Preparing for the gospel ministry? Bring a strong curiosity.

I came by it honestly. My dad, a coal miner with a 7th grade education, was interested in everything. He read and learned and talked to us of all kinds of subjects.

In college, I changed my major from science (physics) to history because the professors in the science building were focusing more and more on tinier and tinier segments of the universe, whereas history deals with the entire sweep of life, every person who ever lived, every civilization, every lesson learned. Nothing is off limits to history.

That did it for me.

I’m remembering a life-changing trip to Southern Italy in 2012.  After several days of ministering to pastors and spouses from churches of many countries, I was among a busload who spent several hours touring the ruins of Pompeii, the Italian city devastated by the eruption of Vesuvius in August of A.D. 79. It was truly unforgettable. So much so, that….

After my arrival home in New Orleans, the next afternoon I was in our public library reading up on Pompeii. I checked out a Robert Harris novel titled “Pompeii,” and finished it the next night.

I felt like I’ve been living in Pompeii all week.

On my next trip to the library, I read up on the Roman aqueducts, which was a major theme of the novel.

Why? Of what possible use is this in my ministry?

Answer: I had no idea.  It was just something I wanted to know.

A great curiosity is a wonderful thing for any Christian to have, but particularly for preachers. Why?

Curiosity makes you a more interesting, well-rounded person, but also a better Bible student.

Ask any mother of a three-old-child. All day long the toddler follows her around the house asking, “Why?”  He’s growing.

The curious student of God’s Word will bring three questions, among others, to the study of Scripture:

–1. Why did this happen?

Put another way, why was this story/teaching included in Holy Scripture?

–2. What does it mean?

We may safely conclude that God has not included extraneous material in the Word, although much of it is different from the rest and not all will have identical values for us. But, studying a passage, asking “what does it mean?” is good.

–3. How does this occur?

Using our imagination, we try to envision the scene Scripture describes. What was going on?  Who was present and what were they thinking/doing?  What would I have been doing had I been present?

Curiosity takes Scripture seriously.

Let’s look at a minor detail in the healing of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho, as recorded in Mark 10.

They called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Be of good cheer. Rise. He’s calling you.’ And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus. (Mark 10:49-50)

When Luke tells the same story (Luke 18:35ff), he omits details Mark gave, such as the name of the beggar, some of the conversation, and the way Bartimaeus cast aside his garment (some translations say “mantle” and others “coat”). What are we to make of this?  Here are some thoughts….

–It seems likely that Mark’s was an eyewitness account. Early sources indicate the Apostle Peter told his story to John Mark who wrote it down. Therefore, we could expect to find telling insights here not found in Luke, since we are told specifically that Luke researched his account from various sources (Lk. 1:2).

Personally, I read Mark’s gospel with more fascination just knowing we’re hearing Peter’s account.

–And the business about the garment, what of that? We’re not told. It’s the kind of detail an eyewitness would give. But I’ll give you my opinion, for whatever that’s worth.

I wonder how often the blind beggar of Jericho had fought off the dogs for that coat. It could not have been clean, and probably was not in very good condition. I suspect that “rags” is a better description than “mantle” or “coat.”

This treasured garment which the beggar had fought for and desperately needed in his poor condition, he now tosses aside as though it is nothing. He is about to meet Jesus and he will not be blind any longer. He will not be a beggar any more. He will no longer be needing that rag.

Life was about to get infinitely better for Bartimaeus.

Imagination now activated. I find myself wondering also, if Bartimaeus–now healed and seeing clearly, jumping up and rejoicing and following Jesus down the road into the city–when he walked past his former begging spot by the road, did he know that’s where he had sat day after day? And did he look down at the despicable rag laying there and think, “Someone ought to pick up their trash”?

This is a reminder of what we give up when we come to Jesus: rags. Trash. (See Philippians 3:8)

A healthy curiosity must always be yielded to the Holy Spirit and instructed by Scripture.

Novelist Anne Rice wrote a story from her active imagination on the boyhood of Jesus in Nazareth. When I saw in a review that she had the Lord performing childish miracles, that did it for me. He did no such thing.  And how do we know that?  Consider this….

Scripture says plainly that the miracle at the wedding of Cana was His first miracle (John 2:11). There is no record anywhere of a previous miracle. In fact, childhood miracles–as though Jesus were Superboy of Smallville–would have been detrimental to His later work for many reasons.  Had the young Jesus been performing miracles in Nazareth, the townspeople would not have been surprised when the adult Jesus began ministering and healing. And yet not only were they surprised, they were hostile and angry at the very idea.  Furthermore, had the boy Jesus been performing miracles, the murderous Satan would have identified Him and done all in his power to destroy Him then and there. But none of that happened, because the Heavenly Father planned for  Jesus to grow up a normal Jewish boy, indistinguishable from all the other young men of that region.

We’re told that Jesus’ neighbors were amazed when He began preaching and working miracles (see Luke 4:28-29 and Mark 6:1-6). Had they seen Him do wonders as a teenager, some would have been saying, “Yes sir, I told you that boy was bound for bigger things!” But no one thought it and no one said it because Jesus didn’t do it.

Our curiosity can get us in big trouble–off on strange tangents and into doctrinal quicksand–unless it is consecrated to the Lord Jesus Christ and subjected to God’s Word.

The enemy will often attack you at the point of your curiosity and imagination.

First, Satan will want to bore you with the Word. “There’s nothing there. You have been there and done that, friend.”  He is a liar, of course (John 8:44).  This is the most fascinating book ever!

Second, he will excite your curiosity and imagination over forbidden fruits, into more exotic fields. Early in my ministry, a young couple decided our church was too boring and left because they had discovered the occult.  While Scripture nowhere says there is nothing to the occult and forces of darkness–Satan has great power–it emphatically stresses that God’s people should avoid them.

Third, if you insist on bringing your curiosity to Scriptures and employ your imagination in the service of the Savior, the devil will attempt to divert it into meaningless pursuits. You will be tempted to devote hours, weeks, even years, looking into something that ends up yielding no fruit and having no meaning.  We should always pray for the Spirit to lead us along paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake (Psalm 23:3).

You have come to the kingdom at a great time, friend.

This is a great day for a teacher or preacher who is in love with God’s creation, who is excited about God’s Word, and is thrilled to be teaching His message. The resources today seem to be without limit.  The internet, the laptops, and the smart phones are incredible tools for research. (However, there is no substitute for the child of God sitting at a table before an open Bible with a note pad handy.)

Today, we can board a plane and be in Israel within 24 hours. We can walk where Jesus walked and see some of the very things His eyes took in. Returning home, we will forever see Scripture through different eyes.

Thanks to the internet, we can hear many of the best preachers in the world with very little effort. We can even hear messages from preachers who are now with God.  And, If we have a question about something we heard–a quote, a reference, a historical event, a person, a fact–well, that’s all at our fingertips too.

There is no place for dullness in the Kingdom of God or in His work.

It is the work of the devil to a) make his followers dull-minded and b) hoodwink them into believing that they are the ones living exciting lives and that to follow Jesus would require them to check their brains at the door. The opposite is the case.  The Apostle Peter told believers of his day, This is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men (I Peter 2:15).  The ignorance of foolish men! That’s what Peter thought of the so-called “wisdom” of his day that was attacking God’s people.

So, bring your brain, friend.  Bring your energy and imagination, your curiosity and your love for learning and growing.  Bring it all into the Kingdom with you. Put them under the daily lordship of Jesus Christ and see what He wants to do with them.

After all, this message was brought to you by a Christian cartoonist.

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