My first Bible as a preacher is a brown leather New King James Version. It is cracked, wrinkled and worn thin in places. When I let it fall open where it would—the book of Nehemiah appeared. There were underlined places, checks, stars and one word comments.
Words like, “opportunity” beside chapter 2:4 and “Because of Obedience” beside 8:17c.
Here are some underlined verses:
“The strength of the labors is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.” 4:10
“Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight…” 4:14
“Our God will fight for us.” 4:20
When I hold this precious old bible in my hands open to this Old Testament book, I run my fingers over the pages. I traced underlined words like I might brush a strand of hair away from my wife’s face. I rubbed the corners of the sacred text like I did my sleeping grandson’s dimpled hands as he slept on my lap last Saturday.
What struck me the most—more than the underlined verses, more than the comments in the margins—was the brown stains from the oils left by my thumbs and the small of traces of dirt on the edges of the pages. When I saw those stains—my eyes burned with tears. I remembered the Wednesday nights of preaching verse-by-verse though this Old Testament book to a little country church in Shawnee, Oklahoma twenty five years ago this month.
I turned to Ephesians and there were the stains again—and I remembered teaching through that book on Sunday mornings. Then I found the same stains in 1 Corinthians, the Gospel of John, Romans, 1 John, and 1 Peter—and I remembered the way it used to be, when I hearing the Word taught is why folks came to church.
Now I have to use a new version of the bible because today’s Church goers have calloused ears to listening to the poetry of the King James Version. I have to preach in short topical “high impact series” with catchy titles to attract a crowd. Sermon Series like “Desperate Sex Lives” and “Rock God” and “Text: U asked 4 it!” These scintillating series can only be about 4 weeks long or the folks lose interest. Because attracting a crowd is the only measure of success. Apparently size matters.
But I long for the day when I just preached the Bible: line upon line and precept upon precept.
Those stained pages meant I spent time in those precious books of God’s Word before God’s people who had an open Bible on their laps. Today folks don’t bring their bibles to church. They don’t need to. We provide the verses on PowerPoint’s or print them on a handout. We entertain. We are cute. We go for the cheap laugh. We dress in blue jeans, flip flops and untucked shirts.
Where are the stained pages?
I heard a complaint from an attendee about my preaching recently: “If I wanted a Bible Study I would host one in my home. I don’t come to church for that.”
At first that comment hurt my feelings. (All preachers like to be heard and admired. Those who say differently —lie about other stuff.) But as I reflected on that, I think I am getting to the place where I don’t care. I want stained pages again.
I want the sacred text I hold in my hands to come alive and find lodging in the hearts of the folks that dare to come to church and bring their Bibles. May there be underlined verses again, in marked up margins; in Bibles that look as worn as grandma’s hands.
Spurgeon said, “The Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”
Then I go back to my old Bible and older friend, Nehemiah, and read these underlined words: “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
What does your Bible look like?