From knowing Bible stories to knowing the Bible story

“It’s one thing to know Bible stories; it’s another to know the story of the Bible.” — Matt Smethurst, associate editor for “The Gospel Coalition”

For someone who grew up in church, I had a hard time figuring out how the whole Bible connected. I had a stack of devotionals, Awana books, The Mailbox Club studies, prayer journals, and daily Bible reading plans beside my bed, and I did my best to faithfully complete every one of them every day. Honestly, it frustrated me more often than it helped me, but that’s a part of my testimony that I’ll share at another time.

Even with all the input I was receiving, I was still having trouble connecting all the dots and seeing how the whole Bible was actually one story of God getting us back. I knew sin entered the world in Eden and that it meant we all have a sin nature and need a Savior. But really, I skipped from there to Jesus on Earth as that Savior, to Him becoming the sacrifice for us. The Old Testament stories weren’t on any timeline in my 8-year-old mind; they were scattered somewhere before Jesus.

I asked Jesus to be my Savior when I was about 8 years old, and it took about eight more years before I understood the big plan. I stumbled across a sermon series from Oak Hills Church based on The Story, a story Bible written in chronological order. (It’s written like a novel more than a Bible since there are no verses to follow.) I didn’t have the book, but I listened to all the sermons.

My walk with God changed when I listened through that series and understood the overarching redemption story that flows from the first page to the last page of the Bible. I saw God pursuing mankind from the moment sin entered the world until the end of time, and I realized that the story of man’s salvation isn’t limited to everything that happened once Jesus came and made things right. The story of man’s salvation absolutely includes the Old Testament stories, too, and I finally understood the timeline. How had I missed that for eight years?! My faith took off once the puzzle was put together.

The quote by Matt Smethurst at the beginning of the post has challenged me these past few months as I’ve studied and prepared to teach my class at church. I’m not using a curriculum or Bible study but instead am writing my own lessons with Matt’s quote in mind. I want these kids to come away knowing the Bible story instead of Bible stories. I want them to see how the whole Bible speaks of God’s pursuit of our hearts and of His desire to get us back. I don’t want them to miss these basics that somehow I missed.

I filled in for a Sunday school class this week, and one of the girls mentioned that the lesson didn’t seem to fit. They had just talked about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the lesson I taught was about creation. I know it was that way because the new quarter rolled around and with it new books, but still … she knew that it was out of order and had wanted it to fit. That only reinforced my decision to walk through the Bible with my kids on Wednesday nights.

Pray for me as I take my students through God’s Word this year. Pray that they will have a deeper understanding of who God is and of His story. Pray that God speaks with them and moves in their hearts and lives this year. And, pray that they know God and trust Him as their Savior.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about God’s story, check out the links below.

  • Click here to listen to the first message in the 2008 Oak Hills sermon series “The Story.” This is where my journey with it all began.
  • Click here to listen to the first message in the 2016 Oak Hills sermon series “The Story.”
  • Click here for more “The Story” resources.
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Waiting, praying, and God finally saying ‘Yes’

Surely God must have been tired of my aching heart crying out to Him at all hours of the day and night. I must have prayed a thousand prayers and shed a thousand tears before God’s answer went from “Wait” to “Now is the time.” After a very long, very hard year and a half, I finally have a church family, a place where God wants me to serve and a people He wants me to love.

My story has always included church. I grew up in and attended the same church for 24 years, and I had the best time serving there. I knew the importance of fellowship with believers, and I craved that fellowship. I worked in many different ministries throughout the years, with teaching children being my favorite. Those were “my kids” so to speak, and I talked about them so often that a college classmate of mine asked, “So how many kids DO you have?”

When I had to go, my heart broke most at the thought of leaving my kids. I loved introducing them to the Bible and teaching them not just Bible stories, but also the overarching story of God’s Word — the redemption plan of a loving Father who saw fit to sacrifice His only Son so that sinners like us could have a right relationship with Him and spend an eternity glorifying His name. I made it a point to bring every story back to that truth, to the truth that the world is trying to stamp out at every turn.

My heart grieved over leaving those children. My heart grieved over sin in general. I understood why people leave church and never go back. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do, but I certainly understand it. Someone told me just today that the heart takes a long time to heal, and I believe it. I’m always going to have a little pain thinking back on this, but God is helping me heal.

Anyway, in all the turmoil and heartache, I trusted that God could use all things for good. See, He promised me in Romans 8:28 that all things work together for the good of those who love Him. “All things” means both the really good things and the really bad things, the things we rejoice about and the things that make us weep. My trust wasn’t perfect, and there were certainly days when Satan tried to add baggage to me, telling me I’m now broken and that God can’t use me anymore, that starting over isn’t worth it, and that I’m not good enough for ministry.

But God. That’s one of my favorite phrases from the Bible. Something bad happens, but God… Someone is struggling, but God … I love that I serve a God like that.

So Satan loaded me down, but God assured me that He would get the glory in all this and that He had a plan bigger than what I expected. My faith in God was the only thing that got me through the waiting period. I felt lost, like I was floating all alone, but God was with me, and that was enough. That was enough to give me the courage to walk in a lot of different churches and seek God’s guidance in them. It’s not easy being a church visitor, and it’s not easy when you find a church you like only to have God tell you it’s not the one.

Little did I know that God was working it out to where I would be somewhere I am loved, somewhere I feel safe, somewhere that I can serve in children’s ministry again, and somewhere I can serve alongside some good friends and mentors. I was a little gun-shy at the thought of joining any church again, but God made it apparent that this was where I needed to be right now, and so I joined last Sunday, ready to commit to serving Christ with the people of Pisgah Baptist Church.

 

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This is Sunday afternoon of the day I joined. I’m not a selfie person, but I was so excited that I took a photo anyway.

I’ve met many precious people, and I’ve felt welcomed and loved since day one, even though I only knew two people when I first went there. The church has supported my mission work without knowing much about The Hope Project or about me, and they’ve prayed for me and included me from the beginning. They truly have a heart for the least of these; I’ve seen them serve the ones so often overlooked. I’m excited to be there and see how God is working in Pisgah, Alabama.

Do I expect the church to be perfect? No. I don’t think any church is perfect given that the church is made up of us sinners. But I do know that we need each other. With all our imperfections and shortcomings, we need fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, people to encourage us in our faith and to hold us accountable to our mission of following Christ. I also know this is where God has me for now, which means there’s something for me to learn from my time here. There are people there with whom I need to build relationships, there are people there who I need to serve, and there are people there from whom I need to learn.

This is a journey unlike any I’ve experienced before, but I know God is with me and has had me wait a year and a half in order to lead me here for a purpose. I’m ready and excited to discover the reasons why and to see Him work in Pisgah, Alabama.

 

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I was obviously excited because I took a second selfie.

Why he won’t complete me

I’ve been mulling over an article by Tim Challies titled “4 Marks of a Godly Husband’s Love” for five days now. Challies is pulling from a commentary by Richard Phillips on Ephesians, and I think he does an excellent job of explaining the different aspects of the love a husband should have for his wife: a self-sacrificing love, a redeeming love, a caring love, and a committed love. If you’re a man trying to pursue your relationships the God way, I think you should take time to read it. If you’re a woman wanting to understand the man’s role in a marriage, I think you should read it.

As I read through the “caring love” section, I kept thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great to be loved like this? It would be amazing to have someone who fills all these longings of being cherished and nourished and fully, completely loved.”

And just like that God says, “HELLO?! Have you forgotten who I am? I know you more intimately than any man ever will, and I can cherish you, nourish you, and fully and completely love you better than any man ever can.”

I finished the article, pulled out my Bible, and connected with God, letting His presence fill my spirit in a way that I know no man ever will. Like every other Christian, sometimes I lose focus for a moment and need God to bring things back into perspective.

After communicating with God on this issue and pondering the article the past few days, here is the takeaway for me: My future husband will not perfectly love me and meet all my needs, and I will not perfectly love him and meet all of his.

See, I’ve read about a million Christian dating books and articles, and they tell you how Christian relationships are supposed to work and paint a really pretty picture of them, but the ones I read didn’t have much “real talk.”

Real talk is remembering that being a Christian does not bring perfection to everything you do. Christians make mistakes.

Real talk is remembering that each of us has a selfish nature and won’t always give the other person the attention they need from you.

Real talk is remembering that sometimes we fail to communicate our needs effectively.

That sounds so romantic, doesn’t it?

In God’s Word is a beautiful picture of what a Christian relationship looks like, and while it would be amazing to see that picture lived out 100 percent of the time, we’re sinners, which means we have messy relationships at times. We just have to show grace in those moments and let God teach us how to love and serve each other better.

The sweetness of a relationship with God, though, is that He never fails and that He loves perfectly every single time. God didn’t create family, friends, relationships, or anything else to fill every void we have. Only He can fill us completely, and He deeply desires to do that. He wants us to pursue Him intimately and find the peace that only He can bring.

Pursuing a Christ-centered relationship is important, and it’s also important that we don’t set unfair expectations on the other person. We shouldn’t expect them to be perfect and to fill every void; God is the one to do that, and I think we should give Him the chance to do show us how awesome He is at satisfying us when we’re feeling empty.

I’m not married and could be way off on all this, but it’s simply what I feel God has been teaching me the past week or so. He’s a good, loving Father, and it brings me peace to know that He will satisfy my every longing.

The photo I wouldn’t share

I believe that we are all created by God, knit beautifully together just as He sees fit. I believe He’s God over genetics and that He has ordained which genes are passed to each child.

I’ve already talked about how genetics gifted me with RP, and now I’m going to explain how genetics gifted me with a specific tooth problem and how tomorrow it will be fixed once and for all.

When I was a probably 8 years old, I lost the baby tooth next to my front one (lateral incisor if you want to be technical about it), and I’ve been missing a tooth since then. The permanent tooth came in, and it was a funky shape. And up in the gum above that tooth was a permanent canine one.

My mom is missing her incisors, so the dentist was not surprised that I had issues with both of mine. One was bonded to make it the right size, and the other one abscessed when I was about 12. I had a root canal, and that was the worst dental surgery to date. It took two days!

In six months, the tooth abscessed again. With no guarantee that another root canal would fix it and that the abscesses would stop, we decided to have it pulled.

Keep in mind that the baby tooth beside it had come out but the permanent one was above the abscessed one. That means I had a two-tooth gap for a while. Mom said I didn’t smile much.

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This photo was taken while my flipper was out. I loved the photo so much, though, that I downloaded a free photo editing program and added a tooth before sharing it on Facebook.

Fast-forward to the summer before ninth grade. My parents chose to get me braces. My mom told me later that she didn’t want me to have to be embarrassed of my teeth like she was of her own. Parents can make sweet, sweet sacrifices for their children.

At some point during the time period I was in braces, I was referred to an oral surgeon in Chattanooga to talk about an implant. When we got there, they told us it would be $10,000, and I was crushed. I knew that wouldn’t be happening, but I figured I could live with a partial/flipper and be fine.

Getting my braces off turned out to be a bittersweet experience, though. I had pretty, straight teeth, but the braces had hidden the fact that I was missing a tooth. I had the flipper, but it came out when I ate, so the gap became more obvious post-braces. Everyone knew.

Eight years later, I have come to the point where I am comfortable taking it out around people, but I’ve refused to have a photo taken without my tooth in place. I have been too embarrassed to make a permanent image of something like that.

Tonight, though, I want to share a photo with you. It’s a photo of a toothless me, only one of three in existence since I had my braces removed. At least, it’s one of the only three I can find. I took these three photos once I started the implant process only because I knew the end was in sight. (I was able to find somewhere that could do the implant for way less than $10,000, so I started the process in March 2016.)

Before I drop in the photo, let me say that I understand that beauty goes deeper than an outward appearance. I understand that my character and my spirit will always and forever be more important than any tooth. I want to be a good example to others, and that will never ever have anything to do with teeth. Teeth are not important in the long run. What matters is how I treat people; that’s what they will always remember.

So, without further ado, let’s make my snaggletooth self public.

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Snaggletooth for the last time.

There you have it! While this look will change tomorrow, I’m not going to forget the toothless period of my life. Those days taught me about true beauty, to look past outward appearances of others and to look at their hearts instead, and I’m grateful for that.

I won’t know what to do when I have all my teeth, and that’s a problem I’ve looked forward to having for about 19 years. It’s been a long journey here, but I’m excited for what tomorrow brings!

Retinitis pigmentosa

A couple of years ago, I woke up with a bunch of eye floaters and some cloudiness. Nervous about what it could mean, I called my optometrist to set up an appointment. He referred me to a retina specialist, and thus the journey began.

The retina specialist did not see anything to indicate a detached or torn retina, but he did ask me if anyone in my family had blindness. I thought it was a weird question, but I answered no, not anyone I knew.

I scheduled follow-ups, and the specialist asked me more questions about my family and explained that he was suspicious that I had retinitis pigmentosa (RP) but that we would keep an eye on it. RP is genetic, and because I didn’t know of anyone blind in my family, I figured it wasn’t that.

A month ago, RP made my chart.

Simply put, the rods and the cones are dying, and pigment changes are the first indicator of the problem. For me, RP is the primary issue but is followed by my high level of myopia (nearsightedness) and my floaters. I have the pigment changes in both eyes, but it’s happening very slowly, so there’s nothing more I need to do other than checking it each year and staying healthy.

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The most shocking moment was getting the appointment overview in the mail and seeing RP on paper. I cried some and prayed some, but mostly I stayed quiet, processing in my own time what the news meant.

Even though the news isn’t great, God has been more than gracious in all this. To begin with, He has given me the very best of friends, family, and co-workers who support me and love me through the chaos. I know there are always people praying not necessarily for healing but for God’s will to be done, which is precious to me.

God has put some special individuals in my life who have blessed me in many ways: giving me good-quality sunglasses to protect my eyes, sharing articles about possible treatments, and offering to connect me with someone who has the same thing. It’s humbling to have people like that in your life, people who truly care about you.

And those experiences aren’t the only ways that God has been gracious. To begin with, I do have sight. There are plenty of people who would love to have the limited vision I have if it meant they had vision at all. I don’t take being able to wake up and see for granted. In fact, most mornings that’s the first thing I thank God for. I realize I have such a gift in my vision, and I don’t want to miss the opportunities to thank Him.

Also, I have the resources to get the medical attention I need, and that is a gift from a very loving and caring Father. He has gifted me with all of my needs and most of my wants. He has put the right professionals in my path to where they can explain what’s going on with my eyes and help me through this part of life. That’s no big deal to some people, but it’s all grace to me.

Finally, I find so much comfort in the fact that the God I know is Healer and that RP is under His authority. I will not see one day longer than He has ordained, and He knew how many days of sight I would have when He created me. Because of that, I can rest knowing that RP will not disqualify me from doing God’s work. His plans for me don’t stop if I get to the point that I can no longer see. He will still use my life for His glory, and I find peace in that.

I’ve never been one to have favorite Bible verses or stories because I change them out too often, but the two that stand out in this whole situation are these: the leper and Bartimaeus.

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By eating leafy greens and tomatoes, I can help my eyes stay healthy. I don’t like tomatoes, but I will certainly learn to love them if it means I can see longer.

Read Luke 5 for the whole story, but for now, Jesus was passing through a town when a leper saw him. The leper fell to the ground and said to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” I love that. For the leper, it wasn’t a question of whether or not Christ could heal him; he knew Jesus had the power. The only question was whether or not Christ would be willing to do it. The same is true for me. My eyes can be healed, but is He willing to do it?

The other story I like is found in Mark 10. Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is passing by, so he calls for Him. The people try to quiet him, but Bartimaeus keeps on calling. When he meets Jesus, Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants. Bartimaeus replies, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight,” and Jesus says his faith has healed him.

I love the honesty of Bartimaeus here. He didn’t have to come up with a super spiritual answer but could be honest with Christ and simply tell Him what he wanted. I do pray for God’s will to be done with my eyes, but I’ve certainly prayed with a broken spirit asking to see. I’ve had people tell me that if I’m praying using anything other than the phrase “God’s will” that I’m praying wrong because I could potentially be praying against His will, but I don’t find that in God’s word. In His word, I find that I can pray for what I want. I just have to understand that sometimes my wants are not God’s best, and I have to follow where He leads.

So that’s the new part of my journey. It’s a little scary, but I’m excited to see how God can take this and turn it into something that glorifies Him. I know He is able!

When it’s time to leave a church

I’ve never been a quitter, and I really did not want to leave my church. However, some bad things were tolerated, and I decided to leave. I felt released from the negativity, and, through His word, meditation, and prayer, I felt God say, “Now that you’ve seen the damage churches can do to families — the damage that happens when good people decide to do nothing — go do the opposite. Go fight selfishness, arrogance, and heartlessness and let me use you to reach those who also have been hurt by the church.”

Leaving was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. If you’re considering leaving a church or have already left — especially on the grounds of a bad situation — these thoughts might help you start again, too.

1. You may grieve.

In many ways, leaving a church family feels like losing loved ones. These are the people with whom you’ve shared your struggles, your hopes, your ministries, and so much more. You’ve shared a spiritual connection with them that runs deep in your life. With bonds so strong, it makes sense that you are hurting and broken, but don’t let that hinder your faith.

As a Christ-follower, Satan will throw a thousand things your way — including church drama — to stop your work for Christ. You will experience fear, doubt, frustration, and more as you seek to honor the Lord and live for Him. I ask you, though, to please stand firm on the foundation of Christ and fight the good fight. Remember, the struggles of this life are temporary. In Revelation 21, God promises that one blessed day, all things will be made new, and there will be no more darkness or pain.

So, yes, you will probably need to grieve, but just remember that there’s a God who loves to give grace and comfort to His brokenhearted children, and He is working in the midst of the chaos for His purposes.

2. You may lose friends.

If you aren’t familiar with fair-weather friends, you may quickly find out what that means when you leave a church. These are the friends who are there for the good times but not the bad times. For whatever reason, they are absent in your trial. Maybe they don’t know what to say, so they say nothing at all. Or maybe they are afraid of what people will think of them if they get caught up in your situation. Whatever the case, they simply watch the situation unfold from a distance and let you handle it yourself.

We are called in God’s word to encourage, to strengthen, and to build up each other in our faith. In Romans 12, we read that the signs of a true Christian include rejoicing with those who are rejoicing and weeping with those who weep. Often, we find it easy to rejoice with each other, but we find it much harder to weep. We will send a text message or a Facebook message of “I’m praying for you” and neglect to physically go to the broken to weep with them, encourage them, or pray with them. Back when Romans was written, the church couldn’t hide behind technology; they had to be intentional with their ministry to each other, and it was very much an in-person type of ministry.

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This is my desktop image at work and home. I need the constant reminder that God’s grace is enough and that His power is on me in my weakest moments.

But the greatest encouragement is this: While you may lose friends, you will never lose the love of God. If you are in Christ, the very spirit of God dwells in you, and He desperately wants you to go to Him with the tears and with the pain. He wants to hold you and to comfort you through any and all of your trials, pouring out His grace on you. My hope and prayer is that as you press into that truth, you will be as convinced as Paul was that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 ESV).

Hold onto the truth that God is by your side in each and every moment; He will not leave you to handle your trials alone.

Plus, while some friends may go, others will stay. Don’t get caught up in the negative that you miss out on the grace. In fact, I’ve grown closer to a great friend because of my experience. God is bigger than sin, and He can absolutely bring about good in spite of it.

3. People may talk.

Being a Christian does not take away the sinful desires of our flesh, and one of the hardest sins for many to battle against is the desire to gossip. When you make any change in life, there is always the possibility that others will spread stories instead of coming to the source. Stories get twisted, added to, and taken away from the more ears and mouths they pass through. So eventually, the stories come back around to you, and what you hear is probably very far from the truth.

Words are simple little combinations of letters and sounds that, when combined, can be some of the most encouraging as well as the most destructive tools we have. Proverbs 26:20 says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases” (ESV).

Just a whisper — the tiniest of communication — can keep the damage going, so don’t add fire to the flame. Don’t be a whisperer and stir up quarreling. Instead, speak what builds each other up. Encourage each other and refuse to take part in gossip and slander. James 3:6 says that “the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.”

Our speech has an incredible amount of potential to hinder others from coming to know Christ; therefore, we should constantly be alert and on guard about how we use the gift of words.

4. You may grow.

In leaving a church, you have the opportunity to get bitter or to get better. I’ve known families who have experienced church hurt and have decided to leave church life entirely, and to be honest, now that I’ve experienced some of the bad behavior that churches allow, I don’t blame them at all. The pain may last a long time. However, while they may not have been able to change the situation that led them to leave, they definitely had the opportunity to choose their response to it.

Even though the situation may be tough, you can choose to trust the God who has a plan and a purpose for everything. There’s not a single thing on earth from which God cannot receive glory. And if you know Christ, Romans 8:28 tells you that all things are being worked together for your good. If you have a hard time understanding how God can work out a bad situation for good — as many of us do from time to time — read about Joseph. I won’t give away the story, but in the end, he says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today,” (Genesis 50:20).

God used someone who was literally in a pit to save the lives of many. If you’re feeling lost in the pit after leaving your church, give your weakness and brokenness to Christ. He is the only firm foundation, and He will be your strength on the days when you simply cannot stand any longer. The beauty of our weakness is that in it, we are forced to look to and to trust the One who is above all. We learn much more about the faithfulness of our God, and we have the opportunity to let the dark times deepen our walk with Him.

You see, even though churches are broken and flawed, God is not. So don’t give up the best relationship you’ll ever know because you’re hurting. Instead, let God speak to you and teach you about His kindness and goodness during the change. Grieve as you need to grieve, seek out genuine Christ-followers on whom you can lean, and choose to grow in your faith rather than grow bitter about it. God will put you in the church and with the body to whom you should belong; don’t even worry about that part.

Remember, this is only a moment; don’t get distracted to the point you stop seeking each day for opportunities to share the love of God with someone. He still has a plan and a purpose that goes well beyond what you can imagine, and He will equip you to fulfill your calling. Choose to trust Him.