You see that cool teenager up there? He is one of my two (not so) little (anymore) brothers. That photo was taken a few Saturdays ago at the closest Chipotle to our house. Do you know what he was up to from 8 am until 1 pm earlier that same day? Why, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Poor guy.
A few weeks prior to that, I told him that I would take him out for lunch after his test at whatever place he wanted. He suggested Chipotle because it’s his favorite, and I agreed to it, marking it down on my Google calendar. However, in the days that followed, I must have mentally gone back and forth on that decision about 20-30 times.
Every time I told him to study, and he told me “later” because he wanted to rest, or just flat out refused, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.
Every time he didn’t help with the dishes or folding laundry, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.
Every time I heard him blasting a song on his iPad that I didn’t approve of, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.
Every time my eyes fell upon some new dress in a shop window, and I thought about how I could expand my personal purchases if I just stopped buying things for others, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.
I know… I’m pretty twisted, right?
A couple months ago I checked out a study on Romans by John Stott from my local public library. I had been praying about going over a book of the Bible with the junior high students on Friday nights, and it came down to either Genesis or Romans. I was leaning towards Romans because of just how much it really goes into the Gospel, but I also like the foundation that gets laid in Genesis (literally and figuratively, har har).
At the very back of the study booklet is a section on “Guidelines for Leaders,” and the very first point under the subsection on “Preparing for the Study,” was this little nugget:
Guidelines for Leaders
Preparing for the Study
1. Ask God to help you understand and apply the passage in your own life. Unless this happens, you will not be prepared to lead others. Pray too for the various members of the group. Ask God to open your hearts to the message of his Word and motivate you to action.
One of the biggest reasons I turned away from my Christian upbringing in high school was precisely because I felt like most of the Christian adults in my life, as well as the youth my own age, “talked the talk” without “walking the walk.” (Note: Of course I now realize that I was even more misguided. Not only did I not talk or walk, but in my scathing judgement of those around me, I was failing in Jesus’s command to not judge others, but instead to examine myself and make sure that I allowed Him to help me deal with all of my issues – Matthew 7:1-5). And yet, it’s still so easy for me when I lead studies, to just let verses concerning God’s commands just fly out of my mouth at other people with the intent of having them learn something. What I always seem to fail to realize is that God desires that I apply those very things to my life first, to struggle in my obedience, to attempt to persevere, and then to come humbly before others with the same passage and lots of love and compassion for the difficulty of what God calls us to do, but encouragement as a sister in Christ who is in this struggle with them.
I’m thankful for Stott’s wisdom in pointing that out very clearly in his guidelines because it’s so important to remember. As James 1:22-25 says:
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was life. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
Not just hearers, not just talkers, but doers.
Last Sunday, the lesson in The Little Oak Grove was on “Barnabus Shares” (Acts 4:32-37). Here was the Teacher Challenge:
Two lines in particular stood out to me:
1) The new believers in the Early Church shared because of their abandon to God…
2) But remember God’s generosity toward you.
When I first read over the passage, I was honestly a little nervous about coming in to teach the Pre-K kids because, well, 99.999999% of the micro-fires that break out on any Sunday morning concern situations where “_____ won’t share wit meeeee!” I could just imagine going through the story, admonishing them to share with one another, and either being met with blank stares or resounding no’s.
I remember waking up that Sunday morning a little panicked, but I just prayed that if I had concerns about just talking about the act of sharing itself, that I be able to get across the reason why we are to share, the motivation behind the action. It was a bit halfhearted because I still have this funny doubt that God really cares about me and all the little details of my whole little life, but as I made my bed and placed my gigantic Hello Kitty pillow in the middle… Aha! I grabbed HK and once I got to the classroom, I took up a little baby doll, too.
After I went through the story of Barnabus found in the illustrated children’s Bible, I held up my pillow and asked if anyone knew who it was. Almost all of the girls, and a few of the boys, screamed, “Hello Kittyyy!” I affirmed their answer and talked about how much I really liked Hello Kitty. I admitted, though, that I often have a bad, selfish attitude about it. At that point, I clutched the pillow and made a mean face as I said, “This is my Hello Kitty! I don’t want you to touch her!”
Oh boy… most of the kids giggled at my antics, but one little girl frowned back at me, clearly offended. Oops!
I asked the kids if they liked my attitude and they, of course, said no. I told them that God didn’t like that kind of attitude either and instead calls us to share; nevertheless, the reason He calls us to share is not just because He “said so,” but because He is so giving and generous to us. I asked the kids if they remembered what Christmas was all about and they screamed back, “Jesus!” Absolutely. I held up the little baby doll and told them that God had given His precious and only son to us. Easter was not that long ago, so I asked why that day was so important. There were blank stares, but after some coaxing, they could say that Jesus died on the cross. Yes. Jesus in turn, gave up His life for our sins, so that we could be reconciled to God and live eternally in Heaven with Him. Even though there was nothing worthy about us, even though we sinned against Him, God in His love and overwhelming generosity, shared His Son who shared His life so that we might live.
I’m not sure how much our kiddos grasped out of all of this, but I know that it’s something that the Holy Spirit keeps bringing up to my mind because if the episode I began this post with is any indication, I clearly still haven’t quite grasped it either. And even when I do, I allow myself to forget God’s generosity to me. In Romans 8:31-32, Paul writes:
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?
I pray that I would always purpose to reflect on The Gospel, that I would never grow cold and ungrateful to Your sacrifice for me, that I would live with abandon to You, and that Your generous love would flow through me to others. And this, of course, is my prayer for those who are brothers and sisters in Christ, too, so that we might freely give to one another as we have received from You, that needs might be met and the Body strengthened. And for those who do not yet know You, Lord, I pray that their lives will be touched and transformed by Your abundant love in Christ, that they would experience true freedom in all areas of their lives.