I want to begin this post with a question: “Which reference book have you read multiple times?”
To answer my own question, I don’t remember. Maybe the closest would be Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” A few months ago, I was talking to my co-worker Colter and he agreed that Covey’s book was possibly a reference book anyone could read multiple times. After all, each Habit Covey discusses is so much in depth than you spent an entire weekend leadership seminar discussing just one Habit.
Christians have the similar experience when reading the Bible. A Christian can read a passage 10 years ago and it will be just as fresh as he is reading it for the first time. Take the most famous Psalm: Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
I don’t remember when I was the first time I read it, but in every stage of my life, to know there is a Good Shepherd and I lack for nothing is a promise. I have experienced God’s goodness in both times of plenty and times of need.
Psalm 23 is not the only passage.
About 13 years ago this coming June, I preached my last sermon from the pulpit. From that point, I became a layman again. I have led Bible studies, shared my testimony, or a short devotional, but no sermons. I had wanted to end my series with a bang – a final inspirational message. Instead, my topic was on the book of Romans chapters 9-11. For those not familiar with those chapters, the Apostle Paul wrote about God’s election, the Jews, and whether God has rejected them.
Those are the three chapters that are both controversial and skipped over.
How can a passage from the Bible be both controversial and skipped over at the same time? The controversy comes over exactly those topics: election and predestination. If God has elected people for salvation, does that mean God has also elected people for damnation? When it comes to the Jews, if God has opened the doors to the Gentiles, does that mean that He has rejected the Jews? Does that mean the Bible condones anti-Semitism?
Perhaps because it is so polarizing it gets skipped over. However, it is also skipped over for a different reason: it does not fit the perceived flow of the book but that’s another story.
About two years ago, my friend Zane who was then a church elder at my church. He had been reading Romans a few weeks ago and was not sure what to make of Romans 9. Having a big mouth, I said I had preached on Romans 9-11 and offered to send him my notes. We decided to meet today to talk. Over coffee, we talked about some of the highlights.
Perhaps one of the takeaways was the need to explain the Jewish context for half of the New Testament. I had originally preached to Chinese university students in a tiny house church and yet it is as applicable as ever today.
Zane challenged me to continue my analysis and answer this question: “What is next? How do you apply this?”
That’s a fair question.
In reading Romans 9-11, I think the church needs to reminded repeatedly that God has not forgotten the Jews. Regardless of your opinion on the modern State of Israel, we have to consider what God says. Ultimately Christians ought to reject any form of anti-Semitism. I know many critics bring up Martin Luther’s views and how the German church in the 1930s sadly accepted them wholesale. However, that is the only the opinion of one leader taken out of context and should not overshadow the rest of Luther’s work. Therefore, even in 2023, the sermon I preach is still very apt, especially with anti-Semitism rising to new levels.
Zane’s question is also apt because so many principles we learned years ago are still highly applicable today. For example, we learn addition and subtraction in elementary school and we have never stopped using them. Not at all. It’s called “Setting your budget.” Also known as balancing your checkbook (if you still have a checkbook). Whether you use an app or still manually do it, it is still the basic math you learned in 2nd grade.
Ultimately, the question for all of us is just how teachable/flexible we are. How open are you to new ideas? Or do you assume that you have learned everything there is to know about your field of expertise?