The first organized bible study I ever did was in the Tuesday Morning Women’s Bible Study at my church. Three years later, I’m leading that group, but when I first met these women, I had no idea what to expect. I’d only been attending church for about three weeks at that point, and I’d never been a part of group study in the Bible.
I sought out the group because I’d hit the book of Ezekiel in my first trip through the Bible, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. I thought if I joined a bible study, I could go to a meeting and someone there would just explain Ezekiel to me. Many of the women had been actively practicing Lutherans for decades. I made two very naive assumptions about bible study: First, I thought of bible study as a free-for-all where everyone just came in and talked about whatever they wanted to. Second, I assumed that anyone who’d been studying the Bible for decades would magically know all of the answers to all of my questions.
I know. It’s okay; you can giggle. Bible study doesn’t actually work that way.
Our study in my first season with the Tuesday Ladies was Entrusted by Beth Moore. It is a thorough book-study of 2 Timothy, and I highly recommend it. In the back of the Entrusted study guide, Beth put in an optional exercise that encourages students to write a letter of appreciation to someone we hold dear in the faith, as Paul did with Timothy. It was a prompt for expressing gratitude to the men and women who have taught us, pastored us, partnered with us, and otherwise been a part of our relationships with God and his church. It was a beautiful assignment, and I had trouble deciding who to write my letter to. There have been a lot of people I could choose from in my life.
This post is about honoring a few of the people who served as my Gamaliel (teacher), my Paul (mentor), my James (a friend or partner who challenged me), or my Luke (the ones who brought me comfort in times of trial or testing). I don’t have any Timothies, yet, I don’t think. I hope to be as useful to someone as Paul was to Timothy, but those are some pretty big shoes, don’t you think, and I have very small feet.
Consider your own family of faith. To whom would you write your letters? Who are the people God sent into your life specifically to draw you closer to Him? For whom are you most grateful in your faith as you look back over your life?
These are mine:
My Parents were my first evangelists and teachers. They taught me about who God is, who Jesus is, and why they each believed in Christ’s salvation of mankind. They gave me my first Bibles. They taught me to memorize my first prayers and Bible verses. They sang hymns to me and took me to church. They are the ones who first told me that I am a child of God.
My Aunt Judy has been my most vibrant and consistent example of the Fruits of the Spirit. To spend five minutes in her company is to see how Jesus can just radiate from a believer’s insides. ALL of the fruits of the Spirit are visible on this woman, and it is a privilege and joy to be a member of her earthly family. No matter how deeply I doubted, my occasional visits with Aunt Judy always refreshed my image of what Christian faith looks like on a person, and it always reignited my longing to share in it.
Father Doran was the first (and only) religious authority in my childhood to treat me like a fully endowed image-bearer. He expected me to apply academic discipline in pursuit of godly knowledge, just like the adults. His time with my church was short, but I will never forget his Wednesday night catechism class on the Trinity. His example of academic rigor in pursuit of religious understanding was a revelation for me, and I think of him often when I am in a deep or frustrating study. I press on and call up my memory of Father Doran because I wouldn’t want to disappoint him by any lack of application or any indulgence of intellectual laziness.
Father Ward was the senior pastor (prior) at our church for a goodly while in my teens. His personal discipline and unwavering devotion to a life of religious service are an image and example I will keep with me as long as I live. There was never even a slight wobble in the confidence Father Ward had in Christ. His stoic and unflappable belief in God was–and still is–the greatest single inspiration for my perseverance in seeking faith. I wanted the kind of faith that Father Ward has, and it drove me to attempt drawing nearer to God over and over and over again. His sermons (homilies) were occasionally so profound that I can still actually see him speaking parts of them out to us. His connection to faith and his confidence in God were unlike anything I’ve seen in any other person, and he is the standard of “pastor” against which I compare every other religious authority. He was truly a father to me in the faith, and though I have no doubt he’d be excessively disappointed that I am not a Catholic, and even though I can actually see the disapproving expression he would wear on his face, I know that I will greet him one day with joyful exuberance in Heaven.
My Daughter loved church from toddlerhood and begged us to take her to church from time to time in her earliest years. That was a God breeze, and I will never think anything different about it. Her desire for Sunday School led to repeated, albeit half-hearted, efforts to find a church we could take her to, so a child–our own child–led us back to the place we belonged.
Pastor Tim Jones was the senior pastor at a small Lutheran congregation my husband and I briefly attended in the early 2000’s. It was the first time we tried to “join a church” as a married couple, and though we never got as far as officially becoming members–our residence in the area was cut short by military deployment overseas–the kindness and help Pastor Tim offered our family was an invaluable step on our journey back to God.
Pastor Kenneth Davis was the first pastor we heard preach at our current church home. His sermon seemed composed specifically for us that day, and though he will never know it, because he left for another pastoral position almost immediately after we found our church (and never knew us), he was the sower of a very important seed in our lives. He is one of the first notes I ever took in the margin of my Bible, and we will always wish him well and happy and fruitful in his continuing ministry.
Pastor Mark is our current senior pastor, and he walked patiently with me through the book of Genesis and a thousand impertinent questions about faith in my first year with our church. He has treated me with understanding, Christian love, and overwhelming care for my condition of doubt as a new believer. He was instrumental in keeping me connected to a local body long enough to find my own desire to stay there. He guided me in the months before I found Jesus, and in a very real way, he is the authority who walked me up to the Cross. We love this man–our whole family–and we are privileged to have him as our local shepherd.
Beth Moore. I’ve never met her. I probably never will, and that really isn’t the point. Beth Moore is a bible teacher, and she was the first bible teacher I ever sat under. Her enthusiasm and energy are alien and delightful to an emotionally constipated soul like me, and her love of the Bible is contagious. It crackles in the air when you listen to her speak about Scripture. She’s also got some seriously great teaching chops when it comes to introducing bible study to women. I have done many of her studies and hope to do many more. I am grateful to her, and she was there in my first corporate bible study. She gave me the fever for God’s Word, and she sowed the seeds of my conviction that this is what I’m called to do–learning the Bible, defending it, explaining it, and spreading the enthusiasm for it. She’s a treasure.
My Tuesday Ladies. They tolerate me and support me and build me up. The feed me and hug me and make me feel safe, wanted, and loved. They also teach me and live out an example of godly womanhood, each in her own unique way. They’re special, and they’re God’s…and now they’re mine, too. Everyone needs a group of Christian brothers and sisters to be at home with. I have been given exactly the right home at exactly the right time. These women introduced me to Beth Moore (ha ha), and they introduced me to Christian sisterhood.
Pastor Bob was an associate pastor at our current church for a brief period, and his quiet support of my continuing investigation of the Bible gave me a lot of confidence during that first year of study. He gave me the gift of taking me seriously, and when he left our church, he gave me a set of commentaries on the book of Isaiah. I think of him often, and pray for his ongoing ministry. I will never in my life visit the Book of the Prophet Isaiah without thinking of him and smiling.
Jen Wilkin. This is another bible teacher I don’t know and will likely never meet. She is teaching me that being an unapologetic bible nerd is glorious, that I can own it, and that it’s okay to be different in this way. She’s demonstrating to me that one can be nerdy and academic without being clinical, detached, or cold about Scripture. I love the way she moves through bible study, and I am grateful for her example of faithful and godly womanhood–the kind of womanhood that draws people closer to God by opening up his Bible for them. She is inspiring and funny and adorable and a true force to behold in the body of Christ today.
Pastor Steve. Oh, how I love and give thanks for this man. As our associate pastor, he reminds me on a near-daily basis that joy is supposed to be a part of my faith. Pastor Steve loves Jesus. He just loves Jesus, and because he loves Christ, he loves Christ’s people. His patience and happy countenance are always “on” to welcome people and encourage them to approach, but it’s never a false front. Even when he’s sick or frustrated or unhappy, it seems a part of his given nature to accommodate other people with warmth. He is a natural shepherd, and he is a gifted antidote to my “melancholic-phlegmatic” personality type. Part of his general benediction at the end of a Sunday service is to remind us of God’s “uncontainable joy,” and Pastor Steve practices what he preaches. He is a ray of bright sunlight, like my Aunt Judy (mentioned above) and the love of Christ just radiates from him, affecting everyone in his sphere.
I am so grateful to God for each of these beautiful Christian men and women who pastored me and taught me and led me by example. I feel as though God gave them to me on purpose, and I hope that I am used to benefit someone else as each of these people were used to benefit me.
Make your own list, and find a way to tell them you love them and appreciate them if you can. A lot of times, the good we do remains invisible. We don’t always get to know that something we said or did made a difference. Where we can give that encouragement to someone, we should.
See you next time.