This Bible study guide contains questions from Ephesians 4:17-32 (morning sermon), Ezekiel 36:22-32 (supplemental reading to the morning sermon), and Mark 10 (evening sermon).
You've been hard at work studying a passage of the Bible for an upcoming lesson. You've been thinking, plumbing the depths, and working on grasping some difficult point or making a connection between the text and your world. That connection is just about there, things have just about come together...and then the phone rings.
What do you do?
Your train of thought is gone. The connection you had just about made has evaporated. How do you respond to this?
Many books on ministry encourage ministers to view interruptions in a positive way. God may be at work, providing a way of connecting you to his work in a person's life (the interrupter). David Hansen, in his excellent book The Art of Pastoring, says, "Pastoral ministry is not work. It is riding on the free winds of the Spirit."
How do we ride that wind?
We might begin by viewing interruptions as an opportunity to deliver grace.
Some of us are very good at being around people. But when we are alone, we want to be alone. This may not be where God wants us. Hansen also notes that pastoral ministry involves only two things: listening to God (in the Bible) and listening to people. Some of us are very good at listening to God in the Bible and we need a little help to listen more to people.
Hansen also asks, very perceptively: Do you love people, or do you love the experience of being around people? Many of us love the exhilaration of preaching well on Sunday and then being surrounded by many after the sermon, engaging in small talk. But pastoral ministry requires us to go deeper. Sometimes a simple phone call can be the needed interruption to help us engage with people.
I was interrupted once. I was hard at work late in the week in a lesson I hadn't been able to get to earlier. (It was a busy, busy week.) As I sat in the church building alone, I heard the doorbell ring. My first thoughts were negative: "I don't have time for this." But I went and answered the door, finding a woman who needed help to buy some groceries. Begrudgingly, I left the office and went to the supermarket to buy her some groceries. Later, I felt good about myself for doing a good deed.
About a month later, I was working late again one day at the office and the door bell rang. It was the same woman. This time, she wanted to come in to talk. We sat in the foyer for about an hour, discussing her life and some situations she was involved in. I was distracted, worried about my lesson. On Sunday, I was disappointed with my sermon. I looked back to this visit and wondered if it took needed time away from my lesson. Did it matter? What was more important?
About a month later, as I began to preach, I noticed this woman in the congregation. She was with us a guest! Over time, she began attending regularly. She brought her family. I baptized her. We were able to help her with some marriage problems. Later, I baptized both her husband and one of her daughters.
Salvation proceeded from an interruption. Grace was delivered through a door bell.
Another time I went to visit a church member in the hospital. I only had time for a quick visit, but on my way out, the person in the bed next to him asked me to talk with him for awhile. I didn't have time, but I stayed. We talked. He asked me to pray for him. I did. He cried. Then I left.
I felt bad about my reaction of feeling as though I didn't have time so I planned to go back to visit him again when I went back to see the church member. The church member was released the next day. I went back anyway. The man had been moved and I couldn't find what room he had been moved to. On Sunday, the church member told me that the man couldn't believe that I would spend time with him. This conversation led to an opportunity for the church member to share the gospel with this man. I don't know what happened with the man, but the gospel was preached because of an interruption.
Interruptions can be a means for grace to be delivered. Who knows who is on the other end of the phone line? Who knows what spiritual needs exist in the life of the person at the front door of the church building? I sure don't. God does. And maybe the "random" encounter, the interruption, is God's way of bringing life out of death. What if we miss it?
I try to think differently about interruptions now. I'm definitely not perfect. I grimace more often than not if the phone rings while I'm studying. But I'm trying to learn to put down my books and answer the phone without letting it go to voice mail.
Ride the free wind of the Spirit and be God's agent of grace for those unexpected people God brings into your life.
This study guide contains questions from Ephesians 4:1-16 (morning sermon) and Nehemiah 8:1-10 (evening sermon). Because the passage from Ephesians includes teaching about the purpose of grace-gifts to the church, I also included questions from 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12.
The study questions for next week are on spiritual leadership and servanthood.
Yesterday I finished a fairly popular book on being a Christian husband and father by a well-known evangelical author. I enjoyed the book and learned from it, but was disappointed with its lack of attention to serious dialogue with scripture. The book was well-written, but it made its points more from sociology and psychology than it did scripture. The irony is that the foundation of the author's argument was the need for men to become regular Bible readers!
This caused me to reflect on much of what I've read (and read about) in contemporary evangelicalism, and it seems to me that the most popular books are light on scripture, theology, and church history. When scripture is used, it is almost always used to proof-text something or to illustrate a point already made apart from the Bible. Experience first; Bible second. In this case, our experience serves our understanding of the Bible.
I don't mean that every book written needs to be a theological tome, or a doctrinal magnum opus. But what do we have to gain by being so light on scripture that some books don't even have a copyright notice of a Bible on the colophon page?
The outcome of this is simple: The more Christians read these Bible-lite books, the more we lose the larger picture--of the Bible, of God, his plan, of Christ, and so on.
When compared with books written by people from a Reformed perspective, or even a Catholic or Orthodox perspective, many contemporary evangelical books are lite-fare indeed. But someone might object and say those books are too difficult, too theological, or too entrenched; they're not "practical" enough. That's precisely my point--we sacrifice proper theology for the sake of what's practical; we water down our understanding and sacrifice it on the altar of ease.
Let us regain our heritage of being "back to the Bible," not in proof-texts or shallow assertions, but in knowledge of the story and the gospel. Let the gospel inform your understanding. Read books that hold to a high view of the Bible. Don't become anemic in your faith and understanding. If you've had a diet of these sorts of books, find a trusted person that can refer you to something stronger, with more meat in it.
This is the Bible study guide for February 5-11, 2012. On Sunday, I'm preaching from Ephesians 1-3, from the entire section devoted to Paul's description of God's plan and our role in it. The study questions are from those three chapters.