A martyr’s pose, a burden, and a call to serve

My church has various community groups that meet on Sunday nights in homes for food, instruction, and, of course, community. Five classes are offered in the course of a year, each set in an eight-week rotation. The children have their meal and instruction at the church building and their teachers rotate each 8 weeks.

Yeah, it’s complicated but it works.

I am currently three weeks into my eight week children’s teaching responsibility. I have lamented loud and often over my dislike of teaching children, criticized teachers whose groups run late and whose participants are thus late in picking up their kids, and just generally whined and cried all the while striking a rather dramatic martyr’s pose.

Just keepin’ it real.

Something my husband said to me recently drew me up short and made me realize for all my disdain, I had been given both a privilege and an opportunity—one I had actually volunteered for, mind you—even if it wasn’t the sort of privilege and opportunity I most enjoyed. I’ve always maintained that I will rock the babies during my turn in the nursery and, yes, teach the children (for eight weeks a year, mind you) because someone once rocked my babies and taught my children, affording me the opportunity of a few moments’ peace and an uninterrupted among grown ups, yes and amen. In other words, I always thought I was serving the moms and I do.

I also serve the children. Sure, they interrupt me when I’m talking and they can’t remember one week’s lesson from the next and they surely would prefer a funner and funnier teacher (I would!). Hello, I don’t even do crafts.

But I do have a burden: Biblical literacy. Thus what motivates me to teach women on Sunday mornings in Sunday school and on Tuesdays in Bible study also motivates me to teach children on Sunday evenings. So every lesson I emphasize the following points:

  • Everyone has a Bible in front of them. We work together to find the correct passage and we read it together. We rejoice in the incredible, amazing privilege we have to read and hear God’s Word for ourselves!
  • We pray before our lesson because we acknowledge that God is the author of His Word and we need His Spirit to help us understand. We want to know more about Jesus, about the gospel, about God, about ourselves, and about the Bible. These things are spiritually understood and we need the guidance of the Spirit so we prayerfully and humbly ask.

These are simple truths but they are truths that I didn’t fully grasp until I was an adult and once I did, my spiritual life was radically changed. My passion is for others to see the beauty of God in Christ as revealed in His living Word. May the Lord do so and more in the lives of the children who must suffer my teaching on Sunday evenings!

I know that we all want to serve in ways we most enjoy. Sometimes we get to; sometimes, however, the need lies in the sort of service that tries our patience and exposes our arrogance. I am ashamed of those times in my life. Let me save you the same heartache and remind you: it is our privilege to serve others as Christ served His disciples, on His knees washing their feet.

I daresay your church is like mine and is in need of willing volunteers, particularly in children’s ministry. If you belong to the Lord Jesus then you have a message to share and a story to tell and, whether you are a man or a woman, whether you feel gifted or called, the next generation needs to hear them. My story is not your story, thankfully, but all our stories fit together in the grand, glorious Story of grace and redemption found only in Jesus Christ. May you find a need and fill it, serving others as you have been served!

The Lord God Saves His People

I actually wrote this post a couple of months ago. I post it now, well, for a couple of reasons. Some days it feels as if the world has gone crazy and everywhere I turn the news is either sad or bad. I find the book of Judges to be, strangely enough, a comfort.  Though times were certainly sad and bad–and crazy!–the Lord did not and would not abandon His people. Then and now true hope is only found in the mercy of the Lord.

And I don’t speak only of the global news cycle. For my church, it is our privilege to bear one another’s burdens through difficult and devastating circumstances. The book of Judges reminds us the Lord will be faithful; we trust His continued mercy and grace. 

I am currently teaching the book of Judges in the Bible study I lead on Tuesdays. What a fascinating—and sad—book! A few weeks ago we discussed chapters four and five and the two women featured there: Deborah and Jael.

And who can’t be fascinated by Jael? The evil commander Sisera is fleeing the battle and happens by her tent. She beckons him inside and he, knowing her husband to be a sympathizer, accepts her offer of refuge. She, however, has other loyalties, and drives a tent peg through his forehead, thus killing him while he sleeps. Talk about a strong woman of valor!

We discussed why some might find Jael a troubling savior. She lied, for one, and committed murder in cold blood, for two. What do we make of that? I asserted that we must recall the point of this narrative and of the book of Judges as a whole: that the Lord God saves His people. Thus Deborah’s song can exalt Jael as most blessed among women because she was the instrument of the Lord’s deliverance.

We must also trust the Lord when we encounter these seemingly ethical and moral quandaries, Jael not being the only example. As careful Bible students, we must distinguish between what the Bible is reporting and what it is commanding. Not all passages are meant to be prescriptive.

And finally I made the point that in Sisera’s death we see the awful but certain truth that the Lord will defeat His enemies. His wrath is sure. This a terrible truth taught to us in both the Old and New Testaments. The Bible is clear: the wages of sin is death and all who reject the Lord and persist in rebelling against Him will suffer His punishment.

But there is good news for those who are in Christ Jesus! He bore the punishment for our sins on the cross and we who repent and believe Him are now free! Not only that but we can trust Him with justice against those who have hurt us. I said yesterday that I didn’t know how those in class with me may have suffered at the hands of another—and I didn’t—but that the Lord is faithful and He will repay.

After class I learned that one of the ladies new to our group had indeed suffered horribly and tragically. Her story is hers to tell and I won’t share the details here; it is enough to know that she has endured a tragic loss. It was a difficult lesson for her, she admitted. “Finally, ultimately, I have to trust the sovereignty of God,” she said. “And I love Him more today, I trust Him more, and I know Him better.”

I left Bible study with a sober and heavy heart, saddened by the evil that seeks to devour. I thought over my lesson with its confident assertions; were they merely pat answers, full of the easy, empty ignorance that knows nothing of true suffering? My friend’s faith humbles me. Her story pierces through our (my) comfortable, unchallenged best life now to remind us (me) that evil is real, belief is hard, questions remain, but the Lord is trustworthy and His grace is sufficient.

My friend’s testimony is that of the book of Judges: the Lord God saves His people. This is not only the truth of Judges, but of the whole Bible and of the gospel message. He will have victory over His enemies, among whom we all once were apart from the grace of God. His mercy is our only hope, our only salvation, our only security, our only lasting joy.

 

Monday morning worries

For many years I taught ladies’ Bible study on Sunday nights during the Discipleship Training hour at my church. This meant I learned to dread Monday mornings when all that I should have said and didn’t and all that I did say and shouldn’t came back to haunt me. I know now it was a lack of faith and no small amount of self-consciousness that drove most of my Monday fretting, not to mention the very real need for evaluation and improvement.

I no longer teach on Sunday evenings but, hello, Wednesday mornings following Tuesday Bible study have the same capacity for despair. However, I learned through the years to stifle my insecurities, at least for the most part, as I realized that the Lord is sovereign even over my little class and my simple lessons and it is He who works to accomplish His will for His good pleasure. What freedom! What confidence! What grace!

I taught a women’s conference this past weekend. The conference was hosted by my dear friend’s church in Louisiana and I loved being with my friend and hanging out with her and the friend who made the drive with me, seeing my friend’s people, and meeting her lovely church family. I basically taught a crash course in Biblical theology, three sessions on Saturday and one on Sunday in place of the usual ladies’ Sunday school class.

I drove home Sunday evening and I awoke Monday morning with the same old Monday insecurities eating me alive and they continue even today as I type this on Wednesday. Maybe because I taught topically which is something I never do. Maybe because I am accustomed to being able to amend and improve my point with next week’s lesson in my usual Bible study setting. Maybe because I am self-conscious and self-absorbed. Maybe because it’s true that I really didn’t give my best showing.

I know that most of you are not Bible teachers but I imagine you well understand the plague of insecurity and doubt. It’s no fun and I do not want to wallow in it. I doubt you do either. Here’s what I’m telling myself today:

  1. Remember the gospel. You knew this was coming, right? Because of Jesus I am fully forgiven, completely accepted, wholly and perfectly loved. No matter what. My identity, my worth, my vocation, all are found in Christ, not in how well I taught a lesson or how much I am liked or esteemed. Jesus is my treasure and my life. My life is hidden in Him.
  2. Rest in the Lord’s sovereignty. He is at work and He will accomplish His will and it will prove to be good, acceptable and perfect. Though I am the Lord’s servant, it’s not up to me. I can trust Him to will and to work for His good pleasure.
  3. Humbly accept honest critique. I’ve no doubt I could do better and that there are areas I need improvement. These realizations are gifts of grace if I will accept them in humility and a teachable spirit.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still stewing and worrying. But as I do so, I’m preaching to myself these truths. What about you? What do you do with your insecurities and doubts?

Women need women teachers

One of the reasons (among many) I am passionate about teaching the Bible is my desire to see women push beyond the caricatures and the pigeonholes into the deep things of the Lord. By that I mean I want for us as women to embrace the study of doctrine and theology and be fully persuaded that the study of the Word of God carries deep implications for our real lives, no matter what that life may look like. Rocking babies, sitting at a soccer game, driving to work, mopping floors (crazy but I know some of you do)–these are spiritual activities and our theology profoundly affects how we carry them out.

But beyond that and even more pressing is my desire for women to know the Word so that they will know the God of the Word and that they will love Him and serve Him with the whole of their lives. This is why I teach. I long to see women called and gifted to do the same: to take up the mantel of serious Bible study, to teach, to encourage other women to press in and press on.

Thank goodness I’m not alone. In her book Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds Jen Wilkin devotes a section to why women need women teachers. This is also the subject of a post Jen wrote at TGC which you can read here.

Jen’s book and post give three reasons women need women rightly teaching the Word of God. First, we need the example of women teachers.

When a woman sees someone who looks like her and sounds like her teaching the Bible with passion and intelligence, she begins to recognize that she, too, can love God with her mind–perhaps beyond what she had thought necessary or possible.

Secondly, Jen writes, we need the perspective of women teachers who will “naturally gravitate toward application and examples that are accessible and recognizable to other women.” That is not to say she will feminize the text or draw unnecessary and extraneous touchy-feely type emotional applications. Rather she is uniquely able to speak truth into the feminine experience with a feminine voice.

Finally, speaking of speaking truth, we need the authority of women teachers.

A woman can address other women on vanity, pride, submission, and contentment in a way a man can’t. Women teachers hold empathetic authority over their female students; we have the ability to say, “I understand the besetting sins and fears of womanhood, and I commend to you the sufficient counsel of Scripture.”

Thus Jen concludes, “The church needs women teaching women.” And, as I’ve already said, I completely agree, and not just because I am a woman Bible teacher!

I wonder, though, how many churches implement the women-teaching-women construct well. It seems to me it is difficult to do in the course of normal church life, especially for complementarian churches, particularly so if you are a small complementarian church. In these settings the main teaching is done by the men and the women are needed to fulfill the many other crucial and critical roles of church ministry, from teaching children’s Sunday school to keeping the nursery. Thus most women’s ministry no matter its format generally happens outside normal church life.

In many churches women’s ministry is usually associated with fun and fellowship, both of which are important, don’t get me wrong. It is so in my own church and I love it. I value our times of fellowship together! However such an emphasis can inadvertently lend itself to the connotation that women’s ministry is an extra, a bonus, something to do if you don’t have anything else on the calendar that night. Fun, entertaining, but certainly not of the necessary nature highlighted above. Which is probably okay until we begin to change the way we think of women’s ministry to encompass women engaging women in the study of the Word.

We’re all busy, I understand that. Listen, I’ve taught Bible study long enough to no longer question the why’s and wherefore’s of attendance. Those who come, come. Those who don’t, miss out. 🙂 I also know that coming to Bible study isn’t on the lines of Sunday morning church attendance in importance in the life of the believer. I understand having busy schedules and pressing obligations and various conflicts, particularly so when the Bible study is outside the normal meeting times of the church.

But as I read Jen’s book I wondered how to best encourage women to capture the vision of God’s Word as relevant and crucial to their real lives. I know what it sounds like but, no, I’m not speaking necessarily of more women coming to my specific study. What I am saying is that I agree with Jen about the example and perspective and authority that women Bible teachers can offer other women yet I wonder how this passion is best communicated and caught.

In other words, it seems to me that though women teaching women is important and, I think critical, it is also difficult to effectively carry out both for the church and for women whose lives naturally and necessarily are prioritized elsewhere.

Are you in a church that has a vibrant ministry of women teaching women? What would you consider to be foundational to the effectiveness of this ministry?

When you meet trials of various kinds

How does this work? Some difficulty arises, big or small, and I am faced with the testing of my faith: “Is God there? Does He hear me? Is He good?” As I wrestle with these questions, how will steadfastness have its full effect in me?

There is not time or space here for a full theology of suffering but here are three truths that feed my endurance when faced with trials, big or small..

Check out the rest of my post at Out of the Ordinary here.

The more I seek

As I begin this post, it is Monday and I am in the middle of preparing my Bible study lesson on Philippians 3:1-11. By virtue of the text at hand my lesson can’t help but contain all the very best a good, gospel-rich Bible lesson should and will thus be representative of all I love about teaching the Word. So I am excited as I wade through notes and commentaries and books in order to construct what I hope will be a lesson that is encouraging and challenging and faithful to the gospel.

I am a little, I don’t know, nostalgic too. My heart is tender as I make my way through these verses. I have taught and prayed over Philippians 3, particularly verses 7-9 many, many, many times. There was a season of my life and ministry where I scarcely taught a single Sunday school or Bible study lesson without quoting those verses, often in the amplified version:

Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly]. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One)

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly]

~Phil. 3:8, 10 AMP

As I said, I prayed over these verses as well. I had them written out on notecards and in great fervency of spirit I would cry out to the Lord, begging Him for this kind of knowledge and intimacy and passion and zeal. I wanted Paul’s single-minded desire to know the Lord.

I wanted more. I wanted to know Jesus more. I wanted more love for Him, more passion for Him. I wanted the overwhelming preciousness and the surpassing worth of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him. I wanted my determined purpose to be to understand the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly. I wanted more.

I had no idea how the Lord would answer that prayer. I do know much has happened in the intervening years that I could not have imagined. So much so, in fact, that sometimes I feel almost a stranger to who I was then.

I don’t think that this, who and what I am now, is who or what I thought I would be when I begged the Lord for more. Maybe I thought I would have more confidence? More drive? A clearer sense of purpose? More success? I don’t know. Those weren’t exactly the things I was asking for all those years ago but I think maybe I assumed they would be part and parcel to the whole determined purpose deal.

But I can say this, with great humility and with great certainty: I have known the Lord’s faithfulness. I still believe, realizing afresh that my faith is as much a gift of grace as any other of His mercies to me. His grace to me was not and is not without effect! He who began the work in me has been and will continue to be faithful to complete it right up to the end. Yes, even and especially in my less-zealous days. For it is God who works in me to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Yes and amen.

Maybe this will encourage you as it does me: the Lord is faithful in ways we cannot imagine and in ways we often fail to see. Or feel. But He is faithful. He is indeed the more I seek.

Bring us the Book!

I’m writing today at Out of the Ordinary about Nancy Guthrie’s plenary message from Nehemiah 7 and 8…

…that beautiful passage of Scripture where Ezra teaches the book of the law to the people and all who hear understand. Nancy called our attention to Nehemiah 8:1 where Nehemiah reports that the people “told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.”

“Bring us the book!” Nancy imagined the people crying out and as she did so throughout the auditorium various women echoed the cry. “Bring us the book!” Nancy called out again and again the cry reverberated throughout.

It was obviously arranged beforehand yet striking just the same. As we called out for the Book, Nancy replied with the obvious application: O, that God would raise up women hungrier for the Book!

Read the rest of the post here.

 

Status Report, post #TGCW14 edition

Sitting…on my back porch. It is a gorgeous morning, a slightly unusual one for July in that the temperature and humidity are a little lower thus making it actually quite pleasant out here. For now. I plan to enjoy it for as long as possible, rare as it is!

Drinking…coffee, black.

Recovering…from my trip to Orlando. Yes, still. I got home Monday and today is Thursday and yes indeed it’s taking me three days plus to get over a four day trip. A mark of a good trip in my opinion.

Pondering…the takeaway from the conference. What did I learn? I mean, I learned lots (!) but what is the main takeaway I want to concentrate on in terms of meditation and application? I think maybe I know but I am still pondering and praying through it all. Hopefully I will blog through some of my thoughts soon.

Loving…that I got to meet so many of my blogging and Twitter friends. Staci (of Writing and Living and my fellow writer at Out of the Ordinary) and I were instant BFF’s. We had fun hanging out through the course of the weekend. Chatting with other friends that I’d previously only known online was both surreal and incredibly encouraging. Not to sound like a fan girl, though I may or may not have totally embarrassed myself in the worst fan girl way in front of an author and blogger I greatly admire, but meeting women I respect so much was humbling in the best sort of way.

Laughing…with my girlfriends who made the trip with me over the fun we enjoyed last weekend. We had a blast. From shopping until we dropped at the outlets to the early morning fire alarm to other incidents I won’t mention in a public forum such as this, it was quite an adventure. I am so thankful for their friendship and for our shared experience at the conference.

Beginning…to plan toward Bible study this fall. I just started reading Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin (one of the many–many!–books I brought home from the conference). As I read I am reminded again of the holy privilege and sacred calling that is mine to encourage women to know the Word and that knowledge to fuel a love for the Lord. Yes and amen.

Thinking…of the precious reader who approached me at the conference to thank me for my blog. Yeah, this blog. Her sweet comments brought tears to my eyes. Thank you. You have no idea how much your words mean to me and how you encouraged me!

Pouring…another cup of coffee.

Happy July, friends!

Jonah, pity parties, and me

I’m writing today at Out of the Ordinary not about Jonah and the whale but about Jonah and the plant…

I always chuckle a bit there when the prophet of God throws his big pity party over the loss of the plant and, rather dramatically and with great histrionics, at least in my imagination, declares his desire to die. Drama, much?

Read my post here.

Happy Dance

Longtime readers will know that I tend to wax nostalgic at the close of a Bible study unit. To look back and see the Lord’s faithfulness over a course of study is overwhelming to me and my gratitude abounds for my friends and fellow Bible students who journeyed alongside.

This study, however, is a little different. That nostalgia, that gratitude, today it’s compounded several times over because TODAY WE FINISHED THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS!

Cue the caps lock, the happy dance, the victory lap, and the high fives. All are appropriate and warranted because the prophets, y’all. THE PROPHETS. Obadiah, Nahum, Haggai, all of those seemingly mysterious and remote, and frankly irrelevant, books of the Bible, we covered them. We not only covered them, we learned from them. We studied their messages and we heard the voice of the Lord speaking not just to their specific historical audiences but to us as well. We saw the holiness of God, the horror of sin, the justness of God’s wrath, and the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yes and amen.

Given my elation and sense of accomplishment, I have to ask myself what I thought would happen when I took this leap of faith way back last August and September. Truth be told, I had no firm idea of how it would all come together but two things I knew for sure, I was in over my head and no one teaches the prophets. I mean, no one.

I think I worried a little that after a few months, or after only a few weeks maybe, all that would remain of our group would be me and my friend who loves me, everyone else unafraid to tell me the harsh truth that there’s a reason no one teaches the prophets and that I really had jumped off the deep end.

I was wrong, blessedly and gloriously wrong.

It is, obviously, difficult for a teacher to exercise her gift absent any students. I tell my class from time to time–and never have I meant it more than I do today–that they are the Lord’s grace to me, His goodness pressed down, poured out, rich, overflowing, abundant. I wrestle with teaching, not only the call and the gift, but also the actual doing. Sometimes I dread it as much as I love it, maybe more. I know quite well that there are more gifted, more knowledgeable, and certainly more skilled teachers of the Word. Just check out the video study section at your local Lifeway store!

But the ladies who join me on Tuesday mornings, these friends of mine, these godly women whose love for the Lord and for His Word challenge and inspire my own, week after week they sit before me with their Bibles open and their hearts eager and attentive and I am so humbled I could nearly weep.

Grace. It’s all grace. The Lord is so faithful! Cue the happy dance; we finished the prophets, y’all!