The following is the manuscript for a devotional I gave at the conclusion of my church’s week-long women’s Bible study yesterday morning.
I’ll never forget the first time I met her. I was a brand new staff member at her church, freshly graduated from seminary, and she was hosting a kids’ vacation Bible school at her gorgeous, historic Philadelphia home. And I’ll admit that I felt intimidated. She was outgoing and funny – clearly “the life of the party.” She leaned over after introducing herself and took me aback with her atypical first question, “So what’s your story?” She later told me that she intentionally asks this question rather than the more common, “So what do you do?” because she finds that typical opening question to be rather off-putting. You’re immediately put on the spot and labeled and categorized based on what you do (or you don’t do). And how many of us feel comfortable claiming our profession as our primary identity? Of course you and I are much more than what we do. The opening, “what’s your story?” captures this so much better.
So I want to pose the same question: what’s your story? My story this morning is of a mom who feels tired with trying to balance mothering twin daughters with the demands and privileges of a job I love as a counselor; and mine is the story of a woman learning to find my voice and seeking to explore my creativity through the art of writing. My story is of a daughter who misses her parents in South Carolina, of a sister who feels too far away from her brothers and their families, of a wife whose husband is a pastor and all the dynamics that this entails. My story is of a woman who longs for summer and spring with all my heart – who still associates summer with “free time” although having preschoolers at home means summer will be the opposite of this. My story is of a friend who wants to do more story-telling and story-listening than tasks accomplished and projects completed.
Studying Romans with my church’s women’s Bible study this year has given each of us a new angle on our story – a new way of understanding our stories – and this story is the best ever told. God’s story, or the shorthand Paul uses throughout the book “gospel.” Let’s think of the thesis in Romans 1:16-17 –
for I am not ashamed of [God’s story], for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in [God’s story], the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’
What’s your story when you’ve read and studied Romans? Maybe one of the following –
- the story of someone who’s trusted in your own goodness too much and so Romans is a story of being beckoned out of your self-righteous judgment and hypocrisy into the freeing grace of admitting your sin and your need for grace found only in Jesus and HIS perfect goodness
- the story of someone who has found grace and power for salvation for the first time – who has found God’s story of grace, forgiveness, and righteousness in Jesus to be THE story your life needs
- the story of someone who thought your badness was too bad for God – that your rebellion was too much – and God’s story beckons you to come home. To be truthful with where you’ve wandered far from him and to find refuge in grace.
- the story of someone who’s found Romans to be profoundly and deeply unsettling as you’re confronted with a God who is not as we would make him to be – a God whose character seems harsh or even capricious at times if what Romans says about him is true. So perhaps your story is one filled with questions that feel haunting.
There are parts of my story that fit with all of these scenarios, but I find myself identifying most with the story of my goodness and judgmental heart exposed AND the story of unsettling questions weighing heavy on my heart. Whatever has been stirred up in your story during Romans, don’t leave it here. Don’t end that for the summer.
Maybe you could find a few friends or people you connected with from your table and meet regularly throughout the summer at someone’s home or a park or a coffee shop for the purpose of sharing stories – either your own and/or the stories God tells in His Word. Perhaps you could find a book or resource to read on your own that will help you to grapple with your questions and your story. I’ve brought a few that I would recommend: Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid, The Prodigal God by Tim Keller, To Be Told by Dan Allender; Grace for the Good Girl & A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman; Grace through the Ages by William Smith and/or Out of the Spin Cycle by Jen Hatmaker as short devotional thoughts. For exploring some of the hard questions raised by Romans, these are two of my favorites: How Long, O Lord? by D.A. Carson and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer.
Although WBS ends today, your story doesn’t and neither does the community you’ve found here. Join us for Easter week celebrations – Maundy Thursday, 12pm or 6pm Good Friday service, 9am or 11am Easter Sunday. Help out with CAMP/Camp JR. (and send your kids!); join a community group that meets weekly; if you’re a mom, contact me to be added to the list to be informed of Nurture events and meet-ups throughout the summer.
Live into your story – tell your story – listen to others’ stories. That we may live out the truth of God’s story as seen in Romans more truly through stories of more grace and less judgment, more freedom and less condemnation, more acceptance and fewer barriers to love, more of trusting in God’s goodness for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and less of trusting in our own.