I grew up in a small, rural, conservative Southern Baptist Convention church. I believed in Jesus as my Savior at a young age, was baptized, and joined the church. I went to Sunday School just about every Sunday and stayed for what we now call the “worship service.” (Back then we just called it “preaching.”) I attended Sunday night services most of the time as well. I was there for a lot of Wednesday night “prayer meetings” too. And then there were the Bible Schools, revivals, Christmas plays, youth choirs, etc., etc., etc. Yes, I was a church kid.
As I look back upon those days, though, I now realize that all of my church attendance and activity left me ill prepared to live out a certain level of the Christian life. The level I have in mind is the one at which: bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, people do you wrong, the Lord Himself leads you into difficult situations, tragedies burst their way unannounced into your life, spiritual warfare finds your address and sets up camp, holy living produces persecution, and sincere prayer requests are either long delayed or flat out turned down. Trust me, that’s a hard level at which to remain faithful to the Lord.
Now, I feel confident in saying that the men who served as the pastors of my church preached on some of these subjects. Like most kids, I wasn’t exactly fixated on the sermons when I was young. But what I do know is that we didn’t cover such material in youth Sunday School, youth services on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, or youth Bible School.
And I’m not blaming our church’s youth workers either. Most of the time they just taught whatever literature we were using, and that literature usually stayed with the simplest basics of Christianity: Christ’s death and resurrection, the need to believe in Him as Savior, baptism, Bible study, prayer, and church attendance. Since kids like stories, our lessons were always based upon Bible stories. We certainly weren’t doing any verse-by-verse exposition of Romans.
As for the stories themselves, I can’t recall every last one. I remember enough, though, to assert that they always had rousing, uplifting endings:
- Adam and Eve sinned, but God helped them and they got saved.
- God sent the great flood, but Noah and his family survived.
- God told Abraham to offer up his son Isaac, but in the end God changed His mind and Abraham got to keep Isaac.
- Moses had some trouble with Pharaoh, but God showed Pharaoh who was boss, brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and drowned Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea.
- The walls of Jericho were mighty, but God brought them down for Joshua.
- Goliath was a giant who tormented Israel’s army, but young David, with God’s help, killed him.
- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego got thrown into the fiery furnace, but God saved them.
- Daniel got thrown into the lions’ den, but God saved him.
- Jonah got swallowed by a whale, but God saved him.
- The lepers of Jesus’ day were pitiful people, but Jesus cured them.
- Jesus let Lazarus die, but then He raised him from the dead.
- Jesus got crucified, but God the Father resurrected Him just a few days later.
- Paul caused some problems for Christians, but Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road and Paul got saved.
- John got exiled to the island of Patmos, but that ended up being a good thing because God gave him the Revelation there.
Think about it, if these types of stories are all you ever hear as a kid, you inevitably grow up thinking that giving your life to Jesus always puts you on the winning side. We didn’t have Sunday School lessons on the mind-numbing sufferings of Job. We didn’t talk about the generations of Israelites who lived and died as slaves in Egypt during the four centuries that occurred before God sent Moses onto the scene. We didn’t talk about John the Baptist getting beheaded for taking a moral stand for God. We didn’t talk about Stephen getting stoned for speaking the truth about Jesus. We didn’t talk about James getting killed by Herod simply for being a Christian.
If Cain and Abel ever was a Sunday School lesson (and I’m thinking it probably was), the lesson was surely about how murder is wrong and we should love our family members. I’ll guarantee you it wasn’t about how God could have stopped Cain from killing Abel but didn’t. If we did cover the David-Bathsheba-Uriah story, the emphasis would have fallen upon David receiving forgiveness from God and eventually producing Solomon through Bathsheba. It certainly wouldn’t have fallen upon Uriah dying an unjust death or upon Bathsheba’s first baby dying just a few days after being born.
The point I’m trying to make is that we Christians do our kids a disservice when we fail to teach them the parts of the Bible that aren’t so pleasant and encouraging. Make no mistake about it, life is hard. Your doctor looks at you with a grim face and says, “I’m sorry but it’s cancer.” Your spouse walks in one day and announces, “I’m leaving you for someone else.” You are called into your supervisor’s office to hear the words, “We’re letting you go.” Your phone rings and you answer it, only to learn that your child has been killed in a car accident. You tell me, in all that we do and say in our churches, what prepares us to keep our Christian faith when such situations slap us right between the eyes? Having spent virtually all of my 50+ years in church, I can tell you that the answer is precious little, if anything.
Here’s what happens to the Christian when such times hit: He or she is forced to learn new lessons about God — what He will do, what He won’t do, what He causes, what He allows, and what selling out to Him just might entail. Mind you that these lessons are all right there in the pages of the Bible, scattered throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. It’s just that we have been trained to blow right past them in our race to get to the good stuff, the fun stuff, the victorious stuff.
The problem, however, with that “good” stuff is that it will taunt you, rather than help you, when you find yourself in the wake of an experience where your Red Sea didn’t part, your walls of Jericho didn’t fall, you didn’t slay your Goliath, your leprosy didn’t get healed, and your Lazarus didn’t get resurrected. Believe me, it is during those times that you will either quit with God and the Bible altogether or begin a reprogramming process by which you are forced to become a deeper, more mature, and (for lack of a better word) more real Christian. Many of us, to varying degrees, have had to go through that reprogramming and found it gut wrenching.
But what I’m saying with this post is that this reprogramming wouldn’t have been nearly as hard if we had been taught as young people that life doesn’t always fit so neatly into an encouraging Bible story. You see, it’s not that what we were taught was wrong. It wasn’t. It’s just that it was incomplete. Speaking for myself, I only filled in the gaps of my learning when life’s troubles compelled me to do so. And my guess is that there are a whole lot of Christians out there who, if they dropped their spiritual front long enough, would admit that they’ve had the same experience.