What to do when preparing to teach a Bible study at church

Somewhere I read that G. Campbell Morgan, the great British pastor and expositor, would read through a book of the Bible at least forty times before teaching it. Any less and he felt unprepared. 

We pastors often set aside a few days on the church calendar for an intensive Bible study on a particular theme or book of Scriptures.  Our denomination–the Southern Baptist Convention–has for many years promoted a “January Bible Study” or “Mid-winter Bible Study.” This time–January, 2019–it will be Revelation 2-3, “The Letters to the 7 Churches of Asia Minor.”

I’ll be teaching this for several days at a church near Birmingham, Alabama, and hopefully another place or two.  But months in advance, I’ve been working on it, trying to learn all I can in order to feel competent to teach it.  Never mind that I’ve taught through Revelation several times and preached sermons on these seven churches in the past.  None of that means much at the moment.  The challenge is not to dig out old notes and rehash ancient messages, but to listen anew for what the Holy Spirit is saying through His always-up-to-date Word.  The Word does not change, but its application to our daily lives is as fresh as it’s possible to get.

Furthermore, I’ve changed. I’m not the same person as decades ago when I pastored churches. So, I open the Scriptures and tackle this delightful project with excitement about what the Father has in store.

So, it’ll be interesting to see how this Bible study develops.

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Let’s not go beyond what the Lord said

For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy City, and from the things which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19). 

Someone says, “I’ve had a revelation from the Lord, something Scripture doesn’t address.”

Run, as fast as you can.

Scripture calls it “adding to the Word,” and it’s clearly verboten throughout the Bible, off limits to all who take seriously their devotion to the Lord and His Word. Deuteronomy 4:2 reads, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Need more?  Try these: Deuteronomy 12:32; Joshua 1:7; Proverbs 30:6. The Father is consistent on this point.)

Let’s not go beyond what the Lord says through His Word.  After all, Scripture teaches that Scripture is sufficient.  Some would call that circular reasoning.   That’s a possibility, but a better plan is that Scripture is Holy Spirit inspired. God knew what He was doing.

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The one book for your whole life

What great nation is there that has statutes and judgements as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?  (Deuteronomy 4:8)

A national news columnist–I forget his name–is from Okalona, Mississippi, just up the road from here.  In a column some years back, he was telling of visiting his 90-year-old mother, a retired librarian.  She had always been a voracious reader.  “Son,” she told him, “I’ve just finished reading the most fascinating book.”  As she showed it to him, he smiled.

“Mother,” said the columnist son, “I distinctly remember you telling me you had read that twenty years ago.  In fact, you bought me a copy.  Don’t you remember?”

“The way my memory is going,” she said, “honestly, I could just own one book.”

We smile at the idea of reading one book over and over again.  Those of a certain age will understand.

And yet, focusing on one book is exactly what disciples of the Lord Jesus do.  We read the Holy Bible every day and plan to do so for the rest of our days. We read it to know it, to know the Lord through reading it, and we read it to know how to serve Him.

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The Scripture’s description of your pastor

“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the work of a bishop (literally ‘overseer,’ meaning the pastor or chief undershepherd of the church), he desires a good work.  A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, one who rules his own house well….”  (I Timothy 3:1-7 is the full text.)

Dr. Gary Fagan was pastoring a church in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.  It was Wednesday night and time for the monthly business meeting of the congregation, usually an uneventful period for hearing reports on finances and membership and voting on recommendations concerning programs.  For reasons long forgotten, a man in the church–Dick was an engineer and a deacon–chose to stand and berate the pastor.  When he finished, he sat down and there was silence.

He was not used to being contradicted and the regulars were not foolhardy enough to take him on.

It took a new believer to do the job.

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Wondering what exactly “freedom of the pulpit” means

“Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). 

Marshall Ramsey, editorial cartoonist for our Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, told recently of his conversation with a colleague on another newspaper.  They were lamenting the rapidly dwindling number of editorial cartoonists. Marshall said, “When I got into this profession, there were less than 200 full-time editorial cartoonists. I’m not sure what an accurate count is today, but I’ve heard it’s a couple dozen.”

As newspapers go the way of dinosaurs–my friends say we who still depend on them for our news are the real dinosaurs!–they keep cutting back on staff.  Editorial cartoonists seem to have been some of the first to go.

Anyway, the two cartoonists were concerned over something that had just happened to a buddy on the staff of the Pittsburgh, PA Post-Gazette.  He’d been fired because his cartoons were “too critical of the President of the United States,” according to his publisher.

Marshall notes, “Saying an editorial cartoonist is too critical of a politician is the worst reason to fire an editorial cartoonist ever.  Critical editorial cartoons are as American as mom, apple pie, and Ben Franklin (he is credited with the first American one).”

So, how are things in Jackson between Marshall and the Clarion-Ledger, we wonder.  In his 21 years here, he says, “I’ve never taken an idea from an editor (or anyone else).  I have taken suggestions that might make the cartoon better or might make me realize I’ve done something really stupid.  That’s how editors edit.  The ideas are mine.”

His editors at the C-L, he says, do not want a cartoon they agreed with.  “They wanted the best cartoon I could draw.”  (see addendum)

Okay, fine. That started me thinking.

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Responding to Sabbath-worshipers

“The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

It often comes as a surprise to believers new to the faith that there are among us, in the Lord’s family, a small but vocal contingent who insist that true Christians should be worshiping on the seventh day of the week and not the first day, “The Lord’s Day,” as we call it.

Recently, on this page I told of a recent full-page ad in our local paper–and presumably in newspapers across the land–warning of the imminent fulfillment of the “seven trumpets” prophecies in Revelation.  The world’s population would soon be divided into two groups, said these doomsdayers. But whereas we would have expected the groups to be the faithful and the unfaithful, the sheep and the goats as Matthew 25 puts it, or something such, it turns out the single thing differentiating the two groups is one worships on the Sabbath, the seventh day, and the others on the first day of the week.  That’s it.

Truly amazing how much emphasis they put on a single command.  And they’re not alone.  Many who belong to denominations with “seventh day” or “Adventist” in their names promote seventh-day worship and rest and are constantly after the rest of the Christian family to get with the program.

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Deceived and being deceived: Trumpets sometimes blow wrong notes

“If the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?” (I Corinthians 14:8). 

A woman in a friend’s Sunday School class took exception to his reading a passage from The Message, the paraphrase of Scripture from the highly esteemed Eugene Peterson.  “It’s evil,” she said.  She will not be back to that church.

And if you think she’ll be spreading the word that that church is liberal and has gone over to the dark side, I’m betting you’ll be right.

An evangelist asked a man what translation of Scriptures he was reading from. “The NASB,” he said.  “The MacArthur Study Bible.”  “That’s a terrible translation,” he said. “It’s wrong.  And wicked.” Just so easily does he dismiss the work of hundreds of biblical scholars who know far more about Hebrew and Greek and the ancient manuscripts than that evangelist (or this preacher!) can learn in several lifetimes.

One of two things is true.  Either the attacker is correct and the overwhelming majority of God’s redeemed are deceived.  Or, the attacker has been deceived, is seriously misguided, and is now slandering a huge part of the family of God.  The latter, I believe, is the case.

Speaking of deceiving and being deceived…

The Friday June 22, 2018, issue of our Clarion-Ledger carried a full page advertisement from some end-of-the-world people who did not name themselves other than to give their website– www.worldslastchance.com.

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“Now, the Greek word used here means….”

The pastor says “Now, in the original Greek, this word means….” and church members roll their eyes.  Oh brother, some are thinking.

Or, he might say,  “In the original Hebrew, that word is…..and it means…..”

To the pastors among us, I ask: Is this necessary?

I find a great many church members are completely turned off by this little one-upsmanship of the preacher.  It feels to many like he’s showing off, bragging that he knows some Greek.

I’m not one to say the preacher is showing off.  After all, if he studied the language for a few years, clearly learning the Bible in its original forms is important to him, he is now capable of bringing in some of the finer insights from the Word.

But he must not overdo it by trying too hard or expecting too much.

I fear I’ve done this so many times in the past. Forgive me, members of the six churches I’ve served.

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The test of an honest person (when discussing religion)

“In all things, love.”  –I Corinthians 16:14

That’s one test of a believer and a mighty important one it is.  Our Lord said it is the mark of a disciple.  (John 13:34-35)

Look for the love.  Otherwise, you know this one with whom you are discussing scriptures and doctrines is no follower of Jesus.

The cultist you’re talking religion to across the table or across the continent feels no need to love you since he/she has decided you are not a follower of Jesus since you disagree with their doctrine.  I’ve sat at a table with a Jehovah’s Witness who was brutal and mean-spirited and who may as well have thought of me as a child-molester by the scoffing and belittling he was dishing out.  (I was a younger pastor, and had not learned that there comes a time when it’s all right to say, “This meeting is over,” and walk out.)

But while love is the first mark of the believer, there’s another test for determining whether the person across the table is an honest seeker.

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Why a good pastor-teacher keeps repeating himself. Or herself.

“To write the same things again is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1).

“Now, students, as I was saying….”

“Some of you in the congregation have heard me tell of the time….”

“To reiterate….”

“We’re in a series on “Steps to Finding the Perfect Church.”  Let’s begin by reviewing the first 153 principles which we covered last week….”

We all repeat ourselves, whether by intention or omission.  We seniors get accused of repeating the same stories over and over.  (I tell people I’m a pastor, and “Hey–it’s what we do!”)

The effective pastor-teacher not only may repeat himself, but must.  Good teaching involves something called  spaced repetition.  After saying something essential, the teacher goes on to something else or tells a story, then returns and repeats it, often making an additional point.

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