Drinking It Straight
I find it almost hard to believe now, but there was a time in my life that I hated coffee. At least I thought I did. I wanted to be a grownup like everyone else, so had tried to drink it on a number of occasions. But every time I did, I found it more disgusting than the time before. I just couldn’t figure out what everyone else loved about it.
It turns out, though, that my friends had unintentionally led me astray. Knowing that I had never drunk it before, they had always tried to make it more palatable by giving me some mixed-up hybrid of coffee, sugar, and cream. They thought it would be best for me to begin with a little coffee and a lot of other stuff that would cut the bitterness. And every time I tried it I hated it.
But then one day it occurred to me that I had never actually just tried straight-up coffee. I poured myself a cup of the real deal, and from the first sip found that I loved it. It wasn’t the coffee I had hated, but the combination of coffee, sugar, and cream! In fact, the joy of drinking coffee was in the full-out flavor, bitterness and all. The problem all along was that people had diluted the coffee, or added something to it, thinking that this would make it more enjoyable. When they added to it, they changed it entirely, so that it wasn’t really coffee anymore.
I thought about this on Sunday morning as I meditated on the text I was about to preach, the final verses of 2 Timothy 3, where Paul tells Timothy about the origin and purpose of the Bible. I knew that I wanted to preach the text in such a way that everything I said flowed naturally and legitimately right out of it. I prayed that I would bring to bear the full weight and urgency of the text, that I would be able to get out of the way so the text could speak.
My mind drifted back to the days when Aileen and I were in churches where the preachers had treated the Bible kind of like my friends had treated coffee. Somewhere they must have lost their confidence in the Bible just a little bit, and they began to believe that it was unpalatable or distasteful to those who hadn’t encountered it before, to those who weren’t used to its flavor. Their solution was to try to change or cut the full flavor. So instead of allowing the text to speak by just preaching it book-by-book, chapter-by-chapter, and verse-by-verse, they approached it through the lens of topics or felt needs. Instead of preaching what it said, no matter how difficult or controversial, they neglected the tough texts in favor of the easy ones. Verses were preached in isolation, not unity, and the Bible was made out to be little more than a means of learning how to live a better and more successful life.
After a few years of that, Aileen and I began to have these disquieting stirrings, these deep concerns that something was missing, that something had gone wrong. But we didn’t know exactly what it was. Then one day we visited another church in the area and an amazing thing happened: The pastor simply preached a text. He opened the Bible, he told us what it said, and he told us why it mattered. It was a tough text, but he did not water it down or run from it. He felt no need to add to it or adapt it. He just preached it. And it was amazing. Once we had tasted that undiluted Word, we realized how delicious it really was. We were ruined to anything less. We still are.
It has been many years since that first cup of coffee and I love it more than ever. I still drink it straight-up black. And more than ever I am committed to the straight-up Word of God, to never diluting it, and to never adding anything to it. It’s absolutely perfect and downright delicious just the way it is.