person turns away from his good life and takes up sinning, he’ll die for it. He’ll die for his own sin. Likewise, if a bad person turns away from his bad life and starts living a good life, a fair life, he will save his life. Because he faces up to all the wrongs he’s committed and puts them behind him, he will live, really live. He won’t die…I’ll judge each of you according to the way you live. So turn around! Turn your backs on your rebellious living so that a sin won’t drag you down. Clean house. No more rebellions, please get a new heart! Get a new spirit! Why would you choose to die…? I take no pleasure in anyone’s death. Decree of God, the Master. “Make a clean break! Live!” (Ezek. 18:3,20, 26-28, MSG.).
Note that the key to eternity with God as described by the prophet Ezekiel is repentance. Each of us is responsible to turn away from living by our own fatally limited strength and efforts and, instead, to accept through our own decision the new heart and new spirit that is the birthright of each man, woman and child who acknowledges that he or she belongs to the living God. The Apostle John put it this way in his characteristically circular writing style:
- Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God….And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:1-5, 11-12).
How did I come to belief? My Dad gave me the Bible. Mom and Dad told me about the God of love described on its pages. It was up to me to read it and believe the promises that Christ is my Savior.
How do I choose to live out my belief? Dad gave me the hymnal. Mom and Dad taught me the hymns, but it was up to me to sing them in Praise of the God who is my real Maker and Lord.
My parents weren’t perfect. I learned some reactions from them that were hurtful to myself and others as well. If we are honest, I think we’d all admit that we are the imperfect products of very human parents. But “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11) This means I have to take ownership for my choices and account for my own behavior. I have to ask God to forgive what I owe him even as I have to forgive what others owe me that has not been paid in full.
I have my own son, my pride and joy, and on some days, the subject of my failure. I’ve learned the prayer of “crop failure.” “O Lord, please cause these seeds that I have planted in my child’s soul through my impatience and pride wither and die. Please do for my child what I cannot and make perfect in your grace the imperfect love that I give him.”
Mom and Dad reared their four children on prayer and readings of the Psalms and the Gospel of John. They taught us to do the right thing because of who we are in Christ, not because of what anyone else demanded that we do. This teaching was a wonderful preface to my belief and teaching of God’s grace as the power to save and to live faithfully.
My son Andrew is now an adult. The responsibility for his spiritual training belonged to Patricia and me. We did not merely entrust Andrew’s spiritual growth to strangers at church or school. The Scripture commands children to “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12). The juxtaposition of this commandment between the instructions to honor God in all things and to rest in trust of his provision and the instructions not to kill, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet, indicates that the sovereign grace of God that is the key to happiness on earth and in eternity is best passed on by parents to their children.
Even if parents are not in the picture or fail their responsibility, Christ promises that “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you… Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:18-19). Blessedly, his love transcends human weakness and sin to touch and transform the lonely and broken hearts.
Patricia and I told Andrew from infancy about Jesus who loves him way beyond the love of any human of his acquaintance. We taught him the Gospel, the power of prayer and the doctrines of Christianity as the reliable guidance for his life. His Christian education simply provides augmentation and context for this instruction.
We bought Andrew his first Bible for church and school. There came a wonderful day, though, when he wanted a Bible for his own devotional reading and study. I insisted on buying it for him, and had his name inscribed in the cover. It is a heritage.
We are most thankful for the power of Christ when we observe Andrew’s own faith lived out in a life of prayer and joy in the love and service of others. Watching and listening, I observe him as a man who is assured of the love of his God and committed to the service of his faith. Beyond that, Patricia and I have to hand our son off to God and trust that though he may stumble, he will not fall headlong, for the Lord holds him by the hand (Psalm 37:23-24).
I asked at the beginning what “thanks,” do parents receive for their efforts to lead their children to the right? Unconditional love seeks no thanks, but I believe only God can give unconditional love. Human parents have much more fragile hearts and limited capacities. We crave rewards through our children and find them in things like prayers prayed by choice and not our requirement, decisions of honor, second chances realized with success, honesty, compassion, and responsibility taken.
My Mom and Dad introduced their children to Jesus by telling us his stories and singing us his songs. Dad gave me the Bible. Forty-two years later, I am still following Christ as the living Word of my life and singing those hymns and so are my two surviving brothers. I believe that our choice is where Mom and Dad found their “thanks.”
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,