The Power of a Book

Message to the R. G. Mitchell Christmas Banquet

Toronto, Canada

Thank you. It is a great honor to be with you tonight. This is my first visit to Toronto and is really my first visit to Canada, if you don’t count a twenty-minute border crossing a few years ago. Our family was on vacation in northern Michigan and came to a border crossing so we slipped across into Ontario just so we could say we had been to Canada. I felt a bit nervous about the whole thing, as if maybe we were doing something improper. We drove around for a few minutes (it was a Sunday morning and I recall that we didn’t see very many people out and about) and then went back to the border. For some reason I was a little rattled when we got to the immigration checkpoint. When the officer asked, “Citizenship?” I replied with a confident, “Yes!"—which was not the answer he was expecting. The officer looked at me for a moment and then waved me on through, perceiving that I was a danger to no one except perhaps to my family and myself. For some reason my three boys have never forgotten that incident. Just a few days ago my middle son Mark told the story again—and started laughing. It seems to prove that Dad is a nice guy but can’t be trusted to go anywhere by himself. Which is one of the reasons why my wife is with me tonight.

Surfing the Net

Like most of you, I wear many hats—some of the more important ones being husband, father, pastor, and author. It is in the latter category that I appear before you tonight. I don’t suppose it matters, but I was born and raised in the southern part of the United States, I’ve been married 24 years and have three teenage sons. I like the Chicago Bulls, deep-dish pizza, reading about the American Civil War, riding my bike as often as possible, visiting the Holy Land, and I am a true Internet junkie. That last part is relatively new. Like most people I didn’t know what the Internet was 5 years ago. And I had never received or sent e-mail. Now I can’t live without it. The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is check my e-mail—the first of five or six or eight times a day. Almost always I have a few messages to read. And increasingly I do a large portion of my sermon research on the Internet. (I mean that in the loosest sense of the word. If I’m on the Internet, I always call it “sermon research.” That way it sounds absolutely necessary.)

Yesterday I surfed on over to the R.G. Mitchell website (which is very impressive, by the way) and found this sentence: “Since 1934 R.G. Mitchell Family Books Inc. has been Communicating the message of God’s love through the distribution of Christian Books, Bibles, Gifts and Music.” I like that statement because it focuses on something very fundamental. We are in the business of communicating God’s love. At the deepest level we are not writers and publishers and distributors. We are called to be communicators of God’s love to a world that desperately needs to hear our message.

I am here tonight as a writer speaking to people who take the books I write and distribute them far and wide. We are joined in a partnership that runs deep. Without people like me, you would have nothing to distribute. Without people like you, I would fill my garage will boxes of dusty manuscripts that no one would ever read. When I say “Thank You” for that partnership, I say it not only on my own behalf but also for countless other authors as well.

The Bible and Books

This week I checked my concordance to see what the Bible says about books. I was surprised and encouraged by what I found. We all know that of the making of many books there is no end. But that’s only part of the story. Consider these facts …

*When God made his promises Israel, he wrote them in a book—the Book of the Covenant.

*When Moses finished writing the law, God said, “Take the book and put it in the Ark of the Covenant.”

*When Joshua prepared to lead Israel across the Jordan, God promised him good success on one condition: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth.”

*When Joshua prepared to build an altar on Mount Ebal, he built it according to the pattern found in the Book of the Law of Moses.

*Just before he died, Joshua exhorted his people to be careful to obey all that was written in the Book of the Law of Moses.

*During the days of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, he sent his officials throughout the land with one command: Read the Book of God’s Law to the people. We are told that they taught throughout all the towns and villages, reading God’s book and explaining it. As a result, God sent great fear to the surrounding nations and no one would war against Judah.

*When Josiah was only 8 years ago he became King of Judah. 18 years later revival broke out when the high priest told his secretary: “I have found the book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He called together all the people from the least to the greatest and in their presence read to them—line by line and word by word—the things written in the Book of the Covenant.

*In the days of Nehemiah, the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt. Then Ezra the scribe said, “Bring me the Book” and standing on a platform before the men of Israel, he read to them from the book and the Levites explained the meaning. For seven days Ezra read from the Book of the Law of the God. For seven days the people celebrated as Ezra read to them.

But that’s not all. When the prophets spoke, their words were down in books so that people could read what they had to say. Daniel 10:21 gives us another name for the Bible: The Book of Truth. When Jesus wanted to remind his hearers of what God had already said, he would say something like this, “Have you not read the Book of Moses?” or “As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah.”

And what about the famous last verse of John which tells us if all the works of Jesus were written down, not even the whole world would have room for the books that would be written? Turn the page and Acts 1:1 begins this way, “In my former book, Theophilus …"—speaking, of course, of the Gospel of Luke. Peter refers to the “book of Psalms,” Acts 7:42 to the book of the prophets, Acts 8 to the “book of Isaiah.” Galatians 3:10 speaks of the Book of the Law.

The Book of Life and “the Books”

Did you that books will become even more important after we die? In many passages we are told about the “Book of Life"—which isn’t a cute little desktop calendar for 1999. It’s the list of the redeemed of all the ages. I don’t know whether we carry the Book of Life in our catalog or not. I think there is only one distributor and he has universal rights and hasn’t licensed anyone else to carry it. Don’t worry about selling it, just make sure your name is in it. Why is that so important? Because we are told in several places, that when God judges the world, the books will be opened. Again, we’re not talking about Max Lucado’s newest Christmas book or the latest thriller from Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. These “books” contain the record of all that you have ever said or done or thought or imagined. I can promise you that you don’t want to be around when those books hit the stores. That will make the Linda Trip-Monica Lewinsky tapes seems like nursery rhymes.

And get this. On the very last page of the Bible there is a divine copyright notice that warns against tampering with “the prophecy of this book.” If you add to it or take away from it, you’ll going to be sorry. God values His book and he doesn’t take it lightly when people mess with it.

One final word on this subject. Christmas is only a few days away. All around us people are putting up holiday decorations and playing Christmas carols. People who have no use for Jesus most of the year are quite happy to hear “We Three Kings” and “Joy to the World, the Lord is come.” And what is the real meaning of Christmas? It is that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Christmas isn’t about a book, it’s about a baby born in Bethlehem. A real-live baby boy, wrapped in rags and laid to sleep in a rough-hewn feeding trough, in a stable behind an inn in a little village called Bethlehem. As the song says, “This, this is Christ the Lord, whom shepherds guard and angels sing, Haste, haste to bring him laud, the Babe, the son of Mary.”

God—The Ultimate Bookman

Think about it this way… .

When God wanted to save the world, He sent his Son as a baby.

When God wanted to tell the world, He wrote it in a book.

From the very beginning of time, God has used books to send his message to the world. First there was the Word, then the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, then men wrote about the Word, and their words became the Word of God, and now we spread the Word across Canada and North America and to the ends of the earth.

From the Incarnate Word … .to the written Word … to words on paper … to books on the shelf … to the hearts of people everywhere. This has always been God’s plan. He gives the Word, we write words about His Word, we edit those words, typeset those words, print those words, publish those words, and distribute those words to anyone and everyone who will listen.

Sixty-four years ago R. G. Mitchell bought a small bookstore right here in Toronto. And look what God has done. He has done it because God is the ultimate Bookman. He is the ultimate writer, the preeminent publisher, and the supreme distributor of the universe. Our God loves good books and uses good books to get his message out to the world. The Christian book business is a good business because it is near to the heart of God.

Earlier I said that authors and publishers and distributors and booksellers are all partners together. That’s true, but it’s not the highest thought. Higher than that is the truth that when I do what I do and you do what you do, we together are doing God’s work. We are “communicating the message of God’s love,” which is why this company was founded so many years ago.

And that is why the Bible is the best selling book of all time. More copies have been printed in more languages and read by more people than any other book in history. It is so far out in front of every other book ever written that it stands in a category all by itself. It is not only the best selling religious book, it is the best selling book of any and every category. The Bible is number one. The all-time best seller. The undisputed champion.

Every Sunday it is read, studied, quoted and memorized in every nation on every continent. The Bible has now been translated into every major language of the world and work goes on around the clock to translate it into the remaining tribal languages that do not have it.

Nigeria and India

One month ago my wife and I were in Jos, Nigeria, visiting medical missionaries from our church who serve in the Evangel Hospital under the aspices of SIM International. Moody Press and Crossway Books donated copies of my books to give to pastors and Christian workers we met along the way. To me it was just a nice gesture of friendship but in many places, the four or five books we gave them effectively doubled their church library. When we gave the books out, the people seemed so thrilled. “You don’t understand,” one missionary said, “They won’t just read these books. They’ll read them, pass them along, and then they’ll teach them in their churches.” The amazing power of good books!

Nearly three years ago my wife and I spent several weeks at a mission station on the border between India and Nepal. On our fourth or fifth day, I was taken by motorcycle to visit a nearby village where my guide introduced me to two local Christian leaders. Together we sat down on the mat and I listened with awe as the two men sang original songs they had written in the local dialect of the Hindi language. Indian music sounds nothing at all like Western music—the pitch, tone and rhythms are completely different. But they sang with enthusiasm and obvious joy in the Lord, accompanied only by a tambourine that one man beat against his shin.

The leader of the local congregation comes from a warrior caste. His people have a long and proud history that stretches back many centuries. How did he become a Christian? It started a few years ago when someone told him about the Bible. Although he was illiterate, he tried to read it, and as he did a light shined from heaven upon Matthew 5:5 and gave him the meaning. This miraculous light appeared to him several more times, each time teaching him more about Jesus. When he finally accepted Christ, his wife threw him out of their house whereupon he moved to this village and joined the small band of believers. With great pride he showed me the stones in the ground for the new church they hoped to build. It wasn’t large—about 11 feet by 17 feet—but his face glowed with joy at the thought of having a proper building for God’s worship.

He told me there are five other men in this village with a name identical to his. Therefore his official address consists of his name plus the word “Christian” because he is the only believer by that name in the village. He receives letters addressed to “Mr. Jai Narayan Singh Christian.”

“Mr. Christian” came to Christ through reading God’s book. Heaven will be filled with people like him—who read the story of God’s love in a book someone gave them.

One Sunday after I had finished preaching a young girl pressed some paper into my hand. She said she had written something as a gift to me. When I looked at it later, it turned out to be a little handwritten book called “God really does love us.” The first page is a drawing of a cross with a heart and the sun shining upon it. The caption reads “God loves us!” The second page shows a young girl kneeling before Jesus on the cross. She is telling him she loves him. The final page shows a Jesus on the cross with the words, “God really did die for me!!” Where did eight-year-old Megan Keating learn such truth? I think I know the answer. Long ago most of us learned to sing a little song that goes like this:

Jesus love me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to him belong, they are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me Yes Jesus loves me,

Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.

Indeed it does. Thank God for the Bible—God’s Book–because without it, we would never know about Jesus. And without Jesus, we could never be saved.

Let me say it one more time…..

When God wanted to save the world, He sent his Son as a baby

When God wanted to tell the world, He wrote it in a book.

From the Word Incarnate… .to the written Word … to the words we write … to the books we sell … to the hearts of people everywhere. This has always been God’s plan..

Thank God for Christian books—those who write them, those who publish them, those who distribute them, those who sell them. This is God’s work, and we are partners together with him in the grand adventure of communicating God’s love to the world. May God bless you abundantly in the work He has called you to do. Amen.

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