I’m not sure about other denominations, but Seventh-Day Adventists have several lesson studies available to them for different age ranges to aid in the study of biblical doctrine and principles. I didn’t know there was a collegiate one (which is for 18-35 year olds http://www.cqbiblestudy.org/article.php?id=3) so I have been using the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide (http://ssnet.org/study-guides/galatians-2011-q4/ ) for a few years and oh yeah, there’s an app for that *booyah. Now, after all that rambling, I must say that what I enjoy most about the guide is the one page story after every week’s lesson detailing someone’s experience with God whether it be a prayer answered, a miracle witnessed, leading someone to Christ, or a personal conversion story. These stories come from all over the world. In the current guide, so far, there have been stories from Azerbaijan (Azerbaijan?! Yes, I had to google it) and closer to home, Haiti (stories from http://www.adventistmission.com/).
After reading these stories I am always left in awe and usually a little embarrassed that people who have run from or didn’t know God their entire lives can have an experience that causes them to do a 180º turn and be on fire for Christ whereas I (who has been involved in church since before I knew what I was doing there) seem to be stuck in an inescapable rut. I’m a little envious. If just a third of my church’s congregation could catch that fire, we would be capable of so much more!
Honestly, I think quite a bit has to do with being American. These stories usually come from people living in third world countries, or disadvantaged nations who may literally have nothing but Christ to rely on so when they’re introduced to Christ, His love and His blessings, they cling to Him tightly and want to share their experience with others. In America, we have always known about God (whether we decide to believe in him or not) and most of us have not experienced the same type of desperation, hopelessness, or anxiety that some in the third world are faced with or have endured for a lifetime. Because the majority of us have not led terribly difficult lives, we take God for granted and it’s harder to get motivated on His behalf. A long time ago, I read a story of a seven or eight year old boy (I think he was from South America) who was so filled with God’s spirit that he preached the word to an audience and when he was done people immediately came forward to be baptized. How thrilling, how amazing! A child so convicted by God’s love that he leads others to Christ?! It’s a beautiful thing yet, we sit complacently in our pews thinking that saying a few “Amen’s” during service and putting a dollar in the collection plate is pleasing God (You’d better recognize).
This week’s lesson is about Paul (A.K.A. Saul) and the whole quarter is about Galatians. Paul was an overzealous Pharisee who thought this new religion called “Christianity” was blasphemous especially in its notion of Jesus as the Messiah. Pharisees were a subdivision of the Jewish faith considered extremists in their strict adherence to Mosaic Law (my own composite definition). Paul earnestly believed he was doing God’s will in persecuting Christians but as Paul traveled down the road to Damascus to do some more “hunting”, God manifested his presence as a blinding light (literally, he was blind for three days after that) and God said “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4). The conversation goes something like this:
Paul: Who are you, God?
God: Yes you nitwit, I’m the very same Jesus that you are killing people for worshiping. I’ve been tugging at your heart strings for a while. You seem to be resisting me but it’s getting to you eh?
Paul: Seriously?! All this time I was actually hurting you instead of helping? Tell me what you want me to do!
So I took some liberties, but the point is that in the span of four verses (Acts 9: 3-6) Paul went from ruthless persecutor to righteous proponent of Christianity. Of course, afterwards the rest of the Pharisees wanted to kill him and the Christians didn’t believe he had changed but it all worked out (See Acts 9:1-31 for the whole story). Regardless of how exciting (or not) my own conversion experience was I want to be a roaring flame rather than a tiny candle and let my light shine. The important thing is to remember that I can’t compare my journey with someone else’s and that the details of my relationship with Christ don’t influence His love for me nor does it diminish my love for Him.