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Bible Questions: A Short List

Sunday I began the sermon from John 19 and the trials of Jesus with an idea that some of the juiciest places in the Bible are the questions. These lines that end in those crooked little scribbles called question marks are the places we can often fold ourselves into the easiest, with almost instant and always profound application. Here is a list of some of the highlights. I count them down from ten to one, but really, no order is necessary and there are far more than are included here.

10. Who has bewitched you, O foolish Galatians? (Galatians 3:1) Paul’s questioning of the Christians in the region of Galatia regarding false teaching. It is still a legit question for a religiously confused age.

9. What is man (human beings), that you are mindful of him (them)? (Psalm 8:1) A great existential question that leads to a doctrine of humanity, plus the Messianic implications of the New Testament usage.

8. Who touched me? (Luke 8:45) Jesus asked the question he already knew the answer to.

7. Shall I crucify your king? (John 19:15) Nothing makes me come face to face with my own sin like this question. Pilate thinks he is being clever. He is not. He is being theological.

6. Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:15) It is the question we all, I think, must answer.

5. Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29) The answer is a story, and the story’s point is that anyone who needs our help is our neighbor. ANYONE.

4. How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:3) The rhetorical question centers the book of Hebrews. The writer’s obvious point: there is no escape.

3. Where are you? (Genesis 3:9) To loosely quote Michael Stipe of R.E.M., that’s me in the corner, hiding from God behind the fig trees.

2. What should we do? (Acts 2:37) The essential question from Acts. The answer: repent!

1. Have you considered my servant, Job? (Job 1:8) The question we never want asked about us in the heavenly ream.

The more I think about this list, I ponder this would be a great sermon series. The series title could be something like, “The Question!” or maybe “Query” or perhaps I’ll just use a giant question mark–maybe in parenthesis (?) or perhaps in backslashes in a cool hip and with it way– // ? //  or maybe like this // ? \\ or perhaps \\ ? //

Yeah, except bigger and with color.

I’ll have to remember to preach this in 2020 or 2021 because this year is already full.

The List Sermon: Dos and Don’ts

This morning I’m working on the sermon I will preach in three weeks–that is Sunday, July 30. It is a part of my Nehemiah series for the summer. The text for the sermon is based upon Nehemiah 6:15-7:4 when Nehemiah proclaims that the wall, his great magnum opus, was complete.

I originally wanted this sermon to be a narrative sandwich style, but a funny thing happened as I was working through the material. A list emerged. First it was three things, then it was five, and by the time I had finished it was seven.

Am I really going to preach a list sermon? You betcha! list

List sermons have a fine pedigree as a communicative style. The early Puritans loved them. Speeches are often nothing more than political secular list sermons. Think about the State of the Union addresses–just a giant list of stuff. And blogs, the best blogs are always lists. You know its true.

The problem is list sermons have a terrible reputation. This terrible reputation comes from being abused by sloppy speakers serving up half-baked homiletics. Here are some lists on the dos and don’ts of a list sermon.

DO

  1. Tell your audience that a list is coming. Don’t try to hide it. Come right out and say “I’ve got five things I want you to think about . . .” Doing this creates built-in momentum toward the exciting last point.
  2. Make the last point exciting. Even if it is not chronological, make certain the last thing you list is a real zinger that will either make them laugh, cry, or form a pulpit committee to replace you. Whatever it is, make it memorable.
  3. Keep the list tied to the text. Oftentimes list sermons turn into elongated word studies that have little to do the text. Or opinions. Or someone else’s sermon you’re just copying.
  4. Use lists when the text is a narrative. It provides balance, because you already have the story in the Bible, and the list can help process it.
  5. Work hard to ensure all your listed points serve one big point which is the one point sermon. I am a big believer in the one point sermon–so my Nehemiah sermon has seven things, but they all point to the big point, which is “Nehemiah built the wall as a part of a process to secure the people from their enemies.”

DON’T

  1. Use clever acrostics with your list. Everyone hates those, and they are so 1980s. It only proves you know how to use a thesaurus.
  2. Spend too much time on the first one or two of your items and then cram the other six in the last paragraph of text or the last minute of speaking. Give equal time to all of your points.
  3.  Develop a list sermon when the biblical text is a proposition or . . . a list. Yeah, don’t use that list sermon, I don’t care how clever your acrostic spells out the name of your church, just don’t use that list sermon to preach the fruit of the Spirit, which in case you missed it, is a list! You need a narrative to preach a list or proposition.
  4. Proclaim that your list is exhaustive or declare “These are the six things you need to know . . .” because seriously, there might be eight. And, there really might only be two, and you just like the other four.
  5. Make your list too long. I once heard a sermon that was a twenty-seven (27!) point explanation or something. Actually, I didn’t hear that sermon, because I walked out on it.

There is probably a lot more I could list here, but I’ll just leave it at this, because I need to go write some more sermony things.

A RESPONSE TO BEN CARSON’S PYRAMID SCHEME

imrsRecently it has come to light that Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson once said publicly that he believed Joseph, as in the Bible’s Joseph, the one with the coat of many colors, sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, dreamer, and Vice President in charge of Famines for Ancient Egypt is the one who had the pyramids built in order to store grain in them.  Click here for a link to a CBS news article about it.

I just want to go on the record as saying that as much as I want to like Ben Carson–he really does seem like a nice guy–this is just crazy talk.  The Bible never makes any such claim, and for good reason.  The pyramids would have been complete overkill for the storage of grain, plus it would have taken too long to build them.  By the time they were finished, the famine Joseph was preparing for would have been long gone.

We can safely file Carson’s theory right alongside the one that says aliens built the pyramids.

Statements like this demonstrate that just because a person is brilliant in one field, such as neurosurgery, doesn’t mean he is an expert, or even competent, in other areas.

The troubling thing is that this kind of sloppy Bible talk makes all of us who take the Bible seriously look silly, and discredits the cause of the gospel in the world.  I just want everyone to know that not every Christ-follower who loves the Bible thinks or believes in such nonsense.

image from washingtonpost.com

DESERT ISLAND DEVOTION

A cruel, mean-spirited thought entered my mind this morning.  It was so heartbreaking I just had to share it with you.

What if, in some bizarro Rod Serling moment, you were marooned on an island.  You had plenty of supplies to live out your life to a long old age, so food, water, and shelter were not problem.  The problem was in this nightmarish world you could only choose five of the books in the Bible to have with you.  It is a similar conundrum to the ubiquitous “Psalm 126” where you’re stranded and can only have five albums of music.

Told another way–perhaps you’re stuck in a bleak story, something like Fahrenheit 451, and you can only have five books of the Bible because that is all you can safely hide from the book police.

Which five would you take?  It is heartbreaking because the whole Bible is precious, a “perfect treasure” that is linked to my very being.  So which ones?  If I had to make such a choice, here is what they would be.

  1. Psalms.  Without a doubt, if I’m on a desert island, I’m gonna need Psalms–all 150 of them.
  2. Isaiah.  It was close between Jeremiah and Isaiah, but in the end I decided the poetics of Isaiah would be helpful in my exile.
  3. Exodus.  I can’t have both Genesis and Exodus, and while Genesis is a great book, I think I’d take Exodus because it contains the great deliverance story of Israel, the decalogue, and a lot of other spiritual data.
  4. LukeJohnLuke.  John.  See, this one is tough.  Of the synoptics, Luke is the easy choice, but choosing between Luke and John, now that is hard.  I need a gospel on this island, and in the end I chose John simply because of the devotional, meditative quality of the material.
  5. Romans.  Of course it is Romans.  Romans contains such dense theological material and it is littered with many scripture quotations (which gives me insight into other books I couldn’t choose) all of which allows me plenty to chew on on this imaginary island.

I sure hope I never have to make this choice.  I would be interested to know what choices you would make?