Sometimes I click on links to watch clips of teachers I admire. And sometimes those links lead me to other links of people I've not listened to before. It was in that manner I stumbled on a clip of a talk given by Abi Stumvoll titled, "Words God Never Says to Us." That clip brought back so many memories of the struggle I had with learning to fully trust God. Over the next few weeks I will be writing about words I believed God said, but were words God never spoke. Today I am going to talk about the words, "Be Good and I will Bless You," and "Be Good and I will Love You."
Some of the struggle I've had over the years with trust issues came from not growing up in a church-attending family. We didn't discuss sermons over Sunday dinner and my childish misinterpretations of what I heard went unchecked, leaving me to create my own system of theology and what a sick, shaming system it became. We also didn't discuss the Bible as a family. So, when I was reading it on my own, I didn't always interpret it correctly; I interpreted it through a distorted view of God in which I viewed Him as distant, angry, and impossible to please.
Because we didn't discuss Bible things at home, I often asked Sunday School teachers questions. Most of the time it was okay. However, I remember one Sunday close to Christmas they brought several classes together and we had a male teacher I didn't know. He talked about the virgin Mary in his Christmas story presentation. So, I asked him what a virgin was. A hush fell over the room and even as a ten year old I could sense his discomfort and his struggle to find words to answer my question. After a few moments he gave a short answer, leaving no room for followup questions. "It means Mary was a good girl."
In my fifth grade mind, those words took on a life of their own. I interpreted them to indicate God must have said, either directly or indirectly, "Be good and I will bless you, be bad and I won't," which lead to, "Be good and I will love you and be bad and I won't" Those words became a part of my system of theology. Sadly, the statements ended up coloring my view of God and left me with an unsettling fear--a fear that made me want to believe in Him, a fear because I did believe in such a scary God, and a fear that I would never be good enough for Him to love. This belief impacted how I interpreted so many other things as you will see over the next few weeks.
In his discomfort, the man missed the opportunity to teach the doctrine of the Virgin Birth so crucial to embracing the truth of Jesus as both God and man. I know the man knew nothing about the little girl sitting in his class--the little girl struggling to make sense of the Christian life she knew God called her to live. He knew nothing about the little girl believing she was bad to the core of her being, longing to be good. He knew nothing about her believing God might never love a girl as bad as her desperately longing for His love. He knew nothing about her view of God and herself being skewed when someone had taken advantage of her when she was 4. He never knew his words contributed to the strengthening of her false belief that something bad in her invited abuse and something bad in her kept God from protecting her. Nor, did the man know his answer contributed to a long struggle with perfectionism--perfectionism developed to overcome obvious her many flaws, the badness she believed resided deep inside, besetting sin with which she struggled, and an attempt to become lovable.
But, God! God cares about people! And God cared about the young woman I grew up to be--a woman still struggling with a skewed view of God, deeply yearning to know Him and to be loved by Him. And after I was married, He took us to a place I claimed I would never go--a place I went, silently protesting in my heart. A place where I sat under a Bible teacher who taught his congregation to be Bereans, testing what they were taught with the Word of God. A place that was safe enough to ask all the questions with which I struggled and where the pastor was humble enough to not be bothered by questions. A place where the pastor and teachers never offered quick or flippant answers.
There I asked questions to my heart's content. And when I asked, he always pulled out His Bible instead of talking off the top of his head. As we poured over Scriptures, he always showed me the process that lead him to believe truth he taught. A part of that truth included teaching on the sin nature with which some people have a hard time. But for this girl who had been viewing the sin nature as a core of bad that only I possessed, it was good news.
Through my conversations with him and with many other members of that precious church I began to grow. For the first time, I had the opportunity to discuss sermons over Sunday meals, and I began to see God differently. He no longer seemed distant, angry, and impossible to please. He was and is a relational God, loving with a love so radical it's unfathomable! I came to understand God had never said I had to be perfect to be loved by Him. The truth was that He had already demonstrated His love when I was yet deep in sin! He proved His love by sending His Son to take on my sin in His body and die in my place and then He rose again proving His payment was satisfactory. Then when I trusted Him, He imputed Jesus' righteousness to me--righteousness I could never achieve, righteousness that graciously reconciled me to Him, making it possible to approach Him as a beloved child, forever crying, " Abba!" Abba--such a intimate term--like Papa in our culture.
Overtime, I came to understand God had always loved me. He loved me in my most imperfect state. He loved me when my theology was based on misconceptions. He loved me when I messed up and sinned against Him. He loved me when others hurt me. He even loved me enough to pour out His blessings on me--blessings I couldn't earn, didn't deserve, and didn't always recognize at the time. Like the blessing of being taken across the country under silent protest to a little community with a small church with a great big heart and a Bible teaching pastor with a deep southern accent and a congregation full of people loving Jesus and loving God's Word so much, it was a part of everyday conversation. And those conversations were used by God to satisfy the deep thirst in my soul to know God and to be known by Him. It was in that knowing that I was set free from the false words I once believed were His, but were, in truth, words God had never spoke!
Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!