Glorious Repetition

I love Sunday school. I know in some circles Sunday school is considered old-fashioned, giving way instead to its hipper sister “life group” or “fellowship group” or some other nomenclature that carefully avoids both “Sunday” and “school.” As I’ve confessed before, I’m a church girl through and through, and, as such, I like Sunday school. I like it on a Sunday and I like that it is a school, presumably of learning.

I first taught Sunday school when I was in college. I was given charge of a group of girls, sixth grade I think, and each Sunday we sat in a circle and discussed the Bible and faith and Jesus. I loved it.

In the years since, I’ve taught middle school girls, college students, and young adults. I currently teach a ladies’ Sunday school class and each Sunday we sit in a circle and discuss the Bible and faith and Jesus and I love it still.

I once heard a famous author and speaker say that her proudest role was that of the lowly Sunday school teacher. Forget the thousands attending her conference or buying her book, it was the role of Sunday school teacher that meant the most. I get that.

Back when I was a young mom teaching middle school girls in Sunday school, I had the auspicious privilege of teaching the book of Job. Not my choice, mind you, but that of the curriculum we had been given. If I recall correctly, the study of Job lasted not one but two full quarters. Yep, six months. Which is no doubt adequate for a careful exposition in an advanced Bible class perhaps or maybe a sermon series. But for middle school girls? An eternity.

I felt as if I were repeating myself. “You know what Job’s friend said last week? He says again. And how Job protests his innocence? Yep, Again.” Or, “Remember when we said God is sovereign even in our struggles? Yeah, that. Again.”

Maybe those middle school girls, for all their talk of boys and clothes and friends, learned something. Evidently I did. Repetition prompts retention, proven by my repetitious teaching in Job over twenty years ago and me still talking about it here today.

I felt much the same way teaching through 1 John in my Tuesday morning Bible study. this spring Not only are the themes of faith, love, and obedience repeated throughout the letter but John often says the same thing, or a slight variation of it, multiple times in his short 5 chapter letter. I once confessed to my friend that I was finding it difficult to get excited about preparing nearly the exact same lesson I’d just taught the week before!

But repetition prompts retention and I daresay one reason John keeps repeating himself is that his readers needed those truths drummed into their heads and hearts over and over and over until they didn’t just know it, they knew it. In fact, he tells them that he is writing so that they may know–be confident of, have a settled conviction that–they have eternal life.

And John writes to me too. As I think over my spiritual journey I am embarrassed by how many lessons I must learn and relearn and relearn, how very repetitive both my sin and the Lord’s gracious instruction are. In fact, John’s threefold emphasis of faith, love, and obedience are the very same areas in which I sense the Lord’s ongoing, repetitive dealings in my own heart and life.

Faith: to what am I holding on for hope? For peace? For security? For joy? For identity? If it is anything other than Christ alone, I am like the false teachers John denounces as deceiving themselves.

Obedience: how often do I choose comfort? Pragmatism? Avoidance of looking (or being) weird? But John asserts that God’s commands are not burdensome but for my good and His glory.

Love: how often am I selfish? Denying the benefit of the doubt? Asserting my rights over another? Indulging in self-satisfaction under the guise of introversion? Over and over and over the Lord is gracious to remind me that He is for and about people and as His child I must be also. I’m ashamed at how easily I forget.

But the grace of the Lord! His mercies are new every morning, an ongoing, repetitive outpouring of forgiveness and redemption and grace that is not without effect. Every Sunday in Sunday school, every Tuesday in 1 John, every day, every hour, He is faithful and His Spirit reminds me over and over and over of my sin, yes, but also of the free forgiveness that is mine in Christ. Over and over and over and over again. I praise God for the glorious repetition of conviction and mercy.


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!

Book Review: Jesus on Every Page

At the close of Bible study last spring, I sought ideas and suggestions for the next semester’s teaching theme. One dear friend mentioned an overview of the Old Testament prophets, a suggestion to which I replied, “But I just got out of the Old Testament!”

I’ll leave it to you to determine my tone of voice. I may or may not have whined. But only a little.

Teaching Genesis through Deuteronomy last year was as challenging as anything I’ve ever undertaken, and this even with the help of Nancy Guthrie’s excellent resources The Promised One and The Lamb of God. Don’t get me wrong. It was a fabulous year and probably the most rewarding for me personally as I jumped in over my head week after week. The Lord was faithful to teach me and change me but, still, it was as demanding as it was wonderful.

Here’s a thought: isn’t it sometimes true the depth of wonderful is directly related to the degree of demanding? What treasures await those who diligently set their hearts to the careful and sometimes difficult study of God’s Word!

Anyway, long story short: I will be teaching the prophets beginning September 10 and I am thus excited and humbled and overwhelmed and all the other sorts of emotions and adjectives that accompany the humble teacher desperate for the power and provision of the Spirit. As such I jumped on the offer to read Dr. David Murray’s new book Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament. Getting books–good books–in exchange for an honest review is always fun but when that book dovetails perfectly into the course of study one has been cramming for, well, behold the Lord’s gracious providence and His generous goodness! Who but the Lord?

In the preface, Dr. Murray writes,

Jesus on Every Page is an accessible guide to the increasingly popular subject of Jesus in the Old Testament. Although much has been written to help pastors with preaching Jesus from the Old Testament, there is little that provides sound principles and practical help for the average Christian who wants to explore this important way of knowing Jesus through His Word.

Dr. Murray begins the book with an autobiographical note about his own struggles with understanding the relevance and importance of the Old Testament in the overarching Biblical theme of redemption through Jesus Christ. In light of the prevalence of lessons and sermons that reduce the Old Testament to mere moralistic examples, Dr. Murray presents a case for seeing Jesus on every page of God’s Word, the Old Testament in particular. With a remarkable and impressive use of alliteration throughout the book (seriously, how does he do that?), Dr. Murray leads his readers through the following ways Jesus is found in the Old Testament:

  • Christ’s Planet: Discovering Jesus in the Creation
  • Christ’s People: Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Characters
  • Christ’s Presence: Discovering Jesus in His Old Testament Appearances
  • Christ’s Precepts: Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Law
  • Christ’s Past: Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament History
  • Christ’s Prophets: Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Prophets
  • Christ’s Pictures: Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Types
  • Christ’s Promises: Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Covenants
  • Christ’s Proverbs: Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Proverbs
  • Christ’s Poets: Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Poems

I found this to be an engaging and thought provoking book. Dr. Murray writes for the layperson rather than the academic and I appreciate that. I anticipate referring to Jesus on Every Page as I prepare to delve once again into the Old Testament, this time to teach the prophets. It is my earnest desire that I will both delight and exult in Him as I seek Him and find Him there.

To find out more about the book as well as to take advantage of an offer for free materials, check out

Thank you to Thomas Nelson publishers for providing me a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Word-Based Ministry to Women

In her TGCW12 breakout session entitled “Word-Based Ministry to Women,” Nancy Guthrie asked “What will be the distinctive of your ministry to women?” Certainly there are a multitude of ways the current Christian culture asserts this question ought to be answered, and meeting a woman’s felt needs is surely at the top of its list. But we must ask ourselves: do we want ourselves and our perception of our emotional whims to dictate the agenda of our ministry?

Sadly, the answer is often yes. Over and over throughout the weekend I heard the sober warning about placing myself into the story of Scripture as the main character through so-called studies based on my experience, my story, my perception of God, and how I feel about all that and everything else. It was sobering because I am ashamed to admit in years past these sorts of studies comprised much of my Bible study experience. I well know the appeal of such studies and the authors and speakers that promulgate them.

As I look back over my faith journey, my theological ignorance–longtime, persistent ignorance–astounds me and as I remember thus far the Lord has brought me I am humbly, profoundly, and eternally grateful for the grace of the Lord Jesus that saved me from myself. Several years ago, through careful study and the testifying work of His Spirit, my eyes were opened to the power and sufficiency of His Word. He spoke truth to me in the pages of my Bible, revealing Himself as the focus of the story of all of Scripture. Glory to God, I haven’t been the same since.

Because I’ve known the living and active power of His Word, it has been my passion to teach and to encourage others to see and know the Lord for themselves through personal Bible study. I long for His Word to be the distinctive of my ministry, and not only that but also the distinctive of my home, of my blogging, of my life. Because this is my heart’s cry Guthrie’s challenge resonated with me as a Bible teacher and student, its effects echoing in my mind even this morning as I sat on my back porch and opened my Bible in preparation for study and prayer.

Obviously, in answer to her question, Guthrie argues that we allow God’s Word to be the defining motivation for our ministries to women. Along those lines she offered five distinguishing marks of a Word-centered ministry to women drawn from Heb. 4:12-13 and I will briefly list them here.

A Word-based ministry…

1. Listens to hear the Living Word speak. We want to instill a confidence in ourselves and our students that God does speak THROUGH HIS WORD. Let’s go to His Word expecting it to be alive! The only authoritative communication with any certainty is through the Bible. What are you doing to fuel this expectancy that He will speak?
2. Expects the Word to do its work. It always accomplishes His purposes! His Word has more power than our ideas, our programs, even our compassion. The Word of God does the work of God; it is not up to us to coerce. We can be patient and expectant, presenting the Word skillfully, humbly and winsomely.
3. Allows the Word to cut both ways. It is a two edged sword, speaking of salvation but also warning of judgment. Who are we to edit or determine what is relevant or what has power? All of Scripture helps us see Jesus. We don’t want to blunt the Word because of what may seem more appealing.
4. Challenges shallow beliefs and hidden agendas. The Word shines the light of truth and conviction and exposes how we want to use God and not love Him. Let’s put aside handy Christian cliches and sentimentalism and grasp hold of solid truth. Our expectations of God sometimes reflect a self centered agenda for using God. Let’s submit ourselves to Scritpure and accept its turuth. The piercing of a two edged sword will hurt but we must trust the Surgeon of our soul. He wants to heal and not hurt.
5. Prepares women for the ultimate exposure. Is your ministry preparing women to face the accountability to come in the presence of God? If we fail to present the whole counsel of God are we really successsfull despite large numbers of ladies coming to our events and enjoying themselves? Prepare women to give an account of their lives. We cannot serve and teach well unless we are feasting on the Word ourselves.

Intense stuff. Humbling and convicting, to be sure. And yet so very exciting too. As I glanced around the plenary sessions filled with the thousands of women listening attentively, even hungrily, as the Word was presented through the power of the Spirit, I was overcome. So many women representing so many homes and so many churches and so many spheres of influence.

May we, we women who love the Lord and His Word, be found faithful in whatever ministry the Lord has granted to us. May we eagerly and expectantly hold out the Word of life knowing that it is living and active and powerful. May we forget ourselves and our so called felt needs and instead exalt Christ and remember the gospel. May we boldly and courageously allow the Word of God to pierce and to convict. May we look with joyous hope toward the day our faith will be sight. And, please, Lord, may Jesus and His glory be the delight of our hearts and the Treasure of our lives. Let it be! He alone is worthy!

On 9th grade Sunday school and the seeds planted therein

From the Lisa writes… archives, circa September, 2007…

We attended a large church in my youth-group years. These were the days of departments, comprised of a department leader and six to eight Sunday school classes and corresponding teachers. We would have assembly, aka large group time, then split into our assigned classes (I guess today the proper terminology would be “small groups”). To get an idea of the size of my church’s youth group, each grade was its own department, and some years seventh and eighth each had two departments apiece.
When we gathered for assembly, the boys sat on one side of the room, girls on the other (it wouldn’t be until eleventh grade before we dared intermingle). I cannot remember his name, but our department head for the ninth grade Sunday school would always introduce that week’s lesson with a real life story that happened to him that very week that just so happened to perfectly illustrate the point of the lesson that week. We would often marvel at his ability to tie in some everyday circumstance of his everyday life to the lesson. In truth, we were just a little cynical that the perfect event would happen every single week. We would even wonder just how he would segue into the key points, sometimes making it a joke between us.
My ninth grade Sunday school teacher was a big former University of Texas football player named Malcom. He spouted Scripture effortlessly, one of his favorite being “what a man sows, so shall he reap.” As I think on it, especially now as the mom of an up and coming ninth grader, it was an excellent word for young high schoolers like ourselves.
Malcom wanted to teach us to hide God’s Word in our hearts through the discipline of Scripture memory.  He assigned us a verse to memorize each week, and each Sunday as we gathered in our small classroom, we would copy the verse from memory into individual notebooks. Whoever memorized the most verses by the end of the year was promised a nice dinner in a nice restaurant with a chosen “other.” Not to brag or anything, but eventually I was the only one doing any memorizing (yes, a brown noser even then). The Scripture memory challenge soon fizzled and no dinner awarded.
But I will never forget the lesson Malcom taught me; yes with the verses he had us memorize, and certainly with the warning that we will reap what we sow, but most importantly through his love of the Word of God and his desire to encourage that same love in the hearts of silly, immature teenagers.
I have no idea where Malcom is now, nor our department head. I do know this: their legacy lives on today, in me. I may have laughed then at the perfectly coincidental parallel between the events of a week and the key points of a specific Sunday school lesson, but today I know that God’s Word is alive and active and speaks to my everyday life if I will only listen and heed. I may have memorized a list of verses then in order to gain my teacher’s approval or receive a nice dinner, but today I know Malcom’s passion for God’s Word within me, and his desire for others to know that same passion is mine as well.
Oh, the faithfulness of our God! He planted seeds even when I was too young and foolish to know it. He has watered; He has reaped; He is worthy of praise! And when this life is no more, when we are gathered before the Throne in the Presence of the One worthy of all glory and honor and praise, I hope for opportunity to express my gratitude to two men who served the Lord Jesus in what was no doubt a thankless and sometimes frustrating place of service. I am thankful they did not grow weary and give up, but trusted the Lord of the Harvest, seeking only His glory and His alone…