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.


Real is best

I write on a Tuesday and I have to admit to you that today and the past three or four Tuesdays prior, I’ve felt off, floundering about like a fish out of water. Generally speaking, my Tuesdays are spent at a podium or around a table, studying God’s Word with a group of women I love and esteem. However, our study is on break for the summer and, though summer breaks are necessary and good, a Bible teacher without a class feels, well, a little lost.

We just finished a study of selected Psalms and while I knew it would be good–hello, it’s the Word of GOD–I think it will go down as one of my favorite times in Bible study. I am always overwhelmed and humbled by the sheer goodness of God, how He tenders our hearts to His Word, how He reveals Himself and His gospel in beautiful and glorious ways, how He teaches and transforms. This go ’round He did all that, even more so. He is so good.

And my Bible study girls? What grace they are to me! Each and every group is different but all encourage me and sharpen me by their participation and presence. I know that no teacher can exercise her gift apart from students to come alongside but I am always–always!–happily and humbly surprised there are those who choose to join me.

I was wondering the other day just how many women have passed through one or more studies with me. Not that I see such a number as a trophy or something to seek after or boast in, but rather I see each woman and her attendance as a trust, a gift, a privilege wholly undeserved. I am not worthy but I am grateful.

I read an article yesterday about, of all things, whether pastors should use social media. In the article Tony Reinke describes the pressure many pastors feel when they compare their offering with the level of excellence widely available with the mere click of the mouse or scroll of the phone.

I get this. Currently there is much discussion on social media about women and ministry (indeed, when is there not?), particularly in terms of online and parachurch platforms. For many women their primary source of discipleship comes from outside their local church, and why not? Most of the popular teachers and podcasters and bloggers are so because they are good at what they do. They are funny, they are skilled orators, they are relatable, they are super fashionable, and did I mention they are funny? Me? I can’t compete with that.

My offering is humble, simple, ordinary. While I may have once resented it, I now not only embrace it but see it for the sacred privilege that it is. I believe we need to be in Bible study with people who know us, who know our name, who look us in the eye, who hold us accountable by their very presence, who see us at football games and the grocery store and other times when the mask is off and the real shows in all its realness, who know our hypocrisy, and who point us to the only hope, the gospel. To do so for another is a privilege and a trust. My Bible study girls are this, and more, for me and I hope and pray I am the same for them.

Books and blogs and podcasts are good, indeed they are. But they are no substitute for real people in our real lives living the real gospel side by side with us in the midst of real life with real problems and real need. Virtual is good; real is best.

So for my real friends who join me each Tuesday, thank you. I am grateful for the real fellowship we enjoy with the real God who in His providence placed us in real proximity to seek Him and to know Him and to study His Word together.

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!

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?

Maybe some of you should

Yesterday I taught James 3 which includes every Bible teacher’s favorite verse, that sober warning that “not many of you should become teachers…for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1)

Yeah. That verse. Not exactly every Bible teacher’s favorite.

I’m not going to lie, it was with a good deal of humility and no small amount of trepidation that I stood before my class yesterday and read that verse aloud, which is, I suppose, James’ point after all.

The NIV reads that not many should “presume” to be teachers. Obviously there were those seeking the position who were either unprepared for or ignorant of the responsibility. No doubt there were some seeking the prestige and authority of the teaching role for more selfish and frivolous motivations.

As I prepared my lesson, however, and even now as I reflect back on the passage, I wonder about today: do many seek to become teachers? Presumption aside, is there an influx of “many” who desire the teaching gift?

Admittedly my sphere of observation is rather small but I don’t see it. Men or women but particularly women. Surely the Lord is gifting and equipping women to teach; where are they? And maybe I am speaking less about the evangelical / Internet / Twitter subculture and more about the real world in which I live.

I posed the question yesterday to my group and someone suggested maybe James scared them all away! Hey, I can see that. He scares me too! I don’t think that’s his intention though. I think he would say to us to if you’ve been given the desire and gift to teach then teach in the power and gifting and grace of Spirit…but do so in fear and trembling.

Teaching has been for me, and will (I hope) continue to be, an exercise in humility. Sometimes I dread it almost as much as I love it. Only motherhood has served to expose my hypocrisy and my weakness and my insufficiency more than teaching.

But there is also no other area of my spiritual walk in which I have seen the Lord’s grace and sufficiency and provision more clearly than through teaching. Vulnerable though it is, teaching has been His gift to me, His grace to me, His immeasurable goodness to me. I cannot believe this is my privilege and my responsibility.

Some Tuesdays when I walk up to the podium and I look across the room at my friends and fellow Bible students sitting there with their Bibles open in their laps, their faces eager, their spirits expectant, I am so overwhelmed. The Lord is good. His gifts are good. I am so unworthy.

If you think maybe you might could perhaps teach but you just don’t know, I want to encourage you. James is right; it is a fearsome thing. But it is also a joy. Teaching–even I would say, women teaching women–is a needed ministry for the edification of the church and the equipping of the saints.

Yes, it’s true, not many should become teachers but then again maybe some of you should…

She gladly gives all

I wrote the following yesterday in about five minutes, hence its stream-of-consciousness vibe. It is also a tad on the melodramatic side but, then again, what’s a post here at Lisa writes… without a touch of melodrama? I offer the (mostly) unedited version of my thoughts now, as I’m about to walk out the door, as a reminder both to myself and to you, the reader, of the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ. He is worthy of all!


It’s Monday and Bible study begins tomorrow so I am cramming and scribbling and deleting and printing and worrying and… Well, you get the picture. I’m at the point where I am wondering if I have indeed lost my mind and who in the world do I think I am and whether or not it is too late to call the whole thing off and run away somewhere. Or go shopping.

Oh, I kid. I’m really not quite that neurotic. Much.

I’ve been thinking about the widow in Mark 12:41-44, she who offered her two small coins, “everything she had,” Jesus tells His disciples. As I ponder her gift I wonder if she felt foolish in the meagerness of her offering. I wonder if she doubted the effect of her contribution. I wonder if she was ashamed. Did she think those two cents might be better spent elsewhere?

My teaching, my offering as it were, is meager compared to some. My class numbers in the tens (on a good day), not the hundreds. Today I print off a course outline to pass out to the ladies in attendance tomorrow. I print it on white paper, in black Cambria, no cardstock in glossy three color font. We have no waiting lists, no online registration, no slick stage design, no bound workbooks. It’s just me, a podium, the ladies the Lord sends our way, and the Bible.

It is, in a manner of speaking, everything I have. I don’t mean financially nor do I mean this is my only outlet of ministry. But I do know that once ten o’clock rolls around tomorrow morning and I open my Bible and I begin to speak I will have, as well as I can know my own heart, given everything I had in faithful stewardship of this teaching privilege. Like the widow, I do not give out of my abundance. I teach out of my abject need.

Hardly a day has passed in months that I haven’t given some thought to Bible study in general or to the prophets in particular. I’ve been a little stressed and slightly on the neurotic side, as I’ve already confessed. Here’s a weird side effect to my neuroses: I become paranoid. I am easily offended. I compare my offering. I wish for something greater, bigger, more. My ambition grows increasingly personal, more about me and my reputation, less about the Lord and His purposes, His glory.

Jesus saw the widow and He saw her small coins dropping in the box. He saw her sacrifice and He commended it. Did she hear His words of esteem? I imagine her joy as she left the temple, that joy known by the true disciple who gives everything, all she has, in love for her Savior. In Philippians 3, Paul writes that he counts everything he had as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. I like to imagine she embraced this surrender, this worth, this joy. In my mind she runs eagerly to the offering box and laughs as she gladly gives all. I think that because I want to be that.

I love teaching. All my neuroses are, I think, twisted (and sinful) versions of this passion. I am, I’ll freely confess, engaging in slightly overblown melodrama as I ponder quitting and running away. The truth is that as I much I sometimes dread teaching I love it that much and more. I love Jesus. I love His Word. That the Lord would grant me this privilege, this responsibility, this joy, all that plus a group of godly women willing to come alongside, well, it is overwhelming to me. Tomorrow I lay my offering, all I have, before Him in joyous surrender. I will gladly give all.

Book Review: Saving Eutychus

Let me be clear here at the outset: I’m not a preacher. Why then am I interested in reading books on preaching? The short answer is that I am a teacher and I want to be a better one. I want to improve not only in regard to Biblical interpretation and proper application but also in lesson preparation and delivery. To that end books like Saving Eutychus by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell are both helpful and beneficial.

With its rather tongue-in-cheek title referring to the incident in Acts 20 whereby poor Eutychus dozes off listening to Paul’s lengthy exposition, falling to his death only to be resuscitated by the apostle himself, Saving Eutychus is, by the authors’ description, a primer on “how to preach God’s word and keep people awake.” Included in its instruction is not only the case for expositional preaching but also pointers for developing the main idea of a given passage as well as the necessity of preaching the gospel no matter the text. The proper use of illustration and application is also highlighted. Of particular interest to me was the chapter on preaching through the Old Testament using a “biblical-theological approach.” The book concludes with the importance of receiving feedback followed by critiques of actual sermons preached by each of the book’s two authors.

This being a book on preaching after all, not all its points correspond directly to me and my teaching ministry, the case for a 23 minute sermon for example. And I’m not sure I will be scripting my lessons though I found the authors’ advocacy of such practice interesting. That being said, I really liked this book and enjoyed its practical, concise instruction and its encouragement to be winsome and passionate about the lesson being taught. Authors Millar and Campbell are engaging yet direct and their commitment to the eager proclamation of the gospel is evident throughout the book.

Saving Eutychus is a book I will refer to often as I prepare my lessons. Its value, though, extends beyond merely technical aspects of preaching and teaching. The first chapter clearly reminds the humble teacher (me) that it is not about her. In other words, preachers and teachers must pray. Millar writes…

[W]e seem to be losing sight of the fact that God uses weak and sinful people, and that he uses them only by grace. That’s true in your local church and mine. It’s also true of every podcast and ebook and conference address under the sun. God doesn’t use people because they are gifted. He uses people (even preachers) because he is gracious. Do we actually believe that? If we do believe it, then we will pray–we will pray before we speak, and we will pray for others before they speak. It’s that simple.

This theme is echoed in the afterword. I hope the authors do not mind me quoting it here as I think it perfectly encapsulates both the teacher’s calling as well as the book’s emphasis.

What, then, can we say? Pray. Preach gospel-centered sermons from your heart to change hearts. Pray. Wrestle with God’s word until you have a big idea that faithfully communicates and applies that idea clearly and winsomely. Pray. Apply the message to yourself. Pray. Preach the gospel from everywhere in the Bible. Pray. Deliver your message with the energy and passion that only God can give you. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Pray. Seek and receive critique on your preaching. Pray some more. Preach. Pray. Repeat.

That’s all.

Yes and amen. Let it be so in me!

Whether you proclaim the gospel from the pulpit or from the teacher’s chair I highly recommend Saving Eutychus.

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by Cross Focused Reviews who provided me with a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion. See more reviews of this title as well as purchasing options here.

Comments are closed but the conversation isn’t! Let me know what you think by emailing me at lisa {at} lisaspence {dot} com. You may also find me on Twitter and Facebook.

Nixon, Ford, and grace

Years ago I taught a lesson on grace. I mean, I’ve taught many lessons on grace since and I sincerely hope every lesson I teach contains the truth of gospel grace but this is a specific lesson I have in mind.

I was a novice teacher, completely inadequate and unworthy of any teaching authority, same as now, but so much the novice then that my “notes” were handwritten in pencil and comprised less than half a sheet of paper.

I know this because I found them recently, my notes from this particular lesson, stuck in the back of my old Bible.

And I’m not saying that typewritten notes equate skill or worth as a teacher. Rather, I’m making the observation that in my teaching timeline handwritten notes are proof of the early days, those early days marked, as most early days of anything are, by ignorance and lack of experience.

Anyway, the notes aside, I remember this particular lesson quite well because I was seeking to develop class conversation on the definition of grace. We discussed various examples, me offering the pardon of President Nixon by President Ford as grace because, well, Nixon, as you know, didn’t receive what was due him in terms of justice and the consequences therein.

After the class one of my fellow students remarked “Well…now we all know where you stand politically, Lisa.”

I imagine she was teasing but I was devastated. Not only was I completely unaware of taking any sort of political stance in course of my lesson but I was dismayed that of all the points I’d attempted to make in my treatise on grace, this was what she remembered. Nixon and Ford. And politics of all things.

As I look back on it part of me laughs at myself and part of me remains chagrined particularly as I realize it wasn’t even a good example of grace, not of Biblical gospel grace. No, in the grace of the gospel the penalty isn’t waived as it was for Nixon, it was instead paid in full and by a completely innocent, infinitely holy substitute. A pardon excuses the offense so there is no justice served. In the gospel God is both just and the justifier; thus justice is not violated but satisfied through Jesus’ death and resurrection. He took our sin and purchased for us His righteousness.

This is grace. Not merely a pardon but full and complete forgiveness in Christ and His perfect righteousness credited to my account. A gift. Wholly unmerited. Bought and paid for through Christ.

I deserve justice. He took my place and gave me grace.

Comments are closed but the conversation isn’t! Let me know what you think by emailing me at lisa {at} lisaspence {dot} com. You may also find me on Twitter and Facebook.

Every teacher’s nightmare

I dreamed about teaching. In my dream, it was the first meeting of a new session of Bible study and my nerves were shot (that part is more reality than dream). As I opened my Bible and shuffled my notes–notes that were, by the way, highlighted and color coded in various shades of neon (definitely more dream than reality)–I grew increasingly panicked because there were no fellow Bible students in attendance excepting a couple of my friends who were busy with some task unrelated to Bible study over in the opposite corner of the room. I checked and rechecked the calendar and my watch, asking my friend each time if the date was correct. Finally I began my lesson, only to then discover I was woefully, desperately ill-prepared. In fact I could not even mutter a complete sentence, as in subject and verb, let alone a sentence that made any sense.

It’s every teacher’s nightmare.

The dream continued as most dreams do with all sorts of random and nonsensical developments, one of which included me frantically gathering spilled goldfish and pretzels from the floor.

I know, I know. WEIRD.

Thankfully it was only a dream. While I have never felt the sort of full fledged, desperate panic of this dream I know well the anxiety of the inadequate and ill prepared. In fact I know it too well.

I’ve taught many a lesson by the skin of my teeth, lessons I knew I hadn’t done justice in terms of preparation and study. And, while I’m keepin’ it real, I’ve also taught lessons puffed up and full of self righteous arrogance. I am ashamed of both.

I’ve learned a lot in the decade-plus I’ve spent in the teacher’s chair, a lot about lesson preparation as well as a lot about myself as a teacher. I’ve never received formal instruction in either homiletics or hermeneutics and any strength or gifting that may come my way in this role is surely and unequivocally the grace of the Lord who calls and equips.

But I want to be better. I want to improve. I want to learn how to craft a lesson well, particularly as my current mode of instruction is lecture. As upside-down as it seems I want to know my inadequacies and faults, not so I can compensate for them necessarily but so I can learn and relearn the humility-producing truth that I need the Lord. As I said, I’ve taught lessons–not all but some–in my own strength. I’d much rather know the strength of the Lord. As difficult as it may be, I know His strength best in my weakness.

It’s out of this desire to be a better teacher that I read Christ-Centered Preaching by Brian Chappell. True confession: I’m a lazy reader. Forget highlighting and underlining and copying down quotes; I just read, straight through. Sometimes this approach is lacking, like in the reading of this particular book. There was so much practical advice that I’d wished, as I don’t often do, that I had been a more diligent reader. One of my goals this summer is to skim back through and take notes for handy reference and future help.

As I said, Christ-Centered Preaching contains much to encourage and edify the humble teacher. Though there were many such paragraphs I could share, the following brought tears to my eyes when I first read it as I considered my calling and the Lord’s gracious gifting. Chappell is writing about the importance of good introductions, a fact that isn’t usually apt to induce weeping (!), but his words on the teacher’s inadequacy and corresponding confidence in the Spirit’s working do my soul good…

Even if your message makes you feel inadequate for its proclamation or you are unprepared for the task, introduce the message without spoken or implied apologies. The outset of a sermon is no time to prejudice a congregation against you, your message, or the potential of the Holy Spirit to work in spite of human weakness. Look directly at your listeners, square your shoulders, take a breath as you pause and pray for the Spirit to work beyond you as well as through you, and then begin–with confidence in his working and his Word.

Yes and amen.

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