I recently heard a sermon about a story from the Bible that I had heard many times before…but for some reason I saw the story in a new light. Maybe I am more in tune with the spirit speaking to me, maybe it’s that I’m further along in my walk with God, or maybe it was the way in which the story was presented in this particular sermon. Maybe it was all three. I love that the word of God is a living book full of wisdom that comes to us in different seasons as the Holy Spirit sees that we need them. It’s exciting to me to sit down and study and see a fresh meaning in something I’ve read over and over. The story was from the book of John…the story of the woman who had been caught -in the act caught- in adultery. The Pharisees dragged the woman, naked, to the temple, into a large crowd. Caught in the act…dragged away…into a large crowd of people. I can’t even imagine the fear and shame that this woman felt. And I’m sorry, but where was the man? Why was he not included in this public judgment. She wasn’t alone in her adultery. Am I right? So the Pharisees make yet another lousy attempt to “trick” Jesus with one of their questions. John 8:5 says, “The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” You would think that these guys would learn that Jesus always had an answer. But before he spoke, he bent down and started writing in the dust with his finger. How had I missed this detail so many times before? What was he writing? What was this poor, scared woman thinking as he was doodling in the dirt? The preacher in this sermon I was listening to suggested that perhaps he was writing all of things that these men had done in their past. That makes sense, right? I mean Jesus would know. Like he was almost saying “Alright, boys, if you want to go there we can…but here’s what I know about you…” I love the way Jesus dealt with these guys. Finally he stands up and says “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.” John 8:7 I would like to think that at this point he’s looking at them, then kind of looking back to what he’d written in the dirt, the looking at them again, almost daring them to challenge him. (I do not claim to be a theologian- just my take on it). As he stoops back down to write some more, the woman’s accusers starting leaving the scene, one by one until they were all gone. And then Jesus looked at her and asked “Didn’t any of your accusers condemn you? Neither do I! Go and sin no more.” Neither do I. Imagine what it would be like to hear Jesus say those words to you. Neither do I. I have been spending time with a very special group of ladies. They are such a blessing to me, and I learn so much from them as we all struggle through our own issues. The one common theme lately is that we are all afraid of what other people think. None of us like the feeling of being judged. I think that’s why these words of Jesus’ are so powerful to me at this point in life. Jesus teaches a powerful lesson to someone who seemingly “deserves” to be judged….that he does NOT condemn her. His love covers her weakness and his love is all that she needed in that moment. We need to learn from this that no one on this earth is blameless and without sin, therefore no one can condemn us. And neither does Jesus. He died so that we can live righteously. Romans 8:1 says “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” In that moment, this woman found out that she belonged to Christ. We belong to him. That’s such an amazing but sometimes difficult fact. We (and yes, I’m talking to me mostly) need to remember that we belong to him – when we feel the judgment of others – we are his. Their judgments do not matter. “The one” who was without sin in this story…the one who he said to throw the first stone…that one was him. He was “the one” without sin…but did he throw it? Did he condemn her? Did he judge her? He is all that matters.
This is not going to be a newsflash to anyone who knows me or who has read my blog on any type of consistent basis. I am a control freak. I have a very hard time sitting back and letting go. Instead I try to micro-manage, script, control, and dictate the way I think things should go. And may I just say that its not working out so great for me. I get so frustrated and discouraged with the fact that when I do try and control the outcome of things it doesn’t work. Things are going to happen the way they are supposed to happen according to God’s plan – he doesn’t need me to “help.” Secondly, my need to control things, situations, people, etc. hints to me (or screams at me) that my faith really isn’t where it should be or where I claim it to be…or want it to be. It’s so easy for me to tell a friend who is struggling that “everything will be ok…God is in control.” Shame on me for speaking it into someone else’s life when I barely allow it in my own. Truthfully, the last month or so has been extremely trying and difficult in my life. (Everything is relative – and even as I type “extremely” I know that there are others suffering much greater hardships than I). Brian and I have been married 6 months this week, and while we truly have an amazing, relationship built on God first, there have been challenges along the way. But it is only when I take things into my own hands – when I lean on MY own understanding – that I think things seem tough. One of our biggest challenges has been the blending of two families. Raising children is hard. Raising 5 children…hard. Raising 5 children – 4 of whom are teenagers…yep….hard. And throw in the fact that some are his and some are mine and the bar is raised even higher for difficulty level. And the thing about it is – we are blessed. We have really good kids who make good decisions and stay out of trouble,etc. Reflecting on the last month, I realize that things are toughest when I try and make things be the way I think they should be. In the last few days, I wasn’t sure how things would work out, where it would all end up, and how all of us would fare through it – but I WAS certain that all of it be ok – because we love God and he promises us that all things work together for good for those who love Him. I kept telling myself that over and over. Its in His hands. It will all be ok. Over and over – almost as if I was still trying to control the outcome. But I do believe in God and I know that He loves me. I do trust in His word. This morning, I went to church broken. I was at the point where I just had lost the energy to fight anymore. I was finally ready to turn it all over to God and truly ask Him to take it. (And all along God is waiting for me to get to this point. You would think after a while I would learn to make it easier on all of us and just give it all to him all the time.) At the end of the sermon, we stood and began to sing the following words…
“I lean not on my own understanding.
My life is in the hands of the maker of heaven.
I give my heart to you God
Trusting you will make
Something beautiful out of me”
At first, I couldn’t even bring myself to sing the words. They were a lie. I have been trying to do things my way – all on my own. Lately, my life has been in my own hands – not in the hands of the one who created it all. I have given God my heart, but my late actions have not shown a trust in God to make me into who he has planned. As the song went on and the words were repeated over and over I could feel the weight I’d been carrying around being gently lifted from me. As I began to sing the words, I truly was making a vow to lean NOT on my own understanding. If I earnestly believe that my life is in HIS hands, what am I so fearful of? Why am I worried? I’m always amazed at the way God works. He knows me so well. I am so moved my music and by lyrics. Today he chose that avenue to really speak to my heart. He knew I needed not only to hear the words of that song, but He knew I needed to let it all go and to sing the words from my heart to Him. Will this be my last blog about my inability to “let go and let God’? Probably not…I’m not perfect and never will be. And I’m sure my need to control will be something that I continually will have to ask God for help with. God knows my heart and he knows exactly how to speak to me. And right here and right now I am letting him carry the burden. I’m confident my life is in His hands and I do trust that He is making beauty out of my messes.
When the kids ask the age-old question “What’s for dinner?” I can almost guarantee that at least one of the five will not be happy (or let’s say less than excited) about the answer. I can more than “almost” guarantee that if I say peanut butter and jelly all of them would be disapproving. Now, I have wonderful kids and I’m not bashing them here…it’s just about perspective. Brian and I recently made a home delivery of summer breakfasts and lunches to a local family. When the four children at the door eagerly dug through the bags before their mom could even get them in the door, the cheered and high-fived each other when they discovered peanut butter and jelly. From their perspective that was a great thing.
I teach in a school where 96% of our students on the federal free lunch program. The great thing about this is that I know that during the school year, my students are receiving two meals a day…sometimes their only two meals. The down side is that during the summer, I know that many of my students often go without. This is true for many families…not just students at my school. It has troubled me for the last few years. And Brian and I have prayed about how our ministry, In Our Own Backyard, could work to help serve those in our community who could most benefit. It’s really not about building a ministry or receiving ANY credit at all. To us, our mission is about serving others by doing our best to love on them like Jesus would.
So after lots of praying and even more listening for God to speak, we came up with “Summer Relief.” It’s a very simple program where we simply seek to help food insecure families get through the summer months by providing breakfasts and lunches each week to each of their children. We contacted the local schools and got the names of some families who could most benefit. We then called each of the families on the list…excited to serve. We faced some obstacles and disappointment when several of the families did not return our calls. But we prayed constantly and knew that God would provide us with the children we were supposed to serve.
Three weeks into our program we are so excited to share what God is doing. His guidance in setting up this small program has shown us things we did not see on our own. Since we deliver each week to the children’s homes, we re beginning to form relationships with the parents of the children. Weekly we will have the opportunity to show them the love of God in just a couple of bags of food…and as those relationships grow, we know God will open doors for us to share more about him.
In Our Own Backyard Ministries is blessed to have people who have jumped on board with this effort and are helping by providing us with food to fill bags. It is so special to see people with hearts for God come together and do small things with great love. Small things to us…but then again, it’s all about perspective.
There are a lot of things that are hard about being human. Life is messy. Sometimes it’s hard. And at times it just sucks. I think that the hardest thing about being human is emotions. Emotions are powerful! They can be debilitating. Sometimes they can’t be contained. Now before I go any further I will acknowledge that there are plenty of good, positive emotions that arty the same attributes as the bad ones. For example, pure joy can overflow and cause tears of happiness. But there are also plenty of “negative” emotions that are just as strong, if not stronger. One of these is anger. It can be ugly. It will control the mind and the tongue, causing thoughts and words that are not truly reflective of the person speaking them. Sadness, hurt, pain and loneliness kind of all wrap up into one big pile of messiness that can weigh down and smother ones spirit. I think that one of the hardest feelings I have dealing with is when someone I love is experiencing sadness or pain. This feeling should really have a name of its own. I have learned how to cope with (perhaps not in the best way) my own emotions…but for me to watch someone I love suffer through anger or sadness is nearly overwhelming. But the flip side is even sweeter too. The joy of watching someone you love be at peace and filled with their own joy is amazing (sorry that word is so overused). So I’m not really sure what my point is (if there is one at all) Exocet that I am truly fascinated with the ability to feel things the way we do as humans. It makes me wonder how Jesus dealt with his array of emotions while he was human. The Bible talks about his anger. And sorrow. And grief. And yet we know he never once sinned even as he dealt with those emotions. I’m fascinated by his mind and his thoughts. And it brings me comfort to know that since he did walk the earth as a human that he felt the same things I do. He understand my prayers when I ask for help dealing with my human emotions.
As we pulled into the driveway and began to unload our bags, I already wanted to go back. Back to Happy Church, with its big yellow smiley-faced sign, and it’s peaceful setting, surrounded by the beautiful mountains of eastern Kentucky. But even more beautiful than the mountains are the people. It’s funny…I always say I’m not much of a “people person” but I do believe that God is changing me into one. And I am becoming attached to the very special people that I spent time with this weekend. God is pushing me out of my comfort zone and asking me to step out in faith. And I thank him immensely for the nudge. While in Breathitt County we got to visit with our friends Randy and Janet and meet new friends, Mike and Connie. They all work/serve at Happy Church and are all amazing, obedient people of God. We cooked out with some families from the community, sat around the campfire and sang songs and made s’mores, played cornhole, and just relaxed. And began to build some great relationships. Sunday morning Brian and I got the chance to lead worship and walked away so blessed from that experience. It was a spirit-filled time with new friends and with God truly moving in that place. In a county that is one of the poorest counties in the nation, there is so much pain and sorrow and hopelessness. But there is also so much to be Happy about, there are so many blessings and God is working through the lives of several dedicated servants. Children are hearing His word, they are signing songs of praise, they are learning to live their lives with His guidance, and they are being loved like Jesus would love. I’m praying tonight about what Brian and I can do to help in some way to support that Happy effort. I’m praying that God gives me a heart to love on people more every day. I’m praying for our friends in Breathitt County. And I’m praying a prayer of thanksgiving for our time there.
Ok, when I sat down to blog, I had a certain topic in mind…but when I opened my computer yahoo news popped up and a headline caught my eye. It was a news story about a high school senior in South Carolina. He was his school’s valedictorian and had just stepped up to the podium to address the graduation crowd with his “pre-approved” speech. What he did next was awesome. He ripped his speech up. Rather than give it, he began to recite the Lord’s Prayer. In the video you can hear people joining in and applauding. This young man was taking a stand against his school district that had recently voted to remove prayer from their graduation ceremonies. This young man took a stand and did what he thought was the right thing to do. It makes me hopeful and happy to see young people speak about their faith and stand up for God. I often wonder what gives teens the courage…because we all know that teens are so often driven by the need to fit in, or to be like the world. To stand up and speak up about faith is such a commendable act! About a year and a half ago, Brian and I were singing at a Toy Drive on a Friday night. Several teens came in and worshipped with us. They were truly worshipping. Standing, hands raised to God, singing and totally engaged in the moment. I was especially struck by this. Here it was a Friday night and they had chosen to spend it in that manner. Should that be such a big deal…? Perhaps not, but to me it was. Maybe its because I don’t see the same conviction in my teens – and I wish to? I love my teens with all of my heart…and I truly believe they are special, wonderful people with beautiful hearts and minds. I just pray that someday they will be convicted in their hearts to stand up for what they believe in. I hope and pray that someday when the opportunity presents itself that they will do what they know they ought to do – for themselves and for God.
Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. James 4:17
Life is hard. So many aspects of this existence are challenging. The day to day stuff of bills, stress at work, weeds, dishes, and laundry can all tend to weigh a person down. And then on top of all of the “little” stuff like that, there is the big stuff. Relationships, emotions, self-worth…the “Why am I here” sort of ideas that can overwhelm. It is a challenge to maintain sanity at times, much less a positive attitude and outlook.
As I sit here in the quiet if the morning, I have to be real honest with myself and face some of the messy, ugliness of life. And yet as I face it, I almost feel guilty. I feel bad for not being “stronger” of mind. I feel selfish for focusing on me and how I just don’t like some of the trials and the manner in which they inconvenience me. But if I’m going to be honest here (and really, what’s the point if I’m not) I’m really struggling with some of the “big” stuff. Some of the stuff for which I have no idea how to “solve.” But as I ponder and wrestle with them, even as I type, I already know the answer. God must be in it. God must be the source of my strength. I hear his gentle whisper…uttering the same words to me He has said often. “Let go. Let me take this from you.”
Do I really believe that He is in control? Or is that just something that sounds good when I have no solution? Am I truly convicted of the fact that there is NOTHING that my God can’t handle, fix, change, or resolve? Is it just a convenient tag line that I speak when I say “Where God guides, God provides,”?
If I really get honest, I DO trust and believe that God is in control. I do. And as I feel that comfort envelope me as I sit here this morning, I am relieved and peaceful. I don’t have to carry the burden. I don’t have to do all the heavy lifting. God’s got this. He will get me through the darkness and guide my way. I have to let him. I have to accept the reality that I may not ever know the why’s of certain situations…but that God is in the how and when. My role in all of it is to trust and obey. Trust that God is guiding, and obey when He directs me. Let him speak, and listen.
Two words….Trust and Obey. Wow. It’s really that simple…Trust and Obey.
I am not a Bible scholar. Ok, there. I got that off my chest. I grew up memorizing a weekly Bible verse, I went to church camp, I competed in Bible Bowls, I could sing the books of the Bible frontwards and backwards…and I’m still not a Bible scholar. But since I have made an honest, committed effort (with God’s guidance and help) to remain in the Word through daily Bible study, I have gained so much! Before I go any further, I understand that everything is relative. The things I am starting to glean from the Word are not earth-shattering by any stretch of the imagination. But, they are small things that I believe God wants me to learn – on my own – as I study each day. All of that was a set-up to share a new understanding I gained while reading in the gospel of John this week. John 12:31 says “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” Growing up in youth group we sang a song with this verse (I don’t think I ever knew exactly where it was located in the Bible). But when we sang the song I understood it to mean when Christ was lifted up to Heaven to be with God – men (people) would follow Him. As I read it now – and really think about it, the meaning has changed. Jesus, when speaking of being lifted up, is not talking about his ascension to be with God, but rather he is talking about being lifted up on the cross. As a form of execution, being crucified on the cross was an excruciating form of torture meant to bring great shame to the criminal. But that does not hold true for Jesus. When he was lifted up (on the cross) it was to bring glory to God by fulfilling his wondrous plan of salvation for humanity. It was not to draw shame and ridicule and guilt. It was to draw ALL to him. Because while NONE of us are worthy, ALL of us were included in this plan to cleanse us. He was lifted up and sacrificed in order to complete God’s plan and to draw all to Him to receive the beautiful, undeserved gift of salvation.
Today is my first day of summer break. Going to bed last night was so nice. I wasn’t worrying about lesson plans, or meetings, or tests. I was only worried about what I would be doing with my first day off. However, my alarm was still set or the same time as always…4:20am. Why? Everyday that Brian and I have been married, we have made it part of our daily routine to start our day with God. We spend time drinking coffee, reading our daily devotional, and then jumping into the Word. This is a non-negotiable for us. Now, please know that I am not tooting my own horn, or patting us on the backs. I’m really just trying to share how this time in the Word has completely changed my heart, my mind. my relationship. and my life. It is not enough to rely on the hour a week in church to be your time studying or learning. Our walk with God requires that we spend time with Him in His word every day. Jesus says in John 8:31 “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.” Jesus’ teachings are so plentiful and numerous and there is so much to be learned from the many parables He taught. But we must “remain” in the Word. The word remain shows up over and over in the Bible, especially in the book of John. In chapter 15 Jesus uses the image of a vine and the branches. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” So not only do we spend time or “stay” in the word, but we are to “remain” in Jesus! And the most amazing and reassuring promise, if we dwell, or abide, or stay in Him…He will dwell, abide, and stay in us. It’s such a comforting thought to know that Jesus will dwell in us. We can dwell in Him in many ways. Prayer, study, reading His word, surrounding ourselves with people who are like-minded and who will build us up and encourage us. And our lives will show that He is in us. “Those who remain in me and I in them will produce much fruit. For apart from me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). For me, I know that as I spend time with Jesus in the early hours of the morning, He is in me and I am in Him…and the peace that comes from that time, is well worth the sacrifice of a little sleep.
This past weekend the annual Trenton City-wide Garage Sale took place. If you have never experienced it, it is most certainly a sight to behold. There are so many people in our small little town just scavenging for great bargains. (Sometimes I think it’s the same stuff being sold each year, just from different houses…people buy it up, then sell it the next year). But, this blog is not about the spectacle and wonder of the Trenton Garage Sale. It is, however about the amazing way that God causes all things to work together for good. Brian and I decided that we could certainly stand to clean out some clutter, so we agreed to have a garage sale and put all the money we made towards our ministry, In Our Own Backyard. We also asked our children to gather some of their things they didn’t really use anymore, with the understanding that they would not be getting the proceeds. We gathered up quite a bit of stuff and hoped we would raise enough money to support our ministries’ summer mission. After a long day of sitting in the front yard, with very little people traffic on our street (which was amazing considering the amount of traffic everywhere else) we decided to pack it all up and be done. As we were boxing up all of our potential proceeds, a neighbor from two doors down stopped in to chat. We ended up sharing our stories and how God has moved so powerfully in each of our lives. She shared her struggles with her husband’s illness and we told her they would be in our prayers. It was a wonderful meeting…one that wouldn’t have taken place had we not set up our (unsuccessful) garage sale. After cleaning up, we counted our proceeds….$29. That was it. Hours of preparation and work for $29…an amount that would support roughly 1 week of our summer mission. But, we had met a neighbor who shared our faith…maybe that was God’s plan all along.
The next day, Brian received a phone call from a single mom whom we had the opportunity to serve months and months ago. She was in a really bad spot and just needed some help to get her and her three kids through the week. She gave us a list of things she really needed and we set out, list in hand, to serve. As we checked out, we both had one of those “God moments” when it became really clear why we had had our garage sale. Now, it wasn’t one of those burning bush, booming voice, sky goes dark God moments. But it was most definitely of God. Our total at the checkout was $29.14
I guess the point to all of that is that God works in so many ways in each and everyday of our lives in big ways and small ways. We may not see the why’s all the time, nor may we understand them. But when the why’s become clear to us, it’s a pretty cool experience. I’m so thankful for the presence of God in all aspects of our world. Let us all look for him in every situation and be ready to watch him work in us, through us, and all around us.