Every single time I read the story of Paul, it slays me. This week was no different. I can’t help it. You’ve got this man who was vehemently opposed to Jesus, who made it his life’s mission to destroy Christ-followers and he ends up being the writer of the majority of the New Testament. It’s stories like that that give me hope and I really pray that they do the same for you.
To be fair, Paul really didn’t know that he was writing part of the New Testament. It’s not as if he imagined that his letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, among others, would one day be collected, translated into English, and bound into a single book. In case one is interested in the statistics, the author of Luke and Acts wrote more of the New Testament than Paul did in all of the epistles combined. Sure, Paul wrote a majority of the books of the New Testament, but it wasn’t the majority of the New Testament itself – though he did come close.
… And I know that there are all these things that stand out different for us in Scripture in different parts of our lives, sometimes we read a passage and it will jump off of the page and amaze us and other times we skim over that and something else jumps out at us that we’ve never noticed before. I love that. For me it was reading the words of Paul as his life comes to a close I guess you could say that kind of lit a new fire in me. Because it wasn’t enough that he had had a radical conversion to Christ, for him that was just the beginning of the story. And I want that to be true of me. I want to stare tomorrow in the face, whatever it brings me with full confidence that the God who began this work in me will bring it to completion. Philippians 1:6 ESV. As we saw in Paul, that meant preaching more often from prison cells and not necessarily country clubs. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but often the words echo loudest in the world when they come from places of deep hurt. From places that reached what might be seen as our darkest hour and still we refuse to call him anything but the great hope of our lives. So this video, this closing session, that’s what I’m urging for you – that’s what I want you to hear. He’s given you this hope so you can carry it out into the world. What is it that makes your story specific to you? What are the wounds of your life? How can you hide them in the wounds of your God so that they’ll bring him glory? I know that I’ve talked about my wedding day several times during this study, I’m sorry I couldn’t help it. It’s just the most beautiful analogy that I could come up with to describe the relationship that we have with our God…
It is my firm belief that any Bible Study ought to actually study the Bible. Sure, there are room for a great many anecdotes, jokes, and random stories – but this consistent redirection of bringing the main point home – to you and to me always distracts from Scripture itself. There’s plenty of metaphors for God’s various relationships with humanity in Scripture: creator and creation, father and child, mother and child, husband and wife, husband and ex-wife, fiancé and his fiancée, general and his army, as well as the trinity relationships: father and holy spirit, holy spirit and son, and father and son. All of them have some beauty to it, and all of them have some problem with them. When it comes down to it, we can use relationships to describe how we relate to God, but we can’t stamp all relationships with God and expect them to work. Anyway, back to the Bible study – we left off with a discussion of author’s wedding and her family.
I think I love Paul because I get it. I’m a pragmatic person. I spent most of my life ignoring or disputing these words because to me they seemed kind of like a fantastical version of a world that would just distract us from reality. Fairy tales. An escape. A place where people could go when they wanted to get away from feeling heavy about their life. But sometimes God lets us get to the end of ourselves because He knows that’s the only place we’ll find Him. Although I would have said that I was a Christian before … there was something in me that shifted that night, all the sudden it went from theory to concrete, it went from possibility to absolute,it went from pages to a person. And the last thing I ever wanted to do in my life was to sit in front of a camera and talk and wonder what people on the other side of the lens would think about me…
I don’t really have any opinion to the author as a person. I think she was pretty much a regular person (as regular as anyone can be who is married to a famous personality) who was challenged by a difficult time with the loss of her child. She blogged, struck a chord, and received a fair amount of attention. I think LifeWay saw this, imagined dollar signs that could be rolling in – if she’s this popular as a free blogger, how much more money could she make them in the form of a Bible Study? As a bonus, she could get out the word and talk about God and the Bible and Jesus. Her study also checks all the boxes for what makes a great women’s Bible study: it’s not too theologically deep, it does not place too much demands on a woman’s time, it relational, it’s emotional, it has some humor in it, it contains a context for women in it’s use of marriage metaphors, and it’s pink all over the place. The video I’ve been watching just exudes southern charm; it’s really quite lovely. But what makes it a perfect women’s Bible Study also makes it a less than useful for me. I don’t need an overarching understanding of the fundamental layout and meaning of God’s word achieved by seamlessly tying the people, places, and promises in the Bible together into the greater story of Scripture. I don’t need a pink hers version of the Bible or the story it contains therein. I need the story for the context of my life – not for somebody else’s life experience that is totally different from my own. So many times the author relates to the gospel through her experiences as a wife, it gives the marriage metaphors in scripture a personal meaning. Not everyone has that. Another thing – growth. You get a certain amount of growth depending upon what nutrients you provide. If women tend to be given more emotional and less theological Bible studies, then one should expect to see emotional growth more quickly and very little theological growth if any at all. What kind of Christians do you want to see as a result of this study? People who the Bible like a tourist knows all the major sites? Or people who are locals who know all the sites inside and out? Ones who can talk about Eve, Jacob, the Israelites, and David? Or ones who happens to know who Oholibamah was, what Gehazi did, and what happened to Nehustan?
… I get it. Obviously I’m totally kidding. Over the past few weeks as I’ve prayed about these sessions and over what I would say I want you know that the enemy who met us in the Garden has been alive and well and feeding my own insecurity. He’s whispered things to me that I’d long forgotten. He’s spit on my heart when I finally started feeling any kind of courage about it at all. And I say that to you because I know you get it. I know that wherever you are and whatever you’re facing, you’ve heard his lies, too. And so it all comes down to the question that we started this study with: What is it that you think of God? Because if he really is who he says he is, then we’re wasting our time if we’re doing anything other than telling everyone exactly that. 2 Timothy 4:7 ESV. It makes me want nothing less than to say those same words with every breath he gives me. It should compel us to tell the story. To tell this story. And so I want to ask you something: How will you leave this room today and tell it? Where are the places he’s called you? To bring this?
Sometimes I think Christians can give too much credit to Satan, the Devil, a.k.a. the enemy. Instead of owning up to our own fears and failures, it’s often easier to blame the devil. “The devil’s tormenting me today, he’s temping me.” “The devil’s attacking me today, he’s brought on an episode of depression” “the devil caused my panic attack.” I really don’t believe he’s that powerful. Look at the story of Job – Satan had limits what he could do. And we’re not even Job, not really worth the trouble it would take to destroy all our possessions, our families, our health – it’s not as if God or Satan has anything to prove by causing us to suffer.
So she continues with yet another mention of her wedding, how the guests were invited to her marriage reception and was also reminded of the one in Revelation 19:7 ESV followed by Hebrews 12:28 ESV … We open these pages with three simple words: in the beginning. And now we close it. Not with a sense of finality but rather of expectation of celebration of urgency this seamless love story has wound it’s way from the garden to Gethsemane and eventually to unending glory. This God, this exact God, has placed a calling on your life to go out and speak of the one who rescued you, the one who renamed you, who redeemed you, who brought you to repentance, who reconciled you, and who will receive you at the table of grace … These words are trustworthy and true – Revelation 22:6 ESV … and so like any great story, it isn’t over yet. But also like any truly great story we know how it ends. And so until then, beloved, cling to Him as the spotless bride he has made you to be. Let your life be a living testimony of his goodness, his faithfulness, and his holiness. And all God’s people said, amen.
And that’s a wrap. This Bible study is almost exactly a year old. I guess it excels at being an introduction course for adults who didn’t grow up in churches learning them from a young age. There is a need for resources for such things – however, anyone who is like me, who already knows these stories aren’t likely to learn anything they don’t already know. Women’s Bible Studies have long had this reputation for being full of fluff. It’s slowly getting better, but there were a lot of opportunities that were missed to write studies to help women grow.
Hebrews 5:11-6:3 says,
“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.”
This bible study effectively laid the foundation of repentance and faith in God – it offers milk for spiritual infants. That’s what it offers, and that’s what it’ll create. The women of my church have been Christians for decades, but they’re not in a place to be teachers. Why is this? The Methodist denomination doesn’t bar women from being pastors. But my particular church doesn’t seem to offer much potential for growth. I remember when I was tasked with reviewing Designed to Shine for my previous church. I told the woman who would be leading the study that it was a terribly shallow book that was more about it’s authors auto-biography than it was the Bible itself. The teacher said that anything deeper would be too much. I told her the study was just not enough. Same goes for Seamless, it’s just not enough to start women down the path toward becoming teachers. Some of that might be because of a rather complementarian view of Scripture that tends to create a divide between men and women: in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 lays down the rule that women are not permitted to teach men. Elsewhere, older women are told to teach younger women (Titus 2:3-5). Women only need to know enough to relate – to take the stories and connect them to what they are feeling because women are emotional (except for me and hundreds of thousands of other women). Since women aren’t allowed to teach men, then there is no need for them to know as much or the same kind of knowledge that men are supposed to know. In essence, since women can’t be teachers the same way that men are, they aren’t being taught how to be teachers the same way that men are. Which is to be expected of a LifeWay Bible Study, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptists; but it should not be taught in Methodist churches without somebody pointing out everywhere their teachings conflict and where their emphasis differs from the one they know. Until Bible Studies are capable of turning students into teachers, it’s up to each and every one of us to take up the challenge ourselves – to learn what the Bible Studies don’t teach. To take as much time as it takes to really get into the tapestry of scripture and trace where each of the threads take us, wherever it may be.