In the Bible, God often uses metaphors or word pictures to describe our relationship with Him; for example, a shepherd and sheep, a father and child, a vine and branches—and a bride and groom.
Although the Bible contains 66 books, commentators have often noted that it is really one book with a consistent theme. It is a love story. Like every love story, this one has a beginning, some ups and downs, and a dramatic conclusion.
I was 21 when I read the Bible for the first time. Someone had suggested I read the Gospel of John first, but I knew so little about the Bible at the time that I didn’t understand the Gospels were four separate accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. So I started at what seemed the more logical place, at the beginning of the New Testament, with the Gospel of Matthew.
Picture a forest—lush, deep, inviting. You enter and look around, expecting that rush of wonder that you’ve experienced before in nature, but this time the birds are not singing, there is no breeze to rustle the leaves, and the stream is not flowing. Everything is still, frozen in time, lifeless. You are in the forest, but it might as well be a picture hanging on the wall.
Oddly enough, whenever I’m at the dentist’s office, there always seems to be one of those home makeover shows playing on the TV in the waiting room. The sound is muted, but you can follow along in the closed captioning if you’re interested—not that the dialogue is particularly exciting.
In his classic autobiography Confessions, Saint Augustine, a theologian of the early church, narrates an incident which happened when he was a teenager. There was a pear tree near his family’s vineyard loaded with fruit that wasn’t even attractive in appearance or taste. Yet he and some friends stole pears from the tree. They did so not to eat them themselves, but to throw them to the pigs. He says that he and his friends committed the theft simply because they had pleasure in doing something that was forbidden, a tale as old as that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Jesus Christ has done more to change history, the course of civilization, and the condition of man than any other leader, group, government, or empire before Him or since. He has given the love of God to billions and made the way for as many as will believe in Him to receive eternal life.
—A retelling of Acts 8:26–40
I could never forget the day of the operation, when I was only seven. That was when I became a royal eunuch, destined to serve in the palace of the kings and queens of Ethiopia. I would never have my own family, never be looked at as “normal”—and I would always have to abide by special rules, and would not be allowed to do the things that normal people do.
I was raised in a Christian home by dedicated Christian parents. We prayed before we went out, whenever we got in the car, before we cooked, before we started our homework, and of course, before going to sleep. The bookshelves were full of children’s devotional books and Bibles, and we watched Bible cartoons in the evenings.
One of my favorite movies is the 1967 classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The movie was released at a very sensitive period in American history when race relations were highly volatile. It went on to become a major hit and acted as a great agent for social change.
I recently reread the touching story of a wealthy man and his son who loved to collect works of art. (The story appears in several sermons and books, but the original author is unknown.) It goes like this: