Last Spring, as the restrictions of the pandemic lockdowns and isolation began, I was so grateful for the means to meet virtually with my people. There were a few brief weeks of quiet, and then the Zoom meetings began, slowly at first. Once we realized the potential, we were zooming all over the place! Book studies, Titus 2 meetings, ministry team meetings, Bible studies—if two or more were gathering, Zoom was there. I even got our far-flung family into the act and we had weekly visits with our kids who live all over the country, and my husband and I even started reading bedtime stories to our grandsons.
Before we knew it, “Zoom fatigue” set in, and it wasn’t so much fun anymore. The meetings became more difficult. From poor connections and frozen screens, to the true psychological effects of staring at a screen without the ability to make eye contact or pick up nonverbal communication, virtual meetings grew wearisome. Now, don’t get me wrong, we were glad to be able to at least see one another’s faces as we visited. But when it comes to most of our meetings, nothing replaces being in person.
God’s Word is Not Bound
As our women’s ministry prepares for our Fall Bible studies, we don’t yet know if we will be able to meet in person, and even if we may, for how long. There’s a strong possibility that we will need to use virtual means in order to offer our studies to our women. The thought of this grieves me. I miss being with our women and sharing together over God’s word. Muddling through an hour of Bible study through a camera and screen feels like talking through prison bars.
And yet, even if we must Zoom our studies, I have hope, because, as the apostle Paul reminded Timothy while writing from prison, “the word of God is not bound!” (2 Tim. 2:19)….
Honestly, when I was asked to write this post, the first thought that came to mind was, “I am an unlikely person to write an encouraging article about going back to school.”
I prefer the predictable. I am quite uncomfortable in the unknown. I still order chicken nuggets with a coke “no ice” at restaurants because chicken nuggets with a coke “no ice” was what I ordered at fast food restaurants as a child. I seldom swim in oceans, lakes, or rivers because I am not exactly certain which creatures may be swimming near my feet. I struggle when I cannot see every nook and cranny of the waters in which I am swimming.
So, now you know my secrets and why I am an unlikely author for this post. I would rather live everyday like it was Groundhog Day—again. When it comes to uncertainty in my life, there is a gospel gap between my theology and the way I live in the unknown.
As a mom to four elementary-aged children, God is inviting me into a season of uncertainty. Like many of you, I will be swimming in all the unknowns that come with a new school year during the global pandemic.
Here are some promises I am intentionally massaging into my heart as I learn and grow to trust God in the school of His sovereignty.
The Gap Is Filled
The gospel gap between what I know and how I live is filled by Jesus. He has already filled the gap; I just fail to remember His power is the only thing that sustains my every breath and stills my every storm…
Words matter. As a counselor, I know the power of the spoken word, how certain words can break a relationship, while others can heal it. As a writer, I know the importance of selecting the right word to use in a sentence. Sometimes, just one word can be the difference between confusion and clarity.
Words matter in the Bible as well. God created the world through just the power of his word; he merely spoke and light appeared. The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is The Word incarnate, God’s word to us made flesh. Unlike the words we write or speak, God’s word is active and alive; it changes and transforms. It is truth which sanctifies.
As we prepare to return to Bible studies with the women in our churches this fall, it is appropriate to look at the significance of words in Scripture, for every word carries meaning and significance. When we study a passage or chapter in the Bible, it is important to make note of the words used, the meanings of those words, and how they are used. It makes a world of difference as we seek to understand, learn, and be transformed by the very word of God.
As you study this semester, consider some of these words:
Names of People and Places: The meanings of names carry great weight in the Bible. Whenever we come across a name, whether of a person or place, we ought to look up its meaning. Unlike modern times, in the Bible, a person’s name often indicated something about who they were and what they would become (Gen 17:5). Sometimes God instructed prophets to name their children names that spoke to what was happening at that time in Israel or signified what would happen in the future (Hosea 1:6). Often the names of places tell us something about who God is and what he has done.
Repeated Words: Consider how often a teacher or parent repeats the same instructions to children. They often feel like a record set on repeat. In the Bible, when a word is repeated, it’s not accidental. It’s done so to enforce something, to highlight something, to make a point. The author is saying, “Listen up! This is uber-important!” When we come across repeated words or phrases, we ought to stop and take notice. A good example of this is when Isaiah hears the seraphim call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (6:3)
Transition Words: Many bible study students have heard a pastor..
So, she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing, for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”
Hagar and the angel of the Lord in the wilderness are an important piece to the relational gospel story between God and His people. It is a story for those who feel weak, used, abused, abandoned, those who are aliens, and those who long to be seen. El Roi is the God who sees us. This name of God is revealed in Genesis 16. Hagar refers to God as El Roi in verse 13, but to understand the importance of this name we have to see the name in the context of the entire story.
In Genesis 16 we see Sarai desperately wanting to push God’s covenant promise along in her own human effort, control, and plans. In the text of Genesis 16 we see she suggests to Abram that he take her maidservant to be his wife. Neither Abram nor Sarai refer to Hagar by name in this entire account recorded by Moses in Genesis 16. She is a maidservant, an Egyptian in slavery in a foreign land, and she is used as an object by Abram and Sarai—unseen to them as the named woman, by the personal name Hagar—to Abram and Sarai, she is servant or just a pronoun.
After Hagar becomes pregnant, Sarai deals harshly with her and Hagar flees. Hagar is pregnant, an alien in a foreign land, and up until this point has not been referred to by her personal name. She flees to a place on the way to Shur—a place that is so far from where Abram and Sarai lived that she must have traveled a very long way on foot to escape the mistress who mistreated her, never called her by her personal name, and dealt with her harshly.
In the desert, the angel of the Lord speaks to her and calls her by her personal name for the first time in the text of Genesis 16. In Hagar’s response to the angel of the Lord, we see for the first time in Scripture, the recorded name of the God who sees, El Roi—the God who sees me…
Editor’s Note: This is the third post in a series of posts on one another care in the church. To read the other posts, click here.
Most mornings you can find me curled up in the corner of my couch reading Scripture. Now, I’d love for you to think that makes me super virtuous; however, I must confess I read the news and social media first. I’m still working on my priorities.
Daily “demotions” (as I like to call them) are one of my favorite times of the day. God speaks to me through His word and I discover something new about Him and His world just about every time.
I can’t tell you how often God then uses those quiet moments with Him to equip me to minister to others. Frequently I find that the very words He applied to my soul in the morning help in a conversation with a friend or counselee later in the day. He does that. His words are our daily nourishment; however, they are also meant for us to use to sustain one another (Col. 3:16). This is just one of several ways we can prepare in advance of sharing the word with someone who is struggling. This means we need to pay attention to how God meets us with His word.
Another way is to build a counseling toolkit. A toolkit can be made up of sermons, devotionals, and/or Bible Study materials adapted for use in counsel. For instance, what was the last sermon you heard? What were your pastor’s three main points? How did he apply them? What was the main take away from your last Bible study? Create a journal with these messages and record the insights you’ve gleaned…
While this post is somewhat about motherhood, it’s more about mothering. And while I will be talking about my perspective as a mother, I hope there is something here that will encourage you— whether your mothering is in the biological realm, the spiritual realm, or both. To embrace our God-given design as lifegivers is a joyful expression of who we were created to be.
I’m a mother of five and a grandmother of eight. I’m fortunate that my own mother was able to come stay with us when a new baby arrived. Having her there to help in all sorts of ways made those first crazy days survivable. As terrifying as it was to bring that new little person home from the hospital, it was nothing compared to watching Mom drive away and knowing I was now on my own. When my own daughter began having children, I couldn’t get that airplane ticket fast enough. Every passenger between Houston and Nashville knew that I was going to meet my newest grandbaby! From my experience of being both on the receiving and the giving end of this special kind of caretaking, I can’t help notice some similarities with our role as spiritual mothers as well.
We all know the intensity of a newborn’s cry for food. Eating is serious business! But a new mama needs to eat as well. Remember that early fog? When you feel like you just ran a race and want nothing more than to sleep, unless that something more is food? Labor and delivery were only the beginning of this marathon! Having mom there to shop and cook and do the dishes and make all our favorite meals was more than just help: it was nourishment for our weary, hungry souls. The last thing on my mind when I was a gazillion-weeks pregnant was making things look pretty, yet here Mom was: putting the jam in a pretty dish, folding napkins, and making our time around the table a celebration.
When my own house was full of little ones, my older children knew the best part of having a new baby was the meals from our church friends. Every night was like Christmas as these dear saints blessed us with dinner (usually with plenty of leftovers!). I will never forget the morning that Miss April brought over a platter of freshly fried chicken. I don’t remember why she was there at 10 AM, but I do remember that those drumsticks didn’t make it to dinnertime! After spending a week with my daughter last month, I was reminded how much hungry kids can eat. What fun to bake and cook for a crowd again!
If you are in a spiritual mothering relationship, you know that one of the best ways to care for your daughter is through the word of God. It is her food and she needs to eat. Sometimes we model that by showing her what a beautiful feast looks like: a specially prepared Bible study or devotion, a lesson from our own life that we can share. Sometimes we show up with that “emergency meal” and remind her that no Christian can survive on a starvation diet…
It’s been several weeks of caution and seclusion. Our churches are livestreamed, our fellowship times are in digital halls, and our Bible studies are framed by computer or phone screens. There is a new normal that is still unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and we don’t know how long this altered existence will last.
Scripture is full of exhortations about waiting on the Lord (Is. 25:9; Ps. 37:7; Lam. 3:26), having patience (Gal. 5:22; Col. 1:11; Jm. 5:7), and God’s care in the midst of hard times (2 Sam. 22:31; Ps. 36:7, 46:1, 62:8). But there is one page of the Bible that I’m finding unconventionally encouraging in these unconventional times. Unfortunately, if you use an electronic version of the Bible, you probably won’t notice it. Go grab a physical copy of the God’s Word and turn to Malachi 4. Now, turn the page.
It’s blank, isn’t it? There’s a blank page, followed by a page introducing the New Testament. That blank page represents over 400 years of silence, uncertainty, and waiting.
If you’re still holding a copy of the Bible, your left hand is holding around 1,500 years of covenant history. I say “covenant” history because the Bible is full of covenants that God makes with his people. Throughout that history, God kept his covenant to preserve and bless his people, even though his people disobeyed the covenant conditions. The Old Testament is an ongoing story of how God committed to his people, his people disobeying, God reestablishing the covenant, and sending covenant messengers (aka prophets) to remind his people of the terms of the covenant. There are robust themes of God’s faithfulness despite his people’s sin..
The holidays, for good or bad, are over. And once again you’re facing a new year. It’s full of new possibilities, new opportunities, blank pages, unwritten stories. It feels like a chance for a do-over, something many of us would gladly take when it comes to Bible reading. Because if we’re honest, we’re not so great at it.
You may have made resolutions in the past, maybe multiple years. You may have even found a partner and decided that accountability would make a difference. You got a great start, found a rhythm, and enjoyed it. And somewhere in Leviticus, or near the end of February, you stopped. Life got busy. The baby started waking up again. Work became more stressful. You got bored. What does this mean about you?
It means you’re human.
On Habits and Restarts
Though we may put it in a different category because of the power it holds, reading the bible is like other human activities, which means that at some point, we’ll fail. Unfortunately many of us have assigned this failure to keep a good habit or be consistent in a spiritual discipline a significance it doesn’t deserve. We’ve decided it means we don’t love Jesus, or that we’re a lesser-than disciple, or that we’re just not good at reading the Bible. Here’s what it really means: Life got busy. We are embodied souls. And embodied souls live with stress and changing circumstances, restarts and do-overs. And the restarts are just as important as the first starts…