“You want weapons. We’re in a library. Books are the best weapon in the world. This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have. Arm yourself!” – Doctor Who
I spent five years in undergrad and two years in graduate school. I have a total of seven years of formal training. I have read countless pages in books about this topic. I know all the terms, all the arguments, all the history, and all the theories. I even know the original languages. I wrote many, many pages worth of papers on the various topics within this topic. In fact, I was given a page maximum, but the other students were given page minimums.
I studied the Bible. I studied for the ministry. I have a bachelor’s in youth ministry and a master’s in cross-cultural studies (missions focus). My master’s project was a 120 page paper titled, “Mission Strategies for 21st Century France: A Study in the Practice of Contextualization.” After graduation, I was an interim youth pastor for two years, then worked on a masters of divinity.
Like a tornado transporting Dorothy to Oz, I found myself in a place I never thought I’d be…
One thing the college I went to prides itself in is the student’s ability to use the Bible. As students in their ministerial school and seminary, we were trained in biblical theology, systematic theology, original languages, and many other things. We were required to participate in weekly ministries. We were required to read the Bible through once a school year. I remember I went street-witnessing, and some nights it turned into debating people.
When I went home over the summer, I debated people on various issues in Christianity.
I upheld the theme verse that seemed to come out in every class –
“He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.“ (Emphasis on the last part)
Seminary students were a force to be reckoned with. I was one of them. We preached on sin, avoiding the world, and the dangers of “other churches out there.” Our education became a weapon. We could quick-draw from our stack of books faster than any gunslinger of the Old West. This attitude became our pride.
If you crossed my path, I wanted a debate. I would make sure you knew my position, and made sure you knew yours was wrong and potentially sending you to Hell.
A simple question…
Haven’t You Read?
My favorite Sunday lunch was Roast Pastor. As we would go to church, I would have a mental debate (greater than any presidential debate – the 2020 debate isn’t hard to beat). I would find any reason to dismiss the pastor.
May 25, 2021 arrived. I was out of work at the time. Struggles were real. A good friend knew the struggles I was going through and encouraged me to read Galatians. “Galatians?” I thought. “I know this book like the back of my hand, the chapter content, the key verses, the biblical theology, and the significance of it in church history.”
But, I sat at Barnes and Noble going to read one chapter, because (if you know me) I had a book list I wanted to get to. However, one chapter turned into two, then pretty soon I found myself at the end of Galatians with notes galore.
“Where was all this? Why haven’t I seen this before?”
I saw things like I never did. It was that day God made a change in my life. I texted my friend so much that day he probably put me on “ignore.” Then, I couldn’t put down the Bible. I would read whole books in one sitting.
Jesus asked the Pharisees a similar question: “Haven’t you read?” In fact, he asks this over a dozen times in the Gospels. When the Pharisees tried to debate Jesus, he most likely brought this question up. He questioned the reading comprehension of the most learned men in the New Testament.
And Jesus did the same to me. I began to see the Gospel in a whole new way. Yet, my books were still at my hip. Each one ready to be drawn and fired at a moment’s notice.
A question led me to the heart of Jesus…
A weekend event led me to disarm…
“You are Home”
“Ok,” I thought. “What is this? I hope this is biblical.” Our church was having it’s annual Prophetic Presbytery. Yet, this was the first time I had heard of this term. Not knowing what exactly was involved, my wife and I signed up to help usher.
Then a Tuesday breakfast with my small group leader sounded the alarm. He explained the event using terms like, “prophesying over people,” “word in season,” “hearing God’s message for you,” and many other things where all the alarms went off. Panic and anxiety settled it. My photographic memory kicked in as the many pages I had mentally scanned appeared in my vision. The ammo was loaded and ready. Unfortunately, it fired at this guy.
I was going to honor my word to serve, but my debating skills were revved up. However, I spent the weekdays before in the book of Acts. The morning before the first session, I sensed in my heart God telling me, “It is ok. Set down your seminary degree. Put the books down, and watch.”
I was so uptight that first session. I probably looked like I was going to pop. Yet, things got started. I experienced God in a way I had no box for, no label to put it under, or no way to even put words to it. On the drive home, my wife asked me what I thought. I could only respond with, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
Then Sunday morning came. We were serving as usual. Similar to the night before, they had another prophetic session. There was just some doubt in me. Then the service ended. We were about to leave, when our pastor came up to me. She said, “Stephen, I have a word for you. God gave it to me last night.”
She said it was for a man named Stephen. Of all places, she runs into my wife washing their hands in the bathroom and asks for my name. My wife leads her to me, and then my theology began to crumble. Our pastor began to explain my past in terms no one at the church new about (not even a very close friend there).
Her final words brought tears to my eyes:
“Stephen, you can stop striving. You are home.”
God had spoken to me. It was in a way we laughed at in our seminary classes. I even wrote papers disproving the use of prophecy and prophetic word in the modern church. But, God spoke to me in a very real way. My inner-trained theology laid broken on the floor.
Disarmed and Arms Up
But, isn’t that the best place to be?
When we encounter God in a way that does not fit into our boxes or under our labels, we see the Creator of the universe and our Savior as he truly is – bigger than we could ever imagine. We then begin to have an enchanted faith.
It is in those moment God says it is ok. It is ok to lay down our seminary degree, our theology books, our arguments and debates, and surrender to a God who still speaks and shows us that we truly walk by faith and not by sight.
When we disarm ourselves and give up our books, we can then begin to reach our arms to up to heaven saying, “God, I surrender. Your way is better.”
This week a song has been on my heart. It is beautiful and I highly suggest you listen to it here – Make Room
Here is where I lay it down
Every burden, every crown
This is my surrender
And I will make room for You
To do whatever You want to
Shake up the ground of all my tradition
Break down the walls of all my religion
Your way is better
Words like these are a dangerous prayer. God will answer. He did in my life. The need to be right, and the need to show others they are unbiblical has left (but doesn’t mean it won’t show up again and I need to keep surrendering).
I choose to lay my training, my books, every argument and debate down and say to God, “Show me you. Not in a way that fits in my boxes, but in a way that changes me. Allow your Spirit to open my eyes to see you as you are.”
There are two attitudes when we come to moments like these…
One of argument and debate –
“Put down the books, and no one gets hurt!”
One of surrender and a promise –
“Put down the books, and no one gets hurt.”
When disarm ourselves, we can surrender into the compassionate hands of our Savior who will not hurt us. We will be safe and at home.
Ephesians 3:17 –
“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.”