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Fingerprints: God’s Word at work in our lives

June 15, 2012 No Comment

by Jane Fryar

In the immortal words of Ferris Buehler, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

The longer I live, the truer those words seem. Still, even as God’s people, we often fail to stop and look around. We fail to notice our Saviour’s fingerprints all over our lives as events flow past us like a rushing, sometimes raging, stream.

But whether we see them or not, those fingerprints are there, because our Lord is there. He’s there in the events that elate us. He’s there in the events that plague us. When we look back—not over weeks and months, perhaps, but surely over years and especially decades—we will see them. Those fingerprints grow clearer still when we look for them through the lens of Holy Scripture, through the precious promises of our Saviour-God.

The Word for all God’s Children

Some people have asked how I came to write Christian curriculum and books, especially the Today’s Light Bible. From a purely human standpoint, I have no credentials. My academic degrees grow out of the study of education and business; I’ve never taken a class at a seminary.

I tell those who ask about my career in Christian publishing to blame Pastor Sylwester, the pastor who confirmed me. Our pastor taught catechism and Bible history at the two-room elementary school I attended in Rockwell City, Iowa—Immanuel Lutheran. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, Pastor led us through the Small Catechism. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we read Bible stories—Old and New Testaments in alternating years—directly from the Bible. Pastor also required confirmands to read through the New Testament before Confirmation, and he encouraged us to read the Old Testament, too.

As a result, it never occurred to me that the Bible was “for adults only.” Were there parts I didn’t grasp? Certainly. Lots of them. But as my current pastor says, “We don’t let the parts we don’t understand keep us from savoring and applying what we do understand.”

The Bible belongs to God’s children—to all of God’s children, young and old. Since the Holy Spirit is our teacher (John 16:13), this Book is like no other book. Because Pastor Sylwester did what he did and because of the way God used that, I began reading Scripture for myself at age 10, and I’ve never stopped.

At times, I’ve questioned and doubted what I’ve read. At times, I’ve misunderstood and misapplied it. At times, I’ve rejected it and refused to believe it. At times, I’ve clung to it like a drowning sailor in the North Atlantic in winter. But always, the Holy Spirit has made it clear that this Book belongs to me—by His gracious work and will.

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Maybe you’re thinking that all of the above sounds too good to be true. If so, you’re right. Elementary school was no picnic, nor were high school and college. At age 10, I developed a serious case of idiopathic scoliosis—curvature of the spine with no apparent cause. At the time, there were few effective ways to treat it.

I did special exercises. I wore a body cast for three full years (replaced every four months or so). Finally, the doctor prescribed a cumbersome contraption known as a “Milwaukee Brace.” It was painful and conspicuous—especially for an insecure adolescent. In addition, other serious problems plagued our family and me personally.

As the ordeals continued, I prayed and prayed—trusting the promise that Jesus would hear and help. But I was looking for a kind of help much different from the help He provided. I didn’t (or wouldn’t) see the help He offered. It wasn’t long before my prayers began to bounce against the ceiling and fall to the floor, or so it seemed to me at 12, 14, and 18. I grew angry and, truth be told, self-righteous. I was praying and reading the Bible. Why wasn’t God hearing and helping?

Looking back now, I understand the psychology of it—developmental stages and all that. But on the day I was confirmed, I thought of myself as an agnostic. In high school, I started to read secular philosophy, understanding and believing some of it, pretending to understand the rest. By graduation, I knew I was an atheist. Still, in desperation, I pored through the Scriptures, especially the Book of Isaiah. The God I did not believe in was still at work, still drawing me to Himself.

The God I did not believe in was still at work, still drawing me to Himself.

Back in the day, as they say, one didn’t challenge one’s parents or pastor. It never occurred to me to tell them that their belief in God was foolish. Still, in the back of my mind, God’s Law was at work. One thought kept niggling at me there. If my parents and pastor were right, I would be in big trouble on Judgment Day.

But how could I find out for sure? One Sunday after church—attendance was not optional in our house—I pulled a postcard off a poster in the narthex. I filled it in and sent it off, asking for information about teacher education programs at Concordia, Nebraska. If there was a God, maybe the place to find out about Him was in a place where everyone else was preparing to spend their lives in public ministry.

The Resurrection Really Matters

Long story short, I graduated four years later with 18 semester hours of A in theology (among other course work), and was placed as teacher-principal in one of the last one-room Lutheran schools in the U.S. I was still gripped by doubts and confusion—due to my own stubbornness, not any insufficiency on the part of my professors. I didn’t know it that day, but the Holy Spirit was about to bring everything together. Looking back and—now finally—able to see it, my heart almost bursts with thanksgiving.

The pastor in my new congregation had answers for questions I had never dared to ask out loud before. I taught myself Greek and began to dig into the New Testament even more deeply; I wanted to make sure that when the “experts” around me deflected questions by explaining, “Well, in the original language, this says…,” they weren’t pulling the proverbial wool over my eyes.

A few years later, God called me to teach in Milwaukee and one Saturday morning in a Laundromat there, I found an abandoned issue of The Daily Walk, a one-year read-through-the-Bible program. It was a “God thing,” as they say. I subscribed. Though the series is based in Reformed theology, it brought the discipline of daily, systematic Bible reading into my spiritual practice.

I can’t point to any Damascus Road moment, to a blinding light or voice from the sky. But over years and decades, our Saviour-God brought me back to Himself. He started at the empty tomb and worked outward from there, posing this thought again and again: If the tomb was empty, it changes everything.

The scoliosis in childhood led to chronic pain issues throughout adulthood. Sometimes the pain is better, sometimes worse. But it’s always there. Looking back over the decades, I recall many dark moments even after I had come back to faith, moments in which I believed nothing—except that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. But looking back, I see Him gently and continually calling me to repentance and faith. And that, always through the Scriptures. How gentle His love!

If you doubt, just keep on hearing God’s Word, just keep on reading.

What I’ve Learned

No faith story can be fully told in so few words. God has graced each of our life stories too powerfully for that. But I can’t let you go right now without adding a couple of key observations, borne out of God’s Word and illustrated in a personal way for me in the school of experience in which He has me enrolled:

1. While God used apologists like C.S. Lewis and J.B. Phillips to answer my intellectual objections, only the Law/Gospel lens Martin Luther taught makes it possible to understand and apply in the healthiest ways what God is telling us in the Holy Scripture. Apart from this lens, Scripture remains largely a muddle of dos, don’ts, seemingly disconnected stories, and incomprehensible admonitions.

2. When Scripture describes sin’s power to enslave, it does not overstate the case. I am a great sinner. So are you. But we have a great Saviour. This is the main point of God’s Book. Jesus shines from every page. We look for Him there as we read. When I proposed the Today’s Light Bible concept to those in charge at Concordia Publishing House, this is the main thing I hoped our readers would see.

3. In everything—and I mean everything—God is at work for the good of those who love Him, those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Would I have chosen the path I’ve walked had my heavenly Father asked for my vote? No. But looking back, I can scarcely believe all He’s done, all He’s taught, all the good He has brought into my life as a result. If you’re suffering today, my experience is small comfort. But God wants to enfold you in His arms—even as you resist, protest, and reject His love. He is there for you, just as surely as He was on the day His Son died on Calvary’s cross. There’s nothing you or I can do to stop His love.

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While we live day by day, we seldom stop to look around. But when we pause and look back over years and decades, we see God’s fingerprints all over our experiences. He has promised to be involved—deeply and personally—in the lives of His children, and He is ever-faithful to His promises.

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Dr. Jane L. Fryar is a Lutheran author whose work has appeared in numerous publications. She formerly served at Concordia Publishing House, where she developed the Today’s Light Bible. To see how the Today’s Light Bible is being used to reinvigorate daily Bible reading in some Lutheran Church–Canada congregations, see the story “Bible reading continues strong in Winnipeg.”