If you already know FUMCFW’s own Dr. Lamar Smith, then you already know how much wisdom and insight he has to offer us all (among many other attributes, like his cheerful demeanor and abundant humor). Day by day, he graces the halls of First Church with his charm and wit, sharing tidbits of life lessons that only age and understanding can teach.
Two decades ago, the In-Depth Bible Study Sunday School class did not know what was in store for them, and neither did Dr. Smith. It all began with one request for a class solely dedicated to studying the Bible, and it grew into so much more than anyone ever anticipated. Lamar describes it as a lecture class for people who were already familiar with the Bible. He says that the class, which was made up of primarily middle-aged and older members, was amazingly loyal and faithful in spite of the early 8:30 am start time.
Lamar started from the very beginning with Genesis, teaching about the trials and tribulations of the early fathers of the Jewish faith. “My chief interest was that the class members would learn how God was involved in the lives and events of the people of the Old Testament,” he says. “I also wanted them to come to know Jesus of Nazareth as a real person who lived, taught, healed, died, was resurrected, and is now the Holy Spirit who offers us guidance.”
As the class grew in size, the members grew in their interest in Old Testament history and its early characters. The class even moved several times due to its rapid growth (always taking along its sound system and Dr. Smith’s high chair, of course). “We did not want it to be a regular Sunday School class with songs and cookies,” Lamar admits. “We just wanted it to be a serious time together when we would talk about the book that has sold more than any other book in human history.”
The class concluded with Dr. Smith helping the members understand how the Gospels are different yet each offer us information and inspiration. “The Gospel of John is dramatically different from the synoptic, or ‘to see together,’ Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke,” he explains. “It is a fascinating study and reveals how the story of the Lord Jesus is told in different ways.” Lamar even sent his class members home with handouts to remind them of these major differences. Beyond that, his many lessons over the years will remain ingrained in their hearts and minds as a constant reminder of how much they mean to us.
According to Lamar, the original request for a Bible study laid the roots for something that digs much deeper. “We learned about the most important book ever published and the history of the people who formed the most important community God ever created until the Christian era,” he says. “Even though I’d studied the Bible in college and seminary, I didn’t fully grasp myself how important it was in teaching stories and introducing these Biblical characters to the class. Both the stories and the people matter.” Just as the class benefited from Dr. Smith’s teaching, the class taught him much more than expected. “Without realizing it, the class was a blessing to me,” he adds. “Preparing a lesson every week kept me studying and learning about these early characters.”
Dr. Smith taught his last class in December, and the group had one last hurrah in a memorable celebration together. “Despite the brutal cold, we had an outstanding turnout of 46 people who gathered together to thank Lamar for sharing his Biblical wisdom (and other wisdom too) during the past 20 years,” says Gerry Grieser, one of the longtime class members. Dr. Bruster opened the gathering with prayer, and then the group shared delicious food provided by class members and Rev. Chuck Graff who was heavily involved in planning for the occasion. “We filled our plates and sat down to listen to Lamar reminisce about his life,” Gerry recalls. “After an interesting storytelling time by Lamar, Pastor Chuck presented Lamar with the very newest version of the Harper Collins Study Bible. Then class member Paul Driscoll presented the ‘Love Offering’ from the class to Lamar.” Gerry then made the presentation of the “Class Notes” Album with handwritten notes from class members to Lamar as a special keepsake.
Even though this particular class has ended, Dr. Smith suspects that its members will be on the lookout for another class that studies the Bible in a similar way. As he puts it, that section of our Healthy Plate is only received in study opportunities like Sunday School and weekday studies. “That’s not the purpose of the sermon,” he explains. “The purpose of the sermon is worship, which is another part of the plate. This is a different part that happens in different ways and in different places and sometimes by different people.” He also points out that lay people are sometimes good teachers — not only of scripture but of other current events like politics, education, and family living. “If a person is not growing, the truths of life lessen in his or her importance,” Lamar adds. “Learning is unique, different from the other parts of the plate, but connected to all of the other parts because a person who is learned can get more from the sermon, get more from play, get more from every part. Learning is expanding your mind and your understanding.”
Thank you, Lamar, for all that you have taught us and continue to teach us from day to day and year to year here at FUMCFW. You have expanded our minds and understanding more than you know.