It was a typical church service. When time came for the sermon, I suggested that everyone turn in their Bibles to the text we would be considering.
That was all.
You will not believe the two completely opposite responses I received.
First, that week I received a letter from a Rosemary Warner, someone I did not know. Here is the letter in its entirety, unedited…
Yesterday I had the occasion to visit in your church. I didn’t know why I chose to do that. It just seemed like it was the thing for me to do, but now I know it was the will of someone much higher. He sent me there for a reason. I will not be back.
Do you enjoy the TV quiz program “Jeopardy”?
If so, you have lots of company. My young friend Josh Woo was a contestant on that program when he was maybe 12. Anyway…
What makes the program unique is its format. They give you the answer and you provide the question. For example, if they said “1492,” you would say, “When did Columbus discover America?” If they said, “George Washington,” you would say, “Who was the first president of the U.S.?”
Well. Did you know that much of the New Testament was written in the Jeopardy format?
The epistles, for instance, are letters answering various needs in the early churches. The problem is we are not given the questions they address. So we have to work our way back. We have the answer; what is the question?
This is semi-funny. In my retirement ministry–preaching in various churches–I naturally preach the passages that mean a great deal to me. And, since I know them so well, in many cases I quote the verses from memory. Often I don’t even carry a Bible to the pulpit with me. To read, I need cumbersome reading glasses, and if I already know the Scripture, what is the point? Just recite the passage and preach it. If someone asks–as they often do, probably not seriously– whether I have memorized all the Bible (try to imagine that!), I say, “No, I just preach the parts I’ve memorized.” That’s flippant, I suppose, but pretty much how it is.
I do love the Word of God. I love all of it, not just the parts I’ve preached again and again. And I love how those well-known familiar passages keep yielding insights and blessings. Here are a few thoughts on ten passages that I dearly love…
One. Romans 8 is the mother lode of spiritual insight.
In my sermon on prayer last Sunday morning, Romans 8:26 played a huge part. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us…”
We are poor pray-ers. If the Apostle Paul did not know how to pray, it’s a lead-pipe cinch that you and I don’t!
But, we’re not to despair.
In a book of historical fiction on the Civil War, the author told of the train stopping in Birmingham, Alabama, and soldiers getting aboard.
That’s when I tossed it away.
Birmingham, Alabama did not exist during the Civil War. The city was founded in 1870, five years after the end of that war, and chartered the next year.
A western novel I was reading told of some goings-on in the city of New Orleans. The author made reference to the point at which Bourbon Street intersects with the Mississippi River. This famous street runs parallel to the river and at no point intersects it.
Then, the writer described a scene taking place in a New Orleans mansion “built in the mid-nineteenth century.” Well, hello. The story was taking place in 1865, by any accounts the middle of the 19th century.
Where were the editors, one wonders? Does no one in the publishing business read a book with a critical eye any more?
I stopped reading Fannie Flagg’s new book “The Whole Town’s Talking” a third of the way in. My daughter-in-law did the same thing. The difference is I had bought the book, whereas Julie had only to return hers to the library.
“So the brethren brought Saul down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace….” (Acts 9:30-31).
After they slipped the new disciple, Saul of Tarsus, out of the city, the Jerusalem disciples had peace. The work flourished.
Some people bless the Lord’s work more by leaving than by arriving and working.
That’s what started me thinking about this….
The church building was relieved when the last pastor resigned. It sighed with relief. The sanctuary knew quietness and peace again. Its ulcers eased and started healing. The church office grew calm and the pastor’s study went into a fast.
The conference room had more meetings than before, since more committees are required to run a program when one man is not calling all the shots. A dictatorship is the most efficient form of government, we read. But the Lord’s church was never intended as a one-person rule.
These, however, were purposeful meetings. The walls breathed easily as the voices within prayed and affirmed.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord….” (Romans 11:33-34)
I do not understand all the prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation.
Nor do you.
Nor is it necessary that we do.
Sorry if you find that offensive, friend. After a half-century of considering these things–what has been written and preached and declared as “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” from pulpits far and wide–I feel confident in saying that so far, no one expositor has gotten it all right.
That’s my opinion. You’re welcome to yours. But we will go on loving each other in Christ.
The list of other things we do not understand (or agree on!) is extensive.
“(The devil) was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
If I were the devil, I would do everything in my power to keep you from the Word of God. I would say anything I could think of, anything I thought you would believe, anything that works, to get you to read other things.
As Paul said, “We are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11). We know how he works. And here are some of the lies we have noticed pouring out of his factory, all geared toward destroying confidence in God’s Word.
One. “You already know it, so don’t read it.”
He’s lying to you. You do not know it. I’ve studied the Bible all my life and in no way could I say I “know” it. I know a great deal about it, but there is so much more. For the typical church member to shun the Bible because “I’ve been there and done that” is laughable.
When the Bible says something unequivocally with no question and without complication, God’s people are on safe ground saying, “God said this and it’s so.”
Such statements would include salvation by grace through faith, the virgin birth of Jesus, and the inspiration of Scripture. The resurrection of Jesus is attested by all four gospels and Acts, plus the various epistles.
Only those who deny that holy scripture is God’s Word say otherwise.
But when good and faithful followers of Jesus see Scripture passages differently, for one to accuse the other of denying the Word can be most unfair and unChristlike. Rather, they should “man up” and do the adult thing and say, “This is how I see it; many good people disagree.”
In teaching our people, we can say, “God’s people differ on this, but I’d like to share with you what I believe this is saying.”
“Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5:20).
I feel like I have a delivery to make.
I will drive 130 miles up the interstate and across some state highways, greet the members of Centreville, Mississippi, Baptist Church, and then join their worship service. At the appointed time, I will rise and ask them to turn to Matthew 10.
All week long, I have lived in Matthew 10. I’ve read it, thought about it, written about it, read about it, and talked to the Lord about it. I feel I have a load to delivery.
When I drive South this afternoon, I will feel spent. Empty. Unburdened. And drained.
“And upon that law does he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
“Thy word have I hid in my heart….” (Psalm 119:11)
To meditate on the word of the Lord in the middle of the night requires one to know it. So, someone–the writer of the first Psalm–has been memorizing Scripture.
Since people in biblical days had no books as we do, when they heard the Word read, they seized upon it eagerly and worked to remember as much as they could. No doubt that, more than anything else, accounts for the way Scripture is quoted throughout the Bible: never verbatim. They were going by memory.
You and I have Bibles all over the house and rarely give a thought to memorizing it.
Perhaps we’re like Einstein. According to the story, which may be apocryphal, when asked for his phone number, the great man went to the phone directory and looked it up. His visitor was incredulous. “You don’t even know your own phone number?” Einstein said, “I refuse to clutter my mind with information that is easily accessible elsewhere.”
I suppose that’s why we don’t memorize the Word. All we have to do is open our phones or laptops or pull down the volume from a shelf, and it’s all there. But if this is our plan, it overlooks a major factor: Christians need the Word inside us, not just alongside us.
I started memorizing Scripture as a child. And kept it up as a pastor.