I was desperate. It was Saturday night and I had barely begun a major computer-programming project that was due Monday morning. A friend suggested a fellow in the adjoining apartment complex who might be able to help, but cautioned, "He's weird."
I ventured next door. On the surface everything seemed normal. John was 6'4", handsome, smart and jovial, and actually had come to my college to play hoops but changed his mind. The dorm room looked typically masculine with no vibe of weirdness to be found. Upon completion of the project we joined several others in the living area who were watching an episode of a new miniseries called The Day After. The show was depicting what the world might look like the day after a nuclear war. Since we had all grown up in the 1970s with fallout shelters and the Cold War, it struck a chord with us. It also struck a chord with the nation, 100 million other Americans watching that night. Even so, as curious as I was, I figured I would watch for fifteen minutes and leave.
John then made a statement that would alter the trajectory of my life. He said to me, "This isn't the way it's going to happen." And then he asked me a question I had never heard: "Have you ever read the Bible?" Overriding my thought of, "here's where the weirdness kicks in," was the fact that despite twelve years of Catholic school, I hadn't.
No, I had never read the Bible.
John spent the next thirty minutes explaining to me in detail the events predicted in the Bible that would culminate in Christ's return to Earth. They were much different than what the miniseries was describing. Looking back, these preconditions were in their infancy: Israel back in her land after a two-thousand-year absence, a revised European community, technology that could produce a cashless society, a one-world government, global events being seen instantaneously by all people, and so on.
As John spoke, there was a sensation inside of me I couldn't explain, but later recognized in reading Luke 24. There, two men are led in a Bible study by a man they later realize was Jesus. When they finally grasp who He was, they say, "Did not our heart burn within us...while He opened the Scriptures to us?"( Luke 24:32).
I like to call that spiritual heartburn.
I had always sensed in my heart that if God were real, then He could be known. That there had to be more than standing, sitting, and kneeling. While my point is not to criticize tradition or rituals, I came to understand that day that God desired to have a relationship with me that went beyond going through the motions. Two days later I said a prayer asking Christ to be my Lord and Savior, and I've never looked back. I chose relationship over religion that night, and it has made all the difference.
Thirty-one years later I now teach the Bible for a living. God surely has a sense of humor. My spiritual heartburn is as strong as ever as I continue to mine the riches of God's word. Not only does Scripture foretell the future, but its contribution to literature, wisdom, science, history, and human rights is unsurpassed. With countless believers through the ages, what I have learned from reading the Bible all these years has helped me navigate the highs and lows of living on this planet. It's given me a sense of assurance that, even in the midst of suffering and loss, life has purpose. And it has allowed me to communicate intimately with the Author of it all.
I thank God that John had the boldness that day to ask me that critical question. And because of the change it brought to my life, I often ask the same question of people I meet, people who consider themselves "safe" because they belong to a certain denomination but who, sadly, are like I was: staking life and eternity on something they have never investigated.
So can I challenge you to read the Bible for yourself? Maybe start with the Gospel of John, asking the Lord to reveal Himself to you. Maybe take a class or read a book like Gordon Fee's How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth to help you.
I leave you with the question that changed my life, "Have you ever read the Bible?" It will change your life, I'm sure.
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
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