Encouragement

There have been many discussions about gifts and ministries within the church. We all know great preachers, Sunday school teachers, elders, deacons, worship leaders, singers and musicians, and we know people who say that they really don’t have anything special to bring to the church. If that’s you, I want you to know that God says you do, and He will always have something for you to do; something only you can do. Ephesians 2:10 says that “we are God’s handiwork, in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”That’s all of us.

However, I want to spend a few minutes talking about someone we all know. If you go to church on a regular basis, you know this person. You will probably know them even if you attend sporadically because they will come looking for you. They have different names, different, genders, different ages, and nationalities, but we can call them all by the same name: Encourager.

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Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

I bet you just thought of someone, didn’t you? That one person who always seems to go out of his or her way to tell you they are glad to see you, or that they appreciate something you did (even if it’s something that seems small and unimportant).

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas(which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:36-37)

The man referred to as “Barnabas” throughout the rest of the New Testament, was, in fact, a man named Joseph. Barnabas was a nickname meaning “son of encouragement”. I wonder how he managed to earn that name? What did he do? How did he behave? What else do we know about him?

He was the one who sought Paul out and brought him to the believers in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27). He gave Mark another chance after he had deserted Barnabas and Paul on their first journey (Acts 15:37-40). Perhaps it was that encouragement that turned Mark into someone who Paul would later call useful (Phil 1:11).

I think we would have enjoyed spending time with Barnabas, don’t you?

Here is the thing. When we look in God’s Word, it is full of encouragement for us, so it shouldn’t be that difficult for us all to become encouragers. Yes, I know, some people just seem to be gifted with it, and that’s ok. We want to keep them doing just what they do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our part too.

not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another (Heb 10:25)

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Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Part of our reason for going to church is to encourage one another, so look around you. Catch a kid doing something right, and tell them about it. Then tell their parents. Tell that elderly person you’re happy to see them. That young single mom may be in serious need of a hug. Do you know who cleans the bathrooms in your church, or who fills the communion trays? Tell them you appreciate what they do. Oh, and don’t forget about the Preacher, and especially the Preacher’s wife.

The point is that everyone needs encouragement at one time or another. You never know. Your words may be just what they need to keep going.

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Be a Barnabus!

Connie

Guest Post: Defining the Problem

Hi! My name is Ed Hall, Connie’s husband. We blog together at Old Folks At Homestead. I think I get the honor of being her first guest blogger on This Little Light of Mine.

Besides being married, and both being veterans and writers, we share one more thing. We were both sexually abused as children. No, today I am not going to tell my story of abuse. That probably will come later, but today I want to take another direction with you.

My intent today is to try to help you understand the scope and implications of child sexual abuse in the physical world and, more importantly, the spiritual world. So how do I get folks to see the extent of the problem? Let’s try this.

You and I are going to the Mall. Its a nice mall with a second level. We might look for some lunch later, but all we want to do now is browse. Me being me, I need a cup of coffee. So we go to the second floor, find the coffee shop and I get a cup of their strongest, black.

Then we go to the rail and stand looking at the big crowds on the first floor because people watching is always fun. Has Connie ever mentioned what a klutz I am? Well I am. So we are talking and suddenly my coffee cup slips through my fingers and falls straight down.

Before the coffee cup hits anyone, we know that the odds are 1 in 10 it will hit a victim of child sexual assault. If our crowd is a thousand people that means a 100 of them have likely been abused sexually as a child.

Once it hits and we can identify gender, the odds say that 1 in every 7 females have been victims of child sexual abuse. If the crowd is half men and women that would be about 72 women.

If it hits a guy he stands about a 1 in 25 chance of being sexually abused which would mean about 20 of them would be guys. The final 8 represent reports where gender is unknown.

So a hundred people out of a thousand with over seventy girls and about twenty boys. How many kids go to school with your kids? How many people attend your church? With how many people do you work?

Have I got your attention yet? That is a lot of people and a lot of damage. Here is the hard fact. Even with the emphasis on the problem, it is still greatly under reported. So how bad is it really?

Had we an exact number, it still would not fully explain how bad the problem is, because it does not address what the outcomes of early sexualization of children are. The jury is still out on that, but we know that child sexual abuse has been linked to:

Changes in brain chemistry. Similar conditions to Combat related PTSD are seen in survivors.

Emotional and mental problems which include, but are not limited to, failure to mature along set lines, suicidal thoughts and intentions, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and a plethora of other related problems.

Physical illness ,which include a higher incidence of every disease that relates to high stress.

So we know that we have a great problem here in this physical world, but how does it effect the spiritual world? I think we have the question backwards brothers and sisters. The problem stems from the spiritual world, and we are just seeing the bleed over in the physical. When you see confusion, lies, pain, and people turning away from God, then the devil is at work.

Nowhere in the Prince of this World’s work is confusion, pain, lies, shame, and people turning away from the true God more evident than in child sexual abuse.

The people of earth are engaged in a Spiritual War that has raged since before time, and whose ultimate end will come as time ends. There are no Conscientious Objectors to this war. You are either a Combatant or a victim. There is no middle ground.

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children,you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2-4

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:13-14

 

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“Christ blessing the Children” Bernhard Plockhorst  Public Domain

Jesus had a special place in his heart for children, and he makes us understand that there is something about children that is an absolute necessity if any of us, children or hoary old men like me, want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. What could these attributes that God values above all others be?

May I suggest, innocence, trust, boundless love, a surpassing joy, honesty and faith in Him above all else? Does that seem like what you see when you are overjoyed by a baby’s laugh and the sparkle in their eyes?

The betrayal of child sexual abuse and violence destroys all these traits that God, and us by the way, cherish in children. Satan could not have invented a better tool to destroy a child’s ability to relate to and trust God than sexual abuse.

Most abusers are male and sometimes this male is the step-father or father. In all cases of child sexual abuse the victim loses trust in the adults who are supposed to protect them. Its all up to them now to protect themselves and survive this trauma.

So how do you think that effects a person’s relationship with Father God? Father is the one who should have protected me or, worse yet, father is the one who harmed me. I can tell you from personal experience it took me awhile to see father as anything other than a Christmas Check, a monthly letter and the guy who showed up from time to time smelling of after shave. So what was Father God to me? Where was His relevance?

We must, as a church, quit sitting on the sidelines in a war between the Great Deceiver and our children. The Seducing Spirit, Oppressor, Anti-Christ, or whatever else you what to call him, is after our children. Now, what are we going to do about it?

When we attack child sexual abuse, we are attacking the crowning jewel of the kingdom of hell, but that is why the Church of God is still here on this earth. We have  an enemy to oppose, in a war that God has already won. For Connie and I, our part in the battle includes protecting children, and showing those already taken captive the way to freedom.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

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“Hold the Fort” (Popular Graphic Arts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 


Ephesians 6:12-13

All statistics and other information about the effects of child sexual abuse were found here.

 

My Story

First, let me apologize for being so late with this post. Ed and I were having to deal with a very sick geriatric dog, and she took up most of our time for a few weeks. She’s better now, but she’s still requires more attention than she used to.

Then, I really struggled with writing this post. I struggled with how much to tell you, not because I’m hiding anything, but because I didn’t want to overwhelm you. I’m praying for the Lord’s guidance for what to say now, and what to save for another time. I also struggled because there are going to be some people who don’t want to hear what I have to say.

Anyway, in a recent post,I started talking about sisters in Christ, and how we should behave toward each other, because the church is full of hurting people. I said that I would tell you my story, and I will, but please understand that the last line won’t be written until the Lord comes back, or He calls me home. Like all of you, I am still a work in progress, and always will be as long as I’m here.

I’m telling you my story, because you might have one like it, or know someone who does. This is the story of how not to do it. Please don’t think I got by with anything, because I didn’t. The only reason I’m even here to tell you about it, is through the work of God through Jesus Christ, and all the glory goes to Him.

So, how to begin? Sometimes its hard to tell your own story without telling stories that aren’t yours to tell, so out of respect for those other stories, I’m leaving out a few details, but you’ll get the idea.

My Mom’s dad was a preacher (I’ve written about him a little before), a real “hell fire and brimstone” evangelist. My dad’s father was a Pennsylvania coal miner who had moved to the Midwest looking for work. They were from the “wrong side of the tracks” if you know what I mean. I don’t even know how my parents managed to get together at all, but they did, and then they had to get married. I was born in October of 1963.

Mom and Dad got divorced when I was four, and for the next couple years, I spent most of my time with my mom’s maternal grandmother. She loved me and I loved her right back. It was probably the one place that was “normal” and I always felt safe with her. I also have some vivid memories of being with my dad in his shoe repair shop during that time. I don’t remember spending a lot of time with Mom then, but I know she was working nights, and was probably sleeping when I was awake.

Grandma was Lutheran and my mom’s parents were non-denominational, so there was always some contention there, but Grandma was the one who read me Bible stories, taught me prayers, sang me songs, and taught me her favorite scripture:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:1-3 KJV)

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Me and my great grandma Marie

Most of the things I’ve written about before on this blog, occurred during the same time as the following paragraphs. It just shows what a contradictory, conflicted world I lived in.

In 1970, my dad left Missouri, and went to Georgia. I don’t remember anything about that at all, other than he was gone. Mom met and married her second husband in 1971. My half sister was born in December of that year. My step father was unlike anyone I had ever known before, and I didn’t like him at all. He was loud and scary. He used bad words. He was verbally and emotionally abusive to my mother, and he was mean to animals. He was also a drunk; a mean drunk. He screamed, cursed, and threw and broke things.

He was also very intelligent; both an Army and Air Force veteran. He was a fireman paramedic. He was a gourmet cook and could sew beautifully. It some point he took charge of my school work. I remember walking home from school and seeing his car at home and feeling nauseous. It was a feeling with which I would become all too familiar. My mom was his third wife, but apparently wife number two had the most perfect children. They cleaned, they did dishes, they were everything I was not. I would later figure out that was part of a pattern.

I wasn’t a bad student, but my work was never good enough. Later, when I was in high school, he would insist that I take a math and a science every year. I really wasn’t very good at math, and I hated it. I could do the science OK, as long I didn’t have to do much math with it. My gifts however, were with music and language. When I was grown, someone told me that he often bragged on how smart I was. That was also part of a pattern.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Although there were years of mental and emotional abuse, the core of the trauma occurred when I was ten. That was when he informed me that he was going to teach me about boys, so I would know how to behave around them. The lessons were “hands on”. It probably only went on for a few months, but it seems a lot longer. I knew it was wrong, but he told me if I told anyone that he would have to go away, and we wouldn’t have any money. I did tell though. I told a babysitter, who told her mother, who made a phone call to family services.

Things were different in those days. They made him move out. Yes, there was an investigation, and there was no doubt he had done what I said he had done. However, they felt that taking it to trial would be too traumatic for me. They told my mom that it would probably be best to ask me if he could come back home. Well, now, what do you think I said?

I said, “I don’t have my dad and it wouldn’t be fair for my sister not to have hers.”

For years, I didn’t even remember saying it. I also didn’t remember him asking me why I told. My response to him was, “God wanted me to.” to which he replied, “Well, God and your big mouth got me in a lot of trouble.” and with that, after three months, he moved back in. He lived with us for five more years, and even though he never touched me again, the damage was done.

I had counseling for awhile, but the real issues were never addressed, and we didn’t talk about it at home. Although my maternal grandparents knew about it, I was not allowed to tell my great grandma, because my mom was afraid the shock might kill her. She was a smart woman, though, and figured it out herself. I know she did because of a conversation she had with my step dad shortly before he left. She told him that she knew what kind of man he was and if he wanted to know what kind of man he was, he could call them down at 26th and Cherry. That was the location of the family services. So she knew, but she never talked to me about it.

I was still in touch with my dad , but I couldn’t tell him either. When I was 12, I got to go visit him in the summer, but I never told him. I eventually told my step mom, and she told him. He and I talk every week, but I’ve never really talked to him about it. Not really. Strangely, I think there is still some shame and embarrassment attached to it for me.

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Me and my dad

We had gone to church off and on my whole life, but we didn’t start going regularly until we moved back to Sibley, when I was a young teenager. I was involved in youth group, and like most of the kids in the group, I knew all the right answers, but my life at home had little resemblance to what it should have been.

Although I never got in any trouble at school, I started smoking when I was 13, and drinking when I was about 15. My step dad wasn’t crazy about my smoking, but he often provided the booze. He and I developed a strange sort of relationship, I suppose. I think he may have been picking up on something that I didn’t realize myself for many years: I was angry. It didn’t really show because anger wasn’t allowed, at least not for me. (I could spend a lot of time on that). Oh, I had the same “fits” that all teenagers have, but that deep boiling rage was well below the conscious surface.

Like I said before, he never touched me again, but he did ask me once. I said no. Not too long before they split, I was once again awakened in the middle of the night by cursing, screaming and crying. The next morning, my mother was gone somewhere, and my step dad was obviously hung over. I told him that he needed to remember that he had taught me to use “that shotgun in there” and if I ever heard him speak to my mother that way again, I’d used it on him.

He and Mom split when I was 15 (there we get into someone else’s story, so I’ll leave it at that). Mom remarried the following year. I graduated at 17, my great grandma died, and I joined the Army, taking with me my combination of rage and shame, an addiction to tobacco, and a taste for booze.

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About a year before I got out of the Army.  I was all booze and tobacco and not much food.

For the next 28 years or so, my life was a series of poor, often abusive relationships, extra marital affairs, two failed marriages, desperate times of reaching out for God and trying to “do it right”, and then falling back into the pit. Times of trying to get counseling, and times of trying to figure it out myself. Times of complete sobriety and times when I lived in a bottle.

During that time, I gave birth to three children, and lost two others through miscarriage. I did my best to be a good mom, but like most of us, I could have done better. Let me stop here and say that all these things were the result of choices I made. Other people get molested and don’t make those choices, and some make worse ones. Everyone reacts differently to trauma, but I know for certain that had I not been exposed to certain things when I was, some choices would have been very different.

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My kids and I

I quit smoking in 2001 because the doctor told me that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t live to see my baby girl grow up. In about 2004 or 2005, I got a diagnosis of Bi Polar disorder. In 2006, I stopped drinking completely, and in 2007 or 2008, I got a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes (when I quit smoking, I started eating). My marriage of nearly 25 years was a marriage in name only, and when my husband was home (he was an over the road truck driver), we slept in different rooms. In 2009, I made a phone call that changed my life, although I couldn’t see it at the time.

God never condones sin, and he certainly didn’t condone mine, but he used the place my sin brought me to not only bring me back to him, but bring someone else too.

I met Ed when I was stationed in Korea in 1982. He was an older, married man, and my friend. He was like the big brother I never had, and I absolutely adored him. We tried to keep in touch after we left Korea, but things got in the way, and I lost track of him. Along with a few other Army friends I lost track of, when I got a computer and the internet, I started looking for him.

I found him in January of 2009. He was no longer married, his children were grown, and he had entered a hedonistic lifestyle. He told me that he loved me, and that he had always loved me. I went to see him that April. In the following weeks after I came back home, he had a decision to make. Would he kill himself, or would he get on a bus and come to me? He sat in his barn with the rope in his hand, before deciding to live. He came to me in May. By August my husband had moved out, and Ed moved in. By June of the next year, I lost my rental house and we had to move. I had been still going to church that whole time acting like everything was normal! Was I in the dark or what?

Oh, Ed had become a full blown alcoholic (a “raging drunk” as he calls it) before he came out to Missouri. The day he arrived, he asked if he could pick up a six pack. I told him that I’d rather he didn’t. He hasn’t had a drink since. This coming May, it will be ten years.

Well after we moved, we changed churches and Ed started going with me. We were married in that church in 2013, and we seriously committed ourselves to the Lord. Ed admitted that when he was younger, he had wanted to preach, but was told that he didn’t have “the calling”. He also admitted that he also had been sexually abused as a child.

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Our wedding, September 2013

As for my stepfather, he died in 1985 at the age of 47. I eventually learned that I was not his only victim, that there were at least three more. I’ll be talking about that more in up coming posts, or as much as I can. I will tell you that to the later victims, I was painted as that perfect child. Now I wonder what really happened to those kids he told me were so perfect.

My second husband (the father of my two younger children) died in 2016 from a massive heart attack.

My oldest son is serving a nine year sentence in prison for robbery. He has a diagnosis of Bi Polar as well as an addiction to alcohol and meth. At this point, he’s spent half of his life incarcerated in one way or another, but it looks like God is dealing with him as well, and we will leave him in God’s hands.

My middle son is living with us after going through some serious financial difficulties. He struggles with some addictions too, but he has also committed his life to the Lord.

My baby girl is 18, and is learning voice acting. We daily pray that she too will answer the Lord’s call.

God started dealing with both Ed and I to take all the head knowledge we had about His word, and let Him turn it to heart knowledge. Thanks to a couple of opportunities to go to Women of Faith conferences, I was introduced to the writings of Christine Caine and Sheila Walsh, two lovely women who understand about deep wounds.

God used those women to show me that I had to open up and let Him show me all my broken places, so that I can give them to Him for healing. They also showed me how to take God at His word; to trust His Word because it is TRUTH! That hasn’t been easy, and it is still a work in progress, but every day I wake knowing I have a heavenly father who loves me, and works all things together for my good.

God is leading Ed through his own journey of healing, and like me, he takes baby steps.

Abused children have trust issues and I was no different. Although intellectually I always believed in Jesus, and knew what the Bible said was true, I thought maybe it wasn’t true for me because I had screwed up so badly. That maybe I had blown it. In my 20’s and early 30’s, I used to have horrible nightmares about demons chasing me. In the dream when I would try to call out to Jesus, the demons would laugh and say that he wouldn’t help someone like me. I had horrible anxiety and if I was alone, I had to sleep with all the lights on. Then something happened that, in a matter of seconds, let me know the truth, and it has made me free indeed.

Four years ago this last August, we were moving to our current house, which as a little over an hour away from where we lived before. Using Ed’s truck, my son Kyle’s car and a car I had borrowed from a friend, we had packed up another load to take to the new house, and were ready to head out. As I started down the driveway to my car, I had an odd sensation of something hitting me from behind. When it hit me again, it knew what it was and then everything slowed way down as I felt myself falling under Kyle’s car (he hadn’t seen me and was backing down the driveway). Automatically, I cried out to Jesus to help me. It was all I could say, and I don’t even know if I was saying it out loud. I felt a tire start over my hip and stomach and as I vomited, the car stopped, and I heard Ed say “Your mother! Don’t move until I tell you!”

I would find out later that poor Ed had seen the whole thing, and as he fought to get out of his truck time slowed for him too. He yelled at Kyle to stop and Kyle asked what he had hit, hence the response “Your mother!”

When Ed found me, I told him to “get it off me”, and he had Kyle pull forward. After a trip to the ER, I was released with no broken bones or other internal injuries. We would find out later that I had some really deep tissue bruising, which took about six months to heal. A few weeks later, I would go see my regular doctor who kept telling me I was really lucky. I told him it wasn’t luck; it was the Lord. He saved my life that day, and He told me that I am His!

my accident
God is so good!

I sought the Lord, and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4)

So why am I telling you all this?

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Gen 50:19-20)

I believe that child sexual abuse is one of satan’s biggest weapons. He uses it to destroy the faith and trust that is so inherent in children, which then leads to broken adults (even the one’s who act like everything is fine).

If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matt 18:6)

So, I can bury it and pretend it didn’t happen or say that it “doesn’t define me” or that “I don’t think about it”, or a couple million other things that I’ve heard people say, and let it keep right on happening to other children, or I can say, “Yes! This happened to me! Yes! It’s terrible! Yes, it damaged my trust and filled me with shame, but you know what? God is bigger, and He can use all those terrible things that happened to me to work together for my good and for His glory! He can use my story to reach other people for Him. He can use my story to open other eyes to the very real epidemic of child sexual abuse. He can use my story to reach out to other hurting women (and men) in His church to bring true healing.”

So why would I be quiet?

Connie

Sisters in Christ

I have been working on some variation of this post for several days now, and it’s been bouncing around in my head for several weeks.  Let me just cut to the chase and tell you up front that one, this is going to be a series of posts, and two, it’s going to be geared toward, you guessed it, my sisters in Christ.

However, my brothers in Christ are welcome to keep reading if they want to.  We’re not spilling any deep dark womanly secrets here…at least I don’t think we are.

So, for my sisters. God has put so much on my heart that I’m having trouble getting it all down in any kind of sensible order. To be honest, that part of it may have something to do with menopause related brain fog.  Please understand that what I’m going to say today and however many more posts it takes me to finish, comes from a heart of love and concern, and I really do have a point to all of this, if  you’ll just bear with me.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2)

There isn’t anything quite as beautiful as Godly women caring for each other.  Ruth always comes to mind as one of those women, but you also have to ask yourself what kind of mother-in-law Naomi must have been in order to receive that kind of devotion from her daughter-in-law.  If you are unfamiliar with this part of the Old Testament, you can read about Ruth and Naomi here.

Maybe we find it so lovely because we don’t see it often, and that is part of what I want to talk to you about today.

If you are a woman, there is one thing you know for sure. Women can be terrible to each other. We can do more harm to each other than any man could ever do to us. For some of us, it starts with our mothers, grandmothers, or other female caretakers. The ones whose constant criticism made us feel unworthy. For others, we got it on the play ground or in the classroom. Many of us had unpleasant experiences with the mean girls. If you were one of the mean girls, I hope and pray you out grew it. Some mean girls grow into mean women. A woman’s name came to your mind didn’t it? Yes, we all know at least one.

Sadly, some of those mean girls and mean women even call themselves followers of Jesus. However, they really aren’t what I want to talk about today either. I imagine we’ll get to them eventually. I will suggest this though.  If you know some of those women, either within the body of Christ or without, start praying for them today! More about that later.

I want to talk about the ones of us who go to church whenever the doors are open. Maybe we teach Sunday school, or lead a women’s study, or sing in the choir, wash the dishes after the fellowship dinner, or do a host of other things that often go unnoticed.

Sadly, for some of us, even the most faithful appearing, Church and all the activities therein is nothing more than a social club. I recently heard the phrase Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which is kind of reflective of that attitude, but I’m not really wanting to talk about that today either.

I want to talk to those of us who really love the Lord, and want to know Him. Those who have seen Him move in our lives, and know the power of prayer. We know what the Bible says, and we work to learn more. We’re trying, we really are, but sometimes, because we’re human, we get caught up in whatever else is going on in our lives.

Have you ever been to a gathering like Women of Faith where you are in a huge venue with thousands of other women raising their hands in worship? Where you listen to other women share God’s word with you as it relates to being a woman? It’s amazing! It’s a mountain top experience, and we leave ready to tackle whatever God has for us. The thing is, we have to go back to our lives, our jobs, our families, our churches. We can’t stay on the mountain top. But we as women of faith, sisters in Christ, and daughters of God, can bear each others burdens, and encourage each other to love and to good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). We can pray for each other, and pray together.

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Photo by Rosie Fraser on Unsplash

We can, but do we? Oh, some of us do, (and we all know who they are) but what about the rest of us?  Have you ever looked at another woman in church and thought, “she looks like she might be having a bad day. I need to talk to her”? Did you follow through?

Do we reach out to our sister in Christ who just moved in to town? What about that one that you’ve known since grade school, but don’t really know because you belonged to different groups. What about that woman that seems like a porcupine, whose whole demeanor and body language says “stay away”? Or what about the Chatty Cathy, who talks a mile a minute, gives out too much information and drives you crazy? Or that one that you just don’t like? Are you looking down your nose at someone you perceive as less than, or are you maybe resentful of the one you perceive as more than?

Do you put on a mask or put up barriers when you go to church because you know how other women can be and you’re scared to death they’ll find out that your life isn’t perfect. Do you suffer from depression, and feel like you can’t talk to anyone at church about it? Do you feel guilty because you think that if you were “spiritual” enough that you would feel better? Do you have secret addictions or other sins that you are trying desperately to keep hidden? Are you embarrassed because your kids are the ones who are always in trouble and you “just know” that everyone is looking down on you?  Let me tell you that we can’t pray for you or help you if we don’t know there is a problem. Please don’t be afraid to open up. That is what the body of Christ is for.

For those of you who don’t have any of those fears (and I doubt that there are any really). How would you respond to those women who do? If you would react any other way than I just did, I want to know why, and I want to know what you think Jesus would say!

I think every one of us understands what women who work together with a common cause can do. A little under a hundred years ago in this country, women endured all kinds of abuse, but prevailed in finally getting the right to vote. A little later, another determined group of women pushed for prohibition.  Can you imagine what God could accomplish through a group of determined, Godly, Holy Spirit filled women who love each other in Him and submit themselves to Him and His purpose? Look at what he did with twelve common Jewish men!

Here is the thing. Our enemy knows too, and the last thing he wants is a bunch of Godly, Holy Spirit filled women on the move. So, he is going to do his best to keep us fragmented.

So what does he do? Some of us he attacks as children, burying us in a shame so deep, we might never find our way out. Some of us he attacks with illness, physical and mental. Some of us he just lets our own sin defeat us, and then he makes us feel like we are the only one and no one else will ever understand. That lie is often so ingrained that even after we come to the Lord, it persists. So we all go to church and paint on faces of perfection. We create cliques and look for people who are just like us, and then, when the unchurched enter our doors, we confirm what they already believe, that we are just a bunch of hypocrites.

Do we deserve that? We probably do.

Some of you are going to get defensive right away. Did I hit a nerve?

So what do we do?

First, we repent. We ask God to forgive us and show us where we need to change.

We fall in love with Jesus all over again.

Then we ask Him for wisdom.

Then we reach out in truth and love to our sisters in Christ.

We find out who they are. What’s going on in their lives? How we can pray for them and how we can help them? Maybe they just need someone to listen. Maybe they need help with groceries, or babysitting, or maybe they need someone to tell them that they are a loved, beautiful daughter of God and they don’t have to put up any kind of front.

Then we need take off our own masks, and come out from behind our own walls, and accept from others what we offer to them.

Then together, we submit ourselves to the One who died for all of us.

And He will use us in ways we cannot even imagine!

This is me, reaching my hand out to you. Will you take it?

Let me know what you think in comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Next week, I’ll tell you my story.

Connie

A Repurposed Life

I posted the following on my personal Facebook page a few days ago.

I like junk.

I keep boxes, bottles, jars, cans and all kinds of odds and ends. I have a box full of stuff that we’ve found on the place, like pieces of glass or pottery. Libby does a lot of excavating in her pen, so I am always finding things there.

Why, do I keep it?

Some of it is probably genetic. Grandpa Charlie never threw anything away…ever. My dad keeps a lot of stuff too, so I got it from both sides.

Sometimes I keep things like glass jars, because I can reuse them. Most of the time, though, I really don’t have a clear picture about that. Until I need something, and then I remember what I have that will work for what I need.

Probably though, the best thing, is creating something totally new from bits and pieces of “trash”, like the planters I made from coffee cans. I see possibilities in so many different things, and I have to keep them until I see what comes out of it.

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Repurposed coffee can planters. As you can see, their faces are made from repurposed stuff too. This picture was not part of the original Facebook post, because I had shared it on another one. 

Today, I guess we call that “repurposing”.

Here is the thing. I spent a lot of my life feeling like “trash”. Shame made me feel dirty, broken and useless. God, however, saw the possibilities and through Jesus, took the mess that was me and made a new creation. He repurposed me! I still have to fight the enemy’s lies, but I don’t do it alone. Yes, there are scars, but you know what? Those let me reach out to other broken people and show them how they can be repurposed too.

I posted that a few days ago, but God really put it on my heart to share it here too.

He wants you to know that He loves you and He is just waiting for you to give the mess to Him. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been. When you give yourself to Him, He makes you new and gives you a new purpose: the one he had planned for you all along.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor 5:17)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:10)

That doesn’t mean your life will be perfect, but you will be living a life designed by the One who is!

What are you waiting for?

Connie

 

All Have Sinned

We’ve talked about the literal definition of the word translated as “sin”, and we’ve talked about how Jesus came to save us from sin by dying on the cross. If you missed them, you can find them here and here. There are a few more things we need to clarify about sin and salvation. Why did Jesus need to save us from sin? What’s the big deal? What exactly constitutes a sin

We know “sin” can also be described as offense or transgression, and with a more literal meaning of “missing the mark”. The latter refers to aiming at a target as with spear, or an arrow. I think we can all understand the concept of missing that bulls eye.

Well, after God created human beings, he set down some rules. It was pretty simple really. God gave Adam “dominion”, which generally means control, over all the earth. God would come every day and walk with Adam and Eve in the garden. How cool is that? The Creator of the universe coming over every night to just hang out.

However, He told them they could not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or the tree of life. He told them if they did, they would surely die.

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Image from page 18 of “The Bible panorama, or The Holy Scriptures in picture and story” (1891) Downloaded from Flikr

Well, without getting into the whole conversation between the serpent and Eve (we’ll save it for later), lets jump ahead to the fact that they, both Adam and Eve, disobeyed God and ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As a result, they were cast from the garden The whole earth was cursed, and death entered the world.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So the Lord God said to the serpent,

Because you have done this,
Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

To the woman he said,

I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said,

Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, You must not eat from it,’

Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:7-19)

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Their sin infected all of us.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God(Romans 3:23)

Everything we do has a consequence. The long term consequence of sin is death.

The one who sins is the one who will die… (Ezekiel 18:20a)

The wages of sin is death…(Romans 6:23a)

It doesn’t mean immediate death, although sometimes a person’s sin leads to the end of their (or someone else’s) physical life here on earth. This death is even more permanent than that. It is a spiritual death that makes separation from God permanent. Jesus called this place the darkness, as well as the blazing furnace, where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 8:12, 13:41-42) It is also called the lake of fire and Hell.

Sin separates us from God. After they were banished from the garden of Eden, the Scripture never records another conversation between God and Adam and Eve. I imagine they missed those walks in the cool of the evening. Think of the regret. Sin brings that too. The Bible doesn’t say how long Eve lived, but Adam lived for 930 years. That is a long time to think: “If only…”

I don’t pretend to understand exactly how sin separates us from our holy and righteous God, but it does. It makes us unclean and defiled. We cannot stand in God’s presence. No matter how good we think we are, we can never be “good enough”. There is no such thing as being a “good person” in God’s eyes.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Is 64:6)

All sin, in all of it’s forms, boils down to one thing: disobedience to God.

What exactly does that look like?

In a nutshell? If God said “no” and you did it; that’s sin. If God said, “Do it” and you didn’t, that also is sin. How do we know what He wants? Look in His word, the Bible.

The Ten Commandments? That’s a good place to start getting an idea about what God had in mind.

Or this from Proverbs:

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community
(Proverbs 6:16-19

Jesus said,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt 5:27-28)

But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matt 15:18-19)

There are sins of commission (the things we do), and sins of omission (things we left undone).

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them (James 4:17)

As far as God is concerned, there are no grades of sin. One sin is exactly like the other to Him. Human beings count one sin worse than the other, but God counts them all the same. If you have ever in your life had one bad thought (even if you didn’t act on it), you are just as guilty before God as someone like Charles Manson.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10)

Ok, so we know that sin (transgression, offense, trespass) is disobedience to God, and that disobedience makes us unfit to be in His presence. If we remain in that corrupted, defiled state, all that remains for us is the eternal spiritual death called Hell.

Thankfully, God didn’t want to leave us like that, and He had a plan.

God always has a plan, and His plan is always good.

Until next week.

Connie

Family Devotions

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Although we aren’t always successful, my husband and I try to do a daily family devotion time with my daughter. The way it is supposed to work is that one of us reads the scripture for the day, and we have a discussion about what was read. We mention any new prayer needs, and the same person who reads, prays. Like I said, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

However, there seems to always be something that gets in the way. Usually, it’s our own tendency for distraction. Ed works nights, so on those days, we try to do it shortly before he goes to bed for the day. On his days off, we shoot for after breakfast, but sometimes we get side tracked. Usually, I remember that we didn’t do it when we aren’t in a position to go do it right then. By the time we are, it’s slipped our minds again. Yeah, I know. We’re pitiful. We do keep trying though.

I probably don’t need to tell you that my teenager is less than enthusiastic about the whole process.

If we miss a day or two, we spend the first ten minutes trying to remember what we read last (we work out of four books at once) and whose turn it is to read. Ed writes it down on his calendar, but sometimes it isn’t right, and we have conversations like “No, it couldn’t be Ezekiel 23* because I read last and I read Psalm 19, and so whoever is reading needs to be reading Numbers!”

After we get it straightened out, we decide how much will be read. Chapter and verse divisions were made by the translators, and are not, in any way, consistent. One chapter may have 30 verses and take up a half a page, and another chapter have 30 verses, and take up three pages. We use chapter divisions most often, but sometimes divide them up over several readings. The idea is not to read a lot, but to grasp what we do read and be able to discuss it.

Sometimes, we are able to draw parallels from life today. Sometimes, we are reminded of another part of scripture. Sometimes, we have to honestly say that we do not understand what a passage means, or why it says what it does. Sometimes, we don’t make connections until hours or days later. When we do have those delayed connections and insights, we always try to share them with each other.

Yesterday we read from Deuteronomy 3

21 At that time I commanded Joshua: “You have seen with your own eyes all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings. The Lord will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going. 22 Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.” 23 At that time I pleaded with the Lord: 24 “Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? 25 Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.”26 But because of you the Lord was angry with me and would not listen to me. “That is enough,” the Lord said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan. 28 But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” 29 So we stayed in the valley near Beth Peor. (Deut 3:21-29)

Look at verses 23-27, especially verse 26.

That is enough,” the Lord said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter…”

I know I’ve read this before, but it jumped off the page yesterday, and stuck with me.

God doesn’t always give us what we want, but scripture encourages us to keep asking until we get a definitive answer. I can’t think of another time when God says, “stop asking”.

Paul asked God three times to remove the thorn in the flesh, and God told him no.

8 three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Cor 12:8-9)

Evidently, Paul stopped asking after the third time and changed his attitude toward his problem.

I wonder how many times Moses asked? What lead God to tell him to stop?

As a parent, who has been wheedled by a whining child, I can certainly relate to God’s response.

How many times have I said, “No, and don’t ask me again!”

Often God has used my relationship with my children to help me understand something about His relationship with me. The experience is usually quite humbling.

Yesterday afternoon, Ed and I were talking about something we need to start praying about. Ed said that he had already started praying about it, but more won’t hurt. I said, “No, I really don’t see God telling us to stop asking like he did Moses!”

Ed said, “You know, I kind of feel sorry for Moses.”

I do too.

*If you plan to read Ezekiel 23 aloud with teenagers, you might want to read it first, so that you will be prepared for whatever reaction they have. My then sixteen-year-old daughter looked up from the reading with the most dead pan expression on her face, and said something like “Really…wow…Alrighty then.” We then discussed how God doesn’t sugar coat anything, and calls things as they are, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

Connie