I'm ashamed to say this is the first post I've written in months. There is no excuse, but there is a big, ugly reason: depression.
Warning: depression and suicidal ideation triggers follow.
I have fought depression and anxiety most of my life, starting in the tenth grade of high school when my grandmother died. She had lived with us since my parents married, and was very much a second mother to me. She died on a cold January day as snow fell. It kept falling, creating an unprecedented 12" snowfall which shut down my area of the South. It meant no school, and being holed up in the house in which Memaw had lived; it also meant Memaw could not be buried for two weeks.
For two long weeks all we thought about was her empty room. As her nighttime caregiver, I found nights oddly quiet. No one rang a little bell to ask for help to go to the bathroom, or to say her heart was hurting. I was to give her a nitroglycerin tablet under her tongue, wait 20 minutes, and give her another one if it didn't calm down. If, after 10 more minutes, her heart was still hurting, I was to get my mom up and we'd call the paramedics for a midnight ride to the emergency room. It was a heavy burden with which to carry at sixteen years old. Then, after Christmas Day, when her heart hurt and the paramedics came, Memaw did not come home as usual. She died January 6, and two weeks later was buried.
A month after she died I began to write dark, dark poetry. I didn't know it at the time, but looking back on it, I should have been on an antidepressant. I should have been seeing a counselor. I was depressed, and thinking that I couldn't go on with life. I missed a lot of school. I couldn't sleep and when I finally did, I'd sleep all day long. I lost weight.
It was the first time I began to think that ending it all would be easier than living through it all.
I twice attempted suicide in the tenth grade. No one outside of my husband Greg (until now) has known this about me. I tried to hang myself; my big black Lab Major ran under me, bracing my feet up. Barking. My knot slid out and I fell to the ground. I felt like a complete and total failure: I couldn't even tie a proper knot. This is not supposed to be funny; I was so utterly lost with zero self-esteem and a very empty prayer life that I believed I was a failure in everything.
One night, while battling a summer cold, I took an incredible amount of pills. Whatever I could get my hands on. That night, as the room spun and hot puffs of air came through the open windows, my cat Jojo clawed her way through the screen, meowing, and jumped on me. She ran to my mom and dad's room, woke them up, and made them come to me. Mom held my head as I vomited.
I thought, if my animals love me so much, maybe I just ought to stop. I didn't have the faith to see that God was using Major and Jojo to save my life--twice.
I've been depressed on that level three more times since then. I put on a good fake face and went to work and church and no one was none the wiser. I've become an expert at hiding the screams for help on the inside. Still, my husband Greg and some more astute and observant friends have noticed, and have called me out.
But if there is one thing that I have noticed since my faith life grew exponentially since the 10th grade, it is this: there is a definite stigma of depression in the church. We don't know how to handle it, and by "we" I mean the members of the capital-C Church, the Bride, who should be among the first to use the anointing of the Holy Spirit to sense when someone is teetering on the edge. Have we become so callused with hitting "sad faces" or typing "Praying" on social media posts that we think those things are reaching out to people who are hurting?
If a person of faith is posting hints of depression on social media, there is hope. If you notice that a previously active person's social media activity has dropped off and they're not coming to church as often as they used to-- those are huge warning signs that depression has dug its heels in.
There's a stigma to depression in the church body. "How's your prayer life?" "Are you in the Word?" "Maybe you have unconfessed sin." "God hasn't moved; you have." The church is better equipped to handle divorce than depression. We don't know what to do with depressed people: what casserole should be delivered for being in a pit of despair?
Listen: sometimes life can be so overwhelming that it's amazing that one is not depressed quicker or sooner. I also know this: though people of the church, who should be on the lookout for each other, fail--Jesus does not. Psalm 40:1-2 (NIV) states, "I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand."
The slimy pit of depression is slippery and oozy; the shifting mud moves with each passing grumble of the earth below and around it. Isn't that like depression? It's highly environmental and tediously curcumstantial, growing with each passing issue and problem until the murk and mire weigh us down. But the Lord God, Who see us and will deliver us when we call on Him, will not just set our feet on a steady rock of unmoving truth and a firm place on which to know His goodness and grace, but He will "put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him." (verse 3).
He will not just deliver us from depression but put a new song of praise in our mouths! God will use the time of depression, after one has been delivered from it, to encourage other pit-dwellers and people longing for deliverance. Each and every time the Lord brought me out of a season of depression, my faith soared and people were encouraged tenfold. I am delirious with the thought of what He's planning to do in the season of faith coming up.
Why, then, scoffers and doubters will say, why then doesn't God just keep you out of depression? Christians who don't yet have their Resurrection bodies are still prone to the uncertainties of this world. We are not perfect; forgiven, yes; but not perfect. I believe with all my being that God, who made all of creation out of His spoken word, can take seasons of depression and use them for His glory and to share His Gospel. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (my life verses) state, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."
Don't you see? When God brings you through the mountains, He is planning on using the moments spent in the valleys just as much, if not more, than the mountain-top experiences.
Listen, though, beloved: if you are in a church body, pay attention to those around you. Don't let people off the hook who answer "Fine" to the question of "How are you?" Dig a little deeper. Pay attention. We as the Church need to dismantle the stigma of depression among our pews and reach out to each other. Who knows? Maybe you can be like a certain large black Lab or calico cat, and bring someone back from the edge.
If you are reading this and have been contemplating suicide, I urge you to please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's talk. Or, visit your pastor and tell him of your plans, or go to the nearest emergency room. You are loved.
(C) 2018 Terrie McKee
There have been so many times in my life where the devil has tried to take something from me and you may feel the same way. Whether it be joy, a relationship, a desire for God; Satan is always trying to steal something from us.
When walking through our journey of being a Christian we can sometimes feel alone. We may look around and see all these other believers in our community and in our church, that seem like they have everything together. They may look like they have all the energy in the world and you’re tired. They’re over there laughing with everyone and you can’t seem to find joy.
John 10:10 tells us that “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy…” At times, this seems more relevant than others. We can’t seem to find that spark that keeps us going. It may feel like our fire has burned out. There are times where we feel scared and anxious about what life holds.
In Matthew 26:36-39, we see Jesus facing something similar. His soul is troubled and he’s sorrowful over what life is about to bring. When reading this passage, it’s hard to imagine Jesus feeling this way. However, we’re not promised an easy life. John 16:33 confirms that we will have tribulation.
But what makes the Christian life worth it? Is there even a hope for us?
John 10:10 doesn’t just stop with what the devil can do; it finishes with what Jesus did do. The rest of the verse says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” We have a victory in Him and through the love that he showed to us that day on the cross.
Yes, the devil does come to steal, kill, and destroy but we serve a God that cancels out that evil and replaces with it a never-ending love and ultimate victory that we have through His Son! He has risen and forever will be! Today, don’t let Satan take that joy from you. Don’t let him steal your energy and hope. Do not allow him to burn out that fire you have for Christ.
“But take heart; I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33). The veil was torn, the earth quaked, and the tomb was rolled away! We no longer have to live in sorrow; especially if you’re a believer! Our Savior is risen and is not still laying in that tomb. The devil did not win; our God did, has, and always will! Jesus has taken back what the devil has tried to take from us.
Philippians 4:4 tells us to rejoice in the Lord always! God has taken it back!! So, rejoice in knowing that He has won and the devil is defeated.
Abby Jarrell, 18 years old, is a freshman at Liberty University, majoring in graphic design. She blogs at Prospering in Peace.
Evangelist Billy Graham was laid to rest today at his eponymous Library in Charlotte, today. He grew up on a dairy farm just a couple miles from where I grew up in Charlotte. While I was riding with my husband and son to a wheelchair basketball tournament in Nashville, we listened --intently-- as our favorite radio station aired from Mr. Graham's funeral. The Name of Jesus was lifted high and glorious in his celebration of life: even in death, Mr. Graham was reaching people for the cause of Christ.
In the two weeks since his death at 99 years of age, there have been numerous television news accounts and specials about Mr. Graham's life from a North Carolina farm boy to a globe-trotting evangelist, becoming the Pastor to Presidents. His death and celebration of life have given Christians an opportunity to share the Gospel with people who ask, why the celebration? He's dead, isn't he?
His body, yes; his soul -- oh no!
Conversations will happen. This world is so broken, so starved for hope, that when hope and joy even in death are put on display, questions will be asked. As the Bible says, "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil," [1 Peter 3:15-17 NIV].
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. For we do have hope. We do have joy. We know that this bleak and hard world is not all there is. While we may be sad that Mr. Graham is no longer with us, we rejoice in that he is now in the Presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Glory! What phenomenal things he is seeing! What wonder! Seeing the face of Jesus!
We as Jesus' followers also have this hope of heaven. We need to be prepared to tell it. What do Christians have? We have the understanding that these earthly bodies are but tents ["For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands," 2 Corinthians 5:1 NIV] and that our souls, if we accept Christ as Savior while in the tent, will go on to be with Him in paradise. Some people say, "I'm a good person, I'll go to heaven." You can not buy your way or act your way into heaven. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," [John 14:6 NIV]. Jesus is the only way to approach God the Father.
Because Jesus took our sins upon Him and did a substitutionary death in our place, as the sentence for sin is death, we are clean through the blood of the Lamb of God. God won't remember our sins after Jesus has made us His through His grace and atoning death—all we have to do is accept it and believe that Jesus is our Lord and Savior.
Accepting Christ's death on the cross and rising three days later from death's grip means that He makes us new creations. All sins are gone, all shame is gone. We are new! 2 Corinthians 5:17 states, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" When I was younger I used to get hand-me-downs from my older cousins, and while I appreciated the clothes, I loved it when I received a new outfit. We can not hand down our faith to our children; they have to come to a new faith in Him and accept Him for themselves. Faith is a legacy but not a hand-me-down.
Faith in Christ gives us hope and a purpose that this life is not all there is. He makes His will known to us along with a promise in Matthew 28:19-20, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” He commissions us to go throughout the world and share the Gospel, and baptize in the Trinity's name, and teach others about Him. He promises that He will be with us as we do these things. We cannot fail when the Lord God is in the midst of the purpose and the master of the promise. So many these days are floundering, looking for a purpose in their lives. As Christians, we have a purpose that is made up of all active verbs: Go, Share, Baptize, Teach, Hope.
Because of His promise to always be with us, and that these earthly tents are not all there is to life, we live with Kingdom Vision that allow us to see past the sad death of a 99 year old man dying in his bed, and experience the glory this servant of Christ Jesus saw when called Home. Because of Kingdom Vision, we answer the question of "Where was God when all those children died a week before Billy Graham's death at that Florida school?" with this: Because of man's rebellion against God, sin entered the world. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that sin has wide-reaching ramifications. Other people get hurt and die because of sin, even the sins of others. Where was God? He was protecting the large majority of children who did not get injured. He has been providing peace and funeral monies for the families of the children that were caught in the gunfire of the sin-filled student's aim. He was crying along with the students in the grassy areas. Throughout millennia and even today, humanity has consistently told God through actions and words that they have no use for God. They have made other things and even themselves their own gods.
Jesus says, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me," [Revelation 3:20]. Jesus is a gentleman: He will not barge into someone's life. He will come in when the door is opened or when He is called. Humanity has made the decision to not need God, then question where was He when something went wrong? Maybe —just maybe— this world would see massive improvements and heart-changes if revival and a great turning toward Christ would happen.
Christians love but this love is not how the world loves. We love others too much to agree or affirm their sin-filled lifestyles, no matter what that encompasses. We love them too much to see them doom themselves to hell, so we share the hard things, the things they don't want to hear: that Jesus is the Only Way to God the Father and heaven. If they don't accept Christ as Savior, they will die and go to hell, to sit in judgement before God and have all their sins laid out before Him.
Christians will have this done to them, too: all their sins spread out before God and everybody, but then—from the right hand of the throne—comes Jesus, pouring a vast bowl of blood over the spread-out sins and saying, "Father, I have covered their sins with My Blood, they are no more!" And God forgets those sins. God, who knows everything, wills Himself to forget those sins because of what His Son did on the cross.
Christians do not want anyone to be separated from God, and that is what sin does: it separates you from God. God loves us so much that when His Son breathed His last breath, God Himself tore the veil separating the common area where the people gathered from the Holy of Holies in the Temple, where God traditionally lived, top to bottom. In one moment as Jesus died, God tore that veil separating His people from Himself. Jesus is the one Who made communion with God possible, through His death. We don't have to be separated from God because of Jesus.
Therefore, when we accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord our lives, we are no longer alone in this world without hope. We have Jesus and His Spirit to guide and lead us in all things. We have His protection, His power, His peace, and His presence. We have His provision.
Through Mr. Graham's death, we too can reach hundreds and thousands more for Christ in sharing the Gospel message he preached and Christ commissioned us to share. Let us not squander this opportunity Christ has given us to share His Name.
(c) 2018 Terrie McKee
I’ve made banana nut bread for a long time. This dense bread is made using baking soda, which helps it to rise a little. Yeast is used in fine breads like hot buttered rolls and croissants that are light and fluffy. It’s the yeast in these types of breads that make them rise, therefore: light and fluffy.
During the Jewish celebration of Passover, according to the Law laid out in Exodus, there is to be no yeast whatsoever in the home for the seven days prior to the feast. There was to be no compromise in preparing for Passover: all the yeast had to be eliminated from every storehouse in the home in ritualistic cleaning.
A biblical metaphor for sin, a little yeast can make a whole bowl of dough rise. Jesus warned His disciples to “be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, “ [Matthew 18:5 NIV] regarding their teaching. He warned them because He knew the false teaching taught by the religious leaders was hollow and unsubstantial, yet, like yeast, a little false teaching would go a long way to getting the disciples off-center in their relationship with Christ.
That’s the way with sin. Once we ask forgiveness and repent of sins, we are not to intentionally bring sin (yeast) back into our lives. As we prepare to walk with Christ on a daily basis, any compromise of sin takes our focus off Him. A little bit of yeast can affect a lot of dough.
Any compromise of listening to false teaching leads us down a road that gets wider and wider, making more room for more sin to enter in.
What does this look like? Going to churches that embrace socially acceptable practices but are anything but biblical. Listening to pastors, themselves wayward in their walk, talk about what “their” god accepts — which is not the God of the Bible. The prosperity gospel, which says that Christ will bless you financially and make you successful, is false teaching that tickles our itching ears.
Christ Himself, the Son of the Living God, was poverty-stricken while He walked this earth. He did not have a home to sleep in, yet there are pastors who preach God wants you rich.
Buttery croissants may taste delicious, but they are not filling – just like false teaching that tells you what you want to hear. But bread without yeast, like solid and dense banana nut bread, will sustain you, like the Bread of Life, found only in Jesus Christ.
God wants you to rely on Him. God wants you to realize that He is the Provider and the Provision. He is the blessing.
Money is not.
Sin, like yeast, won’t just expand in one spot of the dough. 1 Corinthians 5:6 states, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?”
When we boast in ourselves, we are having a pride-attack. We owe Christ everything--our skills, our talents, our resources. When we think highly of ourselves, that’s opening the door to compromise and sin.
Just as yeast puffs up dough to make bread, so does pride. Scripture states, “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind,” [Colossians 2:18 NIV, emphasis added].
Nothing can damage a congregation more than pride. A little bit of pride and a little bit of sin can corrupt an entire church. What does pride look like in a church body? Collecting glory for the congregation instead of God. Saying, “Wow! What an awesome church!” instead of “Wow! What an awesome God, working through the church!”
Just as yeast puffs up bread, so too will pride puff up a church, and make it seem better than what it is. Christ, the Son of the Living God, didn’t do this. Philippians 2:3-8 states:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death--
even death on a cross!"
Do we have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, Who was God, yet did not use His Godship for His own sake? Should we then serve in His Name but point the glory back to Him?
What defeats yeast?
Do you know what defeats yeast? Salt. Salt has a “retarding effect” on yeast, meaning it slows its leavening rate; too much salt, and it kills it altogether.
What did Jesus say we are to be? “You are the salt of the earth,” He told His followers [Matthew 5:13a]. If followers of Jesus are truly the salt of the earth, there will be no yeast-sin in our churches.
The problem therein lies in the yeast of pride that puffs us up, making us think we’re in charge of God instead of the other way around. When we compromise on the Word of God, distort what it says, twist Scripture, and make God in our image, that is when churches are destroyed: because there is very little salt left to impede the yeast.
So, in preparation for this upcoming Passover—traditionally around Resurrection Day—let us throw out all the yeast-sin that exist in our homes, churches, and lives. Let us prepare to wait in eager expectation of Jesus’ will for our lives. Let us breathe in the sweet aroma that is Christ Jesus, and place on the altar our praises to His sweet Name.
© 2018 Terrie McKee
My heart raced as I ran through the streets during the depth of night, dust flying in my wake. I was out of breath, chest aching, but I knew I couldn’t stop. What if I made eye contact with him? What if another stopped me to question?
“How could I do such a thing,” I thought. In fact, I was pleading with my heart and soul to answer this question so emphatically that I didn’t know if I had just thought this question or if I had just spoken it out loud. I was supposed to be the one that never fell away, the one who always remained steady. Weakness of the human existence became real to me in that moment. You would think that falling into the sea after moments of walking on waves would have been a wake-up call for me, but here I am. Why can my heart not trust?
I saw the lame men healed, the children brought to life, the ear of the soldier look as if it had never been cut off, but I still struggle to believe. Another gust of guilt overwhelmed my emotions and brought me to my knees. Tears streaming down my face, I knew that it was over. Any hope of an eternity absent of sorrow and pain was gone, ridden when I claimed to never know Him. I wept as I continued my journey home.
I tried to sleep that night, but the sorrow was unbearable. I desired that morning never come because I would have to face the questions of my friends and admit my denial. Flashbacks of conversations scrolled through my thoughts. I remembered my initial meeting with Jesus. I looked back on the promises I had made to never fall away and always remain faithful. Eventually, after many hours, I fell asleep, though I tossed and turned restlessly most the night.
A while later, thoughts of the pain I inflicted on Jesus still churned in my memory and all I wished was to see Him. To talk with Him. To beg Him for forgiveness and listen to His Truth. “Please, Lord. Reveal Yourself to me once more,” I said aloud.
Just then, Mary Magdalene and Mary, Mother of James, burst through the door with an energy and radiance that I had only recognized before as being in the presence of God. Through cries of joy, they screamed that Jesus was alive. They had seen the tomb and both repeated in awe, “It’s empty. Nothing there but the cloth He left behind!” Before I could run out the door, Mary Magdalene grabbed my robe and whispered, “The angel told us to tell the disciples and Peter. He mentioned you by name, Peter.”
Tears clouded my vision as I sprinted down dirt paths, leaped over stones and climbed through brush that seemed to endure for an eternity. My name. He called my name. The two most beautiful words in all my existence spoken just for me. As I arrived at the tomb, I entered to see only linen strips of cloth and a hollow tomb. Jesus left behind grave and death, resurrecting His own life and bringing us (even me, the one who fell away) the most precious gift to be given and treasured: renewal.
Mary-Gwen Williams is a follower of Christ, wife, first grade teacher, worship leader and blogger from a tiny town in North Carolina. She has a passion for teaching children and young women how to dive deeper into the Word of God. She spends most of her time at church, shopping every aisle of Target, sipping Dunkin Donuts or crying while watching This Is Us. You can check out more of her writings and thoughts at abidingandflourishing.blogspot.com.
What is God calling you to give up for Lent? Is it chocolate, or social media? Perhaps watching television? Is God calling you to do something, like placing an item of clothing for each day of Lent then donating the bag?
God called Abraham to sacrifice his beloved and much-prayed-for son, Isaac. Isaac was a child of promise: all of Abraham’s God-given promises lay on this boy, and God called Abraham to sacrifice him upon an altar of sticks in Moriah. Reading this makes giving up chocolate irreverent.
The passage in Genesis 22 is heartbreaking: “Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about,” [verse 3 NIV].
God told Abraham to go the region of Moriah. Israelite tradition indicate that God showed Abraham to sacrifice his son on the tallest point of the Moriah range—a place that, hundreds of years later, would be called Golgotha.
Abraham told the servants to wait. He placed the wood for the altar upon Isaac’s shoulders and “he himself carried the fire and the knife,”[verse 6]. Seeing that there was wood, and a knife, and fire to light the altar, Isaac asked where is the lamb for the burnt offering.
I cannot imagine what emotional turmoil Abraham was feeling as he replied, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,” [verse 8]. What faith! Abraham knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, based on God’s promises that had already been fulfilled (hello, Isaac!) that God would provide.
As Abraham raised the knife to sacrifice his son, an angel stopped him. Abraham looked up, Scripture says, “and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son, [Genesis 22:13]. The ram, which was caught by its head in a thorn bush, was sacrificed in the place of Isaac.
Abraham called that place “The Lord will Provide.” Scripture says, “And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided,” [verse 14].
Listen: Jesus, the Lamb of God, wearing a crown of thorns, carried the wooden cross up to Golgotha to be sacrificed as God’s only Son, instead of us. God provided the ultimate and last Lamb to be sacrificed on the very place Abraham named “The Lord will Provide.” The Lord God provided the sacrifice—His only Son—in our place.
We are all Isaac.
Right before Jesus was to be crucified, Pilate gave the people a choice: release Jesus or release Barabbas, a known terrorist and murderer. It is interesting to note that in the Jewish culture, the surname Bar- meant “son of.” “Abba” means “God.” Barabbas means “son of God.”
So here we have two men: Jesus, the Son of God, perfect and without sin, and Barabbas, or “son of God,” who, like Adam was also called “son of God” was wicked and sinful. Romans 5:12 and 14 state, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—…Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.”
Certainly Barabbas, walking down to Pilate, couldn’t hear Pilate’s loan voice asking the people who he should release to them. All Barabbas heard was the screams of the people yelling his name. He couldn’t hear Pilate asking the crowd what he should do with Jesus; all Barabbas heard was “Crucify him!” [Matthew 27:11-28]. So all Barabbas heard was “Barabbas…crucify him!”
Imagine his confusion when, upon arriving before Pilate and this horridly-beaten and bloody Man, he was released, and the bloodied and thorn-crowned Man was sentenced to die in his place. Barabbas was deserving of crucifixion: a sinner among sinners.
We are all Barabbas.
This is what Lent is about: acknowledging our sin and our deeply-seeded need for a Savior. Understanding that Jesus did not die in place of Barabbas, but in our place as well. Understanding that the Lamb of God, like the ram caught in the thorn bush, was a substitution: Instead of Isaac, the ram; Instead of Barabbas, Jesus.
Lent is so much more than acknowledgement of our personal debt we cannot possibly repay to Christ; like Advent, it is a time of preparation for Passover, when we remember when the Israelite slaves adorned their door posts with the blood of a perfect lamb to prevent the Angel of Death from killing their first-born sons. It is a time of preparation to remember that God Himself gave the Cup and the Cross to His only Son to bear.
Lent is a time to remember and reflect on the great love God had for us, that He sent His only Son to die a horrific death so that we may be cleansed of sin, and to celebrate the empty tomb three days later.
© 2018 Terrie McKee
The most important gift I can bestow upon any of my children is not found in any store. The most important gift I can give is teaching them about Jesus—Who He is, and who they are in Him. For our daughter, especially, that means intentionally teaching her the truths that are found in God's Holy Word.
While the world will tell her she's not pretty enough, or smart enough—we are teaching our daughter that she is "fearfully and wonderfully made," [Psalm 139:14 NIV] and that God has made everything beautiful in its time [Ecclesiastes 3:11].
We teach her that Jesus so loved her that He died for her and rose again three days later so that she may live in Him.
We pray with her, leading her in prayer to teach her that prayer is communicating with her Lord Jesus. We help her find Scripture passages as she sits with us during church, and stress the importance of reading and studying the Word for herself. Just as she enjoys spending time with her friends, Jesus enjoys spending time with her. We share with her the importance of a personal relationship with the Lord: one that is reverent, built on faith and love for Him.
We teach her to be thankful.
We are teaching her to be modest in clothing and talk and how she sits. We teach her that there is room yet in this world for being a lady of character and renown. We are teaching our daughter to be a woman of faith in Jesus Christ, and that means being sure of who she is in Him: a Child of God, a Daughter of the Most High King.
We are teaching her that one day, she will meet the man that God has chosen for her, and they will complement each other in word and deed. We are teaching her, through example, that a wife is to respect her husband and a husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church [Ephesians 5]. We are teaching her that Christ comes first, then her husband, next—her children, then home, and work. We are teaching her that women can work outside and inside the home, and most usually, both.
We are teaching our daughter the truths found in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12. "Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."
The world with its evil desires will come after her, but she will have a strong foundation on which to build a strong and mighty fortress of faith and love for Jesus, serving all in His name. Already we see the fruits of these things as her little hands clasp in prayer and as she shares Jesus with the children in her second grade class.
It is our job as Christian parents to protect and love our children, to guide them to a relationship with Jesus, to lead them to Him. Christ tells us to go into all the world, sharing the Gospel and teaching about Him—shouldn't that start within our own homes, with our own children? For if we don't teach them about God, the world will teach them about satan. We cannot leave it up to the children to learn these important things on their own.
(c) 2018 Terrie McKee
A year and a half after my husband was shot and paralyzed in an attempted armed robbery, I still could not say the perpetrators’ names. I knew their names, first and last, but only referred to them as the “tall one” and “spotted one,” so named for the many moles and freckles on his face.
I could not bring myself to humanize them – to refer to them with names. Naivety took a serious hit the day Greg was shot, and part of me still could not believe a fellow human could try to kill another for no reason with no provocation. It was easier to deal with that night by not thinking about those two men having mothers who had birthed them and held them as babies.
The “tall one” is just four years older than my oldest son. I am within the right age that I could have a son that old. Something happened, during the last six months or so – not sure what triggered it, but I thought about how those guys’ mothers must feel. Their sons not even out of prison more than a few months (the tall one was only out for less than a month), and here they are again, back in jail for doing the same exact things that landed them in prison in the first place.
I put myself in the mothers’ shoes. It hurt.
Though it didn’t change the fact that they would have to sit through the same legal proceedings as us, and they would have to deal with the ramifications of that night by serving time in state prison, I looked at them with a different line of sight. I looked at them with Kingdom Vision.
Kingdom Vision is powered by the grace of Jesus Christ. It’s the ability, given by the Holy Spirit, to see someone who has wronged you in the light of the Gospel. All of us are sinners and need the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, and I am no better than those two guys.
Darren and Terrell.
Grace is the power to love as Jesus did. Jesus saw people for who they were: sinners in need of a Savior. For those who have accepted Christ as Savior and have the Holy Spirit indwelling in us, should we not also see people for who they are: sinners in need of a Savior?
Darren pled guilty a couple months before Terrell’s trial started right after Thanksgiving. Greg’s mother endured the trial with us, every single day. She had brought a crochet project to work on—a calming activity for her. She and Greg’s dad sat and silently prayed as Greg, our son Jacob, or I was on stand, giving our testimonies from that night.
Terrell’s mother never showed up.
I actually felt sorry for him as I saw him look back when he heard the courtroom door open in the few moments before court was called into session. He was looking for his mom, but she never came. An aunt came and sat through two days of jury deliberation, but that was it. She never returned.
Grace is this: God extending to us what we do not deserve, whether that is compassion, or mercy, or sympathy. He expects us to extend that same grace to others who have wronged us, with the understanding that it is God who will seek justice. Romans 12:19 states, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”
As my preacher is known to say, “This is easy preachin’ but hard livin’.” It’s hard to look at a man that assisted in the shooting of your husband. It’s hard to stand before the judge and read a victim’s statement. Yet, when your cup is full of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is what you pour out. Grace leads to forgiveness and forgiveness leads to peace.
Grace leads us to worship and witness. In the weeks after the shooting, the media and the general public were astounded that we forgave the shooters so quickly. It wasn’t us—it was Christ in us. If we never experienced God’s grace, we couldn’t share it. Since we experienced God’s grace and forgiveness, Christ gave us Kingdom Vision to use this awful tragedy to lead people to Him, by extending forgiveness to the shooters.
Mind you, forgiving the shooters has not made Greg walk again. However, it has decreased bitterness. It hasn’t eliminated it—but when satan is trying to plant seeds of discontent, bitterness, and anger, we know to call upon the Name that is above all names, and ask Jesus to forgive Darren and Terrell again.
© 2018 Terrie McKee
Valentine's Day is around the corner, and love is in the air! With all.things.love the theme for February, now is a great time to share the love of Christ with others. Here are 28 ways to do just that, one for every day this month!
1. Think before speaking
2. Pray for others
3. Don't yell
4. Buy a stranger's meal
5. Smile at strangers and say hi
6. Give a single parent a gift card for an oil change
7. Offer to babysit kids so a single mom can go grocery shopping
8. Listen to understand, not to be understood
9. Support a foster family with a meal, grocery gift card, or cash
10. Send a real card to a senior citizen (or to a little child)
11. Bring a fruit / snack basket to a family with a loved one in the hospital
12. Read to your children
13. Have lunch with your child at school
14. Put the cell phone down and have a real conversation
15. Leave the quarter in the Aldi cart with a note taped to it: "Jesus paid my debt; this cart's on me."
16. Go through the church directory and pray for each individual by name
17. Fill up your teenager's car with gas AND run it through the car wash
18. Bless a stay-at-home mom with coffee and doughnuts at her door... Provide conversation too!
19. Make and distribute blessing bags for the homeless (with your kids)
20. Foster children if you are able
21. Financially support a missionary
22. Talk with someone at church who is sitting alone – even better: sit with them!
23. Notice when someone is not at church for more than a week – and make contact
24. Do something nice for your spouse without them noticing (and don't tell them)
25. Put the cart back in the corral without trash in it
26. Take a meal to a cancer patient (call first to ask preferences)
27. Bless a family who has special needs children with a meal
28. Share the Gospel
BONUS one (for Leap Year!) – Make a big batch of muffins or cookies. In a nice red paper bag with handles, put in six muffins, add a note, "Just wanted to tell you that YOU ARE LOVED by Jesus! Love, your neighbor!" and add a "You've Been Valentine'd!" sticker on the bag. You can put in a small devotional or a Scripture writing printable, Valentine's Day pencils, and a $5 gift card to a local coffee shop. Don't put your name or address on it – it's about Jesus and your neighbor. Put it at their door for them to find.
Want the free "You've Been Valentine'd" ready-to-print sticker sheet and the February Scripture Writing printable? Simply subscribe to the Near Your Altar email list!
And, by the way, Jesus loves you too!
Because He first loved us,
(c) 2018 Terrie McKee
It's hard to break into a new church, Sunday School class, or youth group. People have known each other and have developed relationships going back years. Yet, successful church assimilation –getting people active in the church– increases discipleship because people will get involved in small groups and be more inclined to participate in Bible studies if welcomed.
There are many ways a visitor or new member will not feel welcomed. The lack of signage indicating to people where classes and age groups are located, not being warm and welcoming, looking down on someone for how he or she is dressed -- all these things can be hindrances to people. Walking into a room full of strangers who don't say "hello," or offer to change up the seating arrangements to make room, is intimidating to new people.
Look, we are to emulate Jesus. He did not discriminate against anyone. He showed kindness to the poor, the sick, the powerless, and the destitute. He was comfortable talking with centurions, prostitutes, and priests. While He hand-picked the twelve disciples, He went out of His way to make sure the lost were found, the unclean were made whole, and the discouraged encouraged.
Are we doing these things in our churches?
What are "cliques"?
One of the biggest stumbling-blocks to getting people to come again and again to church and become active in a small group is the presence of cliques. Cliques are small, exclusive groups of friends that by their definition exclude people who are not in that exclusive group. We all have those groups of people with which we associate, either in the church or socially, and call these people family. I know I do. The problem lies in the perception that a church has all cliques and you cannot get to know people and break into small groups to learn about Jesus because you're excluded, for no reason other than you're not them.
I first started going to church when I was 12 years old. I accepted Christ as Savior and had a thirst to know more about Him. My youth Sunday School class, which I really liked, had an announcement one Sunday they were having a social and Bible study at a member's house, so my mom drove me over. I soon found out that there would be no BIble study but a lot of watching MTV back in the day when it was all about music. Inside jokes were the norm. Teens laughed and poked fun at one another, talking and eating chips and dip. I'd try to initiate conversations but was fairly shut out. No one would try to talk with me; when I wanted to play pool with a few of them, they suddenly wanted to go watch the TV, leaving me quite literally holding the eight ball. I didn't go back. While I'd go to worship service, it was months before I'd go back to the Sunday School class.
When I went back, I learned that a member of our class had been out for a couple of weeks due to a broken leg; a card was passed around for signatures. I thought to myself, I've been out for a couple of months and haven't received any cards. It stung. It stung hard. It said to this young, baby Christian: you're not one of us; you're not wanted; we don't want you here.
Are those the kind of messages you want your church or small group to project?
Before the youth event, I was learning a great deal about the Bible in class. Soaking it up. After the youth event, I just went to worship and while I learned a great deal from the amazing Dr. Rick Blackwood in just his sermons, I know now that that shy 12-year-old girl should have also been in a small group with peers her own age.
The cliques in the class and youth group put stumbling-blocks in my walk of faith. It tripped me up. But it's not just in youth groups. Snobbery about who one talks with can happen with the adult crowd, too. There is too much political maneuvering within church groups. We're supposed to be showing the love of God to all, and there we are, shunning our brothers and sisters within our own walls.
Paul addressed cliques in his message to the church at Corinth, saying, "I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought," [1 Corinthians 1:10].
What is more dividing than cliques?
What can be done?
Sometimes I make pie crust from scratch. Recipes call to take butter and chunk it into flour. I take a special pastry blender and smoosh the lumps out. I carefully knead the dough until it's all of one likeness and there are no lumps. Cliques are the lumps of the church and need to be kneaded from the top down.
Church leadership should be careful not to socially associate too much with the same set of people over and over, lest there be a perception of favoritism. It is good for the leadership of the church to try to have real conversations with many people instead of the most active members, the most giving members, or the members with community political clout.
Sunday School teachers and small group leaders: if you have the same people sitting together every Sunday, do something about it. Buy a bag of colored candy and hand each person a different color: red, blue, green, yellow, red, blue, green, yellow. Have all the yellows sit together, the greens, the reds, etc. Allow the "new" groups time to get acquainted. Force the mixing of the dough, if we remember the pie crust analogy.
Just as Jesus would go up to the lonely, be aware of anyone sitting alone, Sunday after Sunday. Introduce that person to others. Facilitate people getting to know one another. If you have covered dish suppers, encourage the creation of a kid's section with just children so the adults can mix and mingle without
For people trying to break into a church, please don't give up. Keep going. Take the initiative. If you do anything, show the congregation how to be Jesus. Do unto others what you would have done to you -- not what you've had done to you.
(C) 2018 Terrie McKee
This post may contain affiliate links to products and/or services, including those available on Amazon.com, as Near Your Altar is a participating member in the Amazon Affiliate Program in addition to other retail affiliates. These affiliate links help provide for this website as well as a small income to my family and I. Please consider clicking on the links to purchase or to browse the affiliate's website, which will open in a new window. We thank you for your support. ~ Terrie
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