This is not a test to give someone else. We’re not so much interested in gauging someone else’s Bible knowledge as we are trying to encourage Bible learning. So, this is an exercise for those of us who have preached God’s Word for decades and/or taught it in classes, Sunday School or otherwise.
I. NAME THE BOOKS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT IN ORDER. Write it down in a vertical column. That’s simple enough, right? Give yourself 10 points for getting it right.
It’s good to stop and look around sometimes and ask ourselves some questions. We can think of a hundred such questions to ask ourselves: Where are you going? How did you get here? Are you doing what the Lord intended when He sent you here? Can you do it better? How can you do it better? Are you preaching grace, the cross of Jesus, forgiveness and love or something harsh and unyielding? How would someone who had never heard of Jesus react to your message?
On and on. There is no end to the questions. But I am not suggesting that we burden ourselves with a constant barrage of self-doubt. Only that once in a while, we should stop and take inventory.
Here are five questions that occur to me for every minister to ask ourselves…
Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would have no sin. But because you say you see, your sin remains.” And the Pharisees said, “Huh?” (John 9:41. Sort of.)
My pastor preached on the Lord’s healing of “the man born blind” from John 9 yesterday. Pastor Chip Stevens did his usual superior job with it. He spoke of how Jesus saw people whom others overlooked, saw circumstances in a different way, and saw his purpose clearly. And, the people standing around that day were blessed to see the work of God right before their eyes.
I did what I always do when listening to a good sermon: I opened my notebook and let my mind roam far afield. I’m like the hunting dog who never stays close to his master when he’s turned loose, but is always on the prowl. That’s me. I listened and thought and jotted down things.
I find myself wondering about that fellow, the one formerly blind….
–I wonder how he felt being the object lesson of the disciples’ theological discussion? (9:1-2). They talked about him as though he were not there. Ask any blind person. They know that feeling.
I hate the way these things work, but it is what it is.
I’ll post something on here such as “the three best decisions I ever made in the ministry” and few people will bother to look at it. But come out with “the first worst decisions” or “the meanest deacon” or “my biggest regret” and it gets all the attention. Human nature, I suppose.
Motorists slow down to gawk at the wreck on the highway, but no one bothers to study the driver who did well. Obviously.
So, rather than announce “five great decisions preachers make in choosing sermon material,” we will talk about errors they make while doing that. Here are five that come to mind.
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God…. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented–of whom the world was not worthy. (Hebrews 11:16,37-38)
It’s commonplace these days for the older generation–let’s say those of retirement age and beyond–to point something out: This generation of young people mistakenly think things have always been this way. Always this affluent. Ever this easy. Always this prosperous.
This generation has no way of knowing, other than being told or reading about it in histories, how recent are smart phones, laptops, rear-view cameras, airbags, and GPS. We not only got along without them for most of my lifetime, we didn’t even give it a thought. We thought we were doing very well, in fact.
I was born in 1940. I was a teen in the 1950s, the “Happy Days” generation, when a decent new car could be purchased for $2,000. When a relative once drove his new Lincoln Continental to a family get-together, we were stunned to see it had air-conditioning: Two plastic tubes coming up over the back seats blowing cold air into the interior. The car, someone said, cost $5,000. More than a year’s salary.
This is not going to be a “back in my day” retrospective, but give me a moment here please.
The best thing in the Bible might be Exodus 34:6-7.
And the Lord passed before (Moses) and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgressions, and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation. “
It’s the best because it’s God’s self-revelation and it reveals Him to be pure love. Exodus 34:6-7 is the Old Testament corollary to I John 3:8,16 which say “God is love.”
Exodus 34:6-7 is the best because it’s quoted all through the Old Testament. Moses prayed it in Numbers 14:18. Nehemiah sang it in Neh. 9:17. Joel held it out as the reason God’s people could expect revival, in Joel 2:13. David sang it in Psalms 86:15, in 103:8, and in 145:8. Jonah complained about it in Jonah 4:2. And we find fleeting quotes from it throughout Jeremiah, such as in 32:18.
Do you want the schools to teach the Bible? Do you want prayer returned to the schools? Would you like stores and movies to shut down on Sundays? Taverns too?
If so, you would have loved life in the South in the 1940s.
Jerry Clower–the wonderful Mississippi comedian and Baptist deacon whom I was honored to call friend–used to say, “My mama wants prayer in the schools. But what she means is she wants a Southern Baptist prayer. She does not want anyone and everyone leading the children in prayer.”
When the city council or state legislature decides to open each session with prayer and they start inviting outsiders to lead those prayers, they are duty-bound to respect all denominations and all religions in their area. It’s the fair thing to do.
They will get every conceivable prayer and pray-er. It’s a given, and there is not a cotton-picking thing anyone can do about it. It’s the price they pay for wanting to begin with prayer.
Believest thou this? (John 11:26) — Where is your faith? (Mark 4:40). — These things are written that you may believe. (John 20:31). — Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. (Mark 9:24).
“I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth on Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26)
I’m asking you to believe that. And rejoice because you are going to live forever.
“For we know that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
I’m asking you to believe that. And to look up with hope because the best is yet to be.
I was reading The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough. The people in mind, these adventurous settlers who are the focus of this latest book by our favorite historian, were taking civilization into far-off…Ohio. In 1787, this was the edge of civilization. It was “The West.”
Some snippets are worth pointing out…
–One character in the book, the Reverend Manasseh Cutler, once visited with Benjamin Franklin and left us a description of the man. It appears he was expecting a little more than what he got….
…a short, fat, trenched old man in a plain Quaker dress, bald pate, and short white locks, sitting without his hat under the tree…. (pp.20-21)
But as they talked, Franklin became animated and Cutler was drawn in and captivated by the man’s charm in the same way countless others had been before him.
So much for first appearances!
I’ve known of pastors who were basically ignorant of Holy Scriptures for one reason or the other, and who fed their sheep little to nothing from the pulpit. In this day, however, there is no excuse for a pastor not knowing his Bible. Resources literally bombard him from all sides, offering numerous ways to get help in learning this most precious of all Books.
When a pastor does not know the Word of God, he will….
One. Preach his pet scriptures over and over again.
Two. Surf the internet for catchy sermon titles and messages which he can recycle.