The other morning I woke up, sat down, prayed that God would show me something in His word and then asked that He would tell me what to do with it... here it is.
I’m currently reading the book of John chapter 4, where John recalls Jesus declaring His Messiahship to the woman at the well. He begins describing this metaphor for living water and never thirsting again, but in this passage she just wasn't following Him. Jesus was trying to speak to her spiritual needs and when that didn’t work, He kind of called her out.
Now, I don’t want to make Jesus sound rude or insensitive, but He knows us, right? Sometimes (often times) we need to be told straight up, how things are in our lives. I am a real person and I need to be talked to in the same way. Too much fluff and flowers and you can lose my very direct, straight forward mind.
This woman at the well had been with several men and Jesus brought it up to her. She was at the well at a time when no one else was, due to what I imagine was great shame and shunning by her community. But Jesus met her there AND acknowledged her.
After talking with Jesus, the woman was so moved by her encounter with Him, the one who knew all of her sins and still offered her an eternal “well of life." He showed up and her shame left. Scripture says that she left her waterpot at the well and went straight to the townspeople in the city to tell them of her experience with this man called Jesus!
I have read this story before and I've heard this story told in sermons several times, but when I read it the other morning, it seemed different in some way.
The shameful woman at the well was no longer the focus in my mind.
Her sin was no longer the focus of this story for me.
It was her going immediately to the townspeople and telling them about her encounter with Jesus.
Here is this woman, who wouldn't even collect water at a well when others did, leaving her waterpot, and going to the townspeople to declare boldly about her meeting with this man who "told (her) all things that (she) ever did!"
For a woman with her reputation, bringing up past sin wouldn't normally be an encouraging thing (I mean, who would enjoy that?)...but it wasn't about her sin. It was that this man, Jesus, knew her sin and STILL HE MET WITH HER. Still He acknowledged her. Still He offered her what He knew she needed most.
When we encounter the LOVE of Jesus...the grace filled, forgiving LOVE of Jesus, we are compelled! We run! We share it! WE LOSE OUR SHAME.
Shame that keeps us hidden away, disconnected from loved ones, drowning our feelings of worthlessness or self pity in anything and everything. Sometimes it's substances and sometimes it's other relationships. Sometimes it's actions, things we do, and other times it's things we buy or partake in. But guess what? Typically those things create more shame or only a temporary haze to keep our shame just out of view for a little while. None of those things take it away though.
But here, in just a moment... it was gone. And as a result, she reached out to others who were then so moved by her words, her testimony, that they left the city and went to find Jesus.
How often do we let fear of others or influence of others keep us from sharing what God has done in our lives or better yet, BROUGHT US THROUGH? We've all done things, said things, experienced things that we are not proud of. That's called sin.
My name is Ashley, and I am a sinner. I sin. Every day. Major bummer.
Ok, now that that's out of the way, guess what?....
There is forgiveness for that, BUT....and it's a big one...there is also an undeniable influence in that! When we turn our shame into a testimony of what God has done, that brings Him GLORY! And glory is evidence of Him; it's showing the world that my God is real, and here's how...
"But I don't want to share this horrible thing with others!" ...no one is making you, but if you have come out of it, whatever situation "it" is or was, there is a story to tell. Maybe your ending was better than you could've imagined, or maybe it was worse than anything you've ever experienced...either way, don't let the shame keep you at the well by yourself.
Maybe you're there, at the well, pulling up your bucket and you don't even see Jesus anywhere, so how could you possibly hear from Him?
Ask Him to meet you at the well. Sitting by yourself with nothing but your shame, looking for something, anything, that will fill the longing you have. the thirst. the hunger.
He will meet you. But you've gotta be at the well...that place of humility where you know no one else is gonna show up and sit with you. It's gonna be hard. But if we don't all go there at some point, our shame will keep us so far from the one who takes away our sin. The one who breathes life and love back into us again.
I think that's why God gave me these words. Too many people I know are walking through tough things right now, but not sharing it with anyone because of their shame. Because of their concern with other people's perception of them or their situation.
Maybe you know someone who is walking through something right now. And man, it looks bad. It's covered in filth and what looks like a long road and so you've just checked out. You've left them in the middle of their shame, all for a little less "ick" and a lot more comfort on your end. I get it. I've been there before too. But maybe try and revisit that person or situation. Maybe it's only in prayer, but maybe it's also in person. There's nothing that says "I'm here for you" like a warm, living, breathing, body knocking on your door.
So I want to challenge you. I want you to think about your life, or maybe it's someone else's life that comes to mind, and I want you to pray and ask God to help you. Maybe helping you looks like bringing you to a place of humility, so that you can make your way to the well. Or maybe helping you looks like the Holy Spirit giving you courage and grace to step back into someone's life who could really use a friend...and if you have a box of donuts and a movie, those wouldn't hurt to carry on you either.
Sometimes we need those too.
With love & laughter,
1st Photo by Qang Jaka on Unsplash
2nd Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash
3rd Photo by Claudia Soraya on Unsplash
Here is a tested truth: light will always defeat darkness.
Try it out. Take a candle and light it. Put it in the middle of a room and turn off the lights, close the blinds, make the room as dark as possible.
No matter how dark a room becomes, the darkness will never be able to block the light from that single candle. In fact, the darker the room, the more evident the light from the candle will become. The darkness is powerless against the light of the candle.
The world, for now, is under the rule of Satan. Satan loves darkness and he rules in darkness. He uses the darkness to blind the minds of unbelievers to the truth of the gospel of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:4)
But Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) Out of the darkness of our own hearts, God brought light through salvation.
Though the darkness cannot prevent our light from shining, we can. The light radiating from the believer results from an inward transformation. The more we grow in wisdom and knowledge and understanding of His Word, the closer we draw to Him, and the more intimately we walk with Him, the stronger and brighter our light becomes. But, when we are focused on ourselves and on the pursuit of worldly things, our lights are dim and harder to distinguish from the darkness. If we find ourselves ashamed of the gospel and afraid to take a stand for what we believe, we hide our light under a cover and no one can see it.
In Matthew, Jesus continues, “Let your light shine before men so they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Too often we focus on doing good works – works in our own power – the ones we choose to do, the easier works, the ones that require little sacrifice on our part. We feel good about ourselves and about the good we are doing. Sometimes we even like to get in a little bragging. But those works too often point others to us instead of bringing glory to our Father in Heaven.
When the light in us shines brightly, when that inner transformation is what causes the brightness of our lights to shine, it illuminates the good works that we do out of a deep love for our God and others see Him because of the light in us.
We have seen that light in the lives of the families of our brothers and sisters who lost their lives in the shooting this past Wednesday night.
A dark evil descended on Charleston. One fueled by hatred and ignorance. The evil committed had the potential to give rise to more hatred, violence, and evil. It had the potential to throw the city of Charleston into turmoil, like the turmoil we just witnessed in Ferguson. But it didn’t because the darkness descended around followers of Jesus who chose to respond to the evil as their Savior commanded. Out of the darkness emerged a brilliant light; one that the darkest of darks could not extinguish.
Because of their response, the enemy was defeated. What the enemy meant for evil, God used for good. (Genesis 50:20)
To the families who lost their loved ones Wednesday night, first know that you will be constantly in our thoughts and prayers. Also know that as your brothers and sisters in Christ, we thank you for showing the world what it looks like to walk in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior. Thank you for showing all of us what it looks like to love and forgive in the wake of what seems to be an unforgivable act.
We have seen your light shining brightly in the darkness and it is beautiful to behold.
Yesterday, I was led to share something about my past that I didn’t want to share, especially because it was in front of someone whose approval is very important to me. For the rest of the day, my heart was heavy. I found myself struggling with why sharing this particular part of my story was causing so much hurt in my heart. I have shared parts of my story many times before, and though it has never been easy, I've never experienced emotions quite like this.
I found a quiet space to just sit still before my Father, and I asked for help. As I sat there, the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, gently shed light on what was happening.
A good bit of my story revolves around things that happened in my life before I came to a saving knowledge of my Lord and Savior. But, this particular part of my story happened after Jesus saved me from my wicked and sinful self.
Before Christ, I sinned against a God I didn’t know, but now, when I sin, I sin against a Father I do know, and that makes the sin all the more grievous to me. I thought about the disciple, Peter. What incredible heartbreak Peter felt when he looked into Jesus’s eyes as he realized in full whom he had sinned against. I was feeling that heartache.
I want to make sure you understand that my struggle was not with whether or not I had been forgiven. When we repent of our sins, God takes them and throws them as far as the east is from the west, and He remembers them no more. I believe that with all my heart, so I knew that there was no place for condemnation.
So why the broken heart?
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about a thorn in his flesh. No one knows with certainty what that thorn was, but Paul explained that it had a purpose:
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (verses 7-12)
I found myself agreeing with Paul. I will be glad for my thorns. The pain reminds me of who I am apart from Christ and let me tell you…that keeps me in a humble place. It reminds me that His grace is precious and all I need. I’m so thankful that I don’t have to be strong on my own; that when I am at my weakest, He does His most powerful and amazing work.
I found myself gladly embracing my broken heart. In fact, I always want my heart to be broken when I am called to revisit those dark places because on the heels of the heartache is the sweet reminder that I am a cherished child of the Most High God. I always want to be amazed that He would saved one as wretched as me because when that reality sinks deep into the inner most parts of my heart, I find myself loving Him more and more.
Who is like our God?
Have you ever taken a bite of something that was just too hot and burned your tongue? Or given a compliment and someone smiled? Or maybe you’ve been outside with your kids and pointed out all the beautiful and wonderful things God has created and made because He loves you? I bet we all have experienced teachable moments, either for ourselves or for our kids. They come at the most unexpected times.
Well, we had one in our household this morning. My first born daughter, the one who follows all the rules and wants to make sure to do things right, a perfectionist at heart, messed up. We all mess up and fall. I believe in mercy and grace, but this was an area we have never ventured in our household before; stealing. It wasn’t anything big. It was the littlest piece of chalk that they used at her first day of Vacation Bible School yesterday. So tiny, you’d almost want to throw it away and forget about it. She didn’t even realize what she was admitting to when we were talking. I’m braiding her hair and she is telling me about how yesterday, during Bible study outside, they found some shade and some chalk to write with, except they never got to use their chalk. Instead she brought it home. That stopped me in my tracks and made my mom brain start thinking. First, I went through her bag when she got home and did not see any chalk with her things, so it was hidden. Second, she never said that the counselor told the group to keep their chalk. So I started asking the hard questions.
Forgiveness is one of the hardest words in the English language to me. It’s one of the toughest things to do…to give. I think it should be a four-letter word, except, well, it has more than four letters, but whose counting?
How can one word be so difficult yet so freeing? Why is it expected to be given when it is so undeserved? It’s one of those things that my head knows I need to do, but I can’t seem to convince my heart to do what my mind knows to do.
When an offense comes against us and we find ourselves with a wounded spirit, refusing to forgive prevents our own healing. In fact, when we refuse forgiveness, in addition to the harm that has been done to us, we heap even more harm on ourselves. Anger settles in. Bitterness settles in. It’s like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Who would do such a foolish thing?
“It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. “
Jesus knew that His time with the disciples was coming to an end. He had only a few precious hours left with them; one last opportunity to instruct them. So in those final hours, the King of Kings took off His outer garment, wrapped a towel around His waist, took a basin of water, and began washing the feet of His disciples – a job so degrading that even Jewish slaves were exempt from the task.
Why foot washing? Jesus chose to demonstrated an inner humility because it would be necessary for His disciples to adopt the same inner humility in order to fully carry out the instructions that He was about to leave them with.
I’ve often wondered if the first set of feet Jesus washed belonged to Judas. There are times when I find it hard to wrap my mind around the fact that Jesus washed the very feet of the one whom He knew had already betrayed Him. What must it have felt like to kneel at the feet of His betrayer; to wash the feet of the man who had sold Him for 30 pieces of silver? Yet, with an inner humility, Jesus picked up Judas’ feet and in doing so showed us how to love and serve our enemies.
Maybe Peter’s feet were next. Jesus washed Peter’s feet knowing that Peter, one of His closest friends would betray Him not once, but three times. In fact, all of the disciples would abandon Jesus that very night and He knew it. Yet, with a humble spirit, He knelt down and lovingly washed each of their feet, and demonstrated how to love and forgive those who hurt or offend us.
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
The example, at the core, was this: Jesus did not hold onto the rights and privileges that were His because He was deity. Instead He gave up all that was rightfully His – His position in Heaven, His comforts, His right to be treated with dignity, His right to defend Himself, His life. He humbled Himself in selfless obedience to The Father.
Yes, we are to love and serve one another. Yes, we are to forgive. But in order to do those things after the example of Christ, we must take on the same attitude as He did. It requires an inner transformation of our hearts and minds into the humble likeness of Our Savior.
As we head into Good Friday, carefully consider all that Christ endured, all that He suffered, and all that He gave up for you and me. Sit with your dirty feet at the table in the upper room. Watch the sadness in His eyes as everyone flees the scene in the garden. Listen to the sounds of the scourging in the night hours and the cruel mocking of His captors. Look into His weary eyes as He stumbles under the load of the cross. Hear the ping of the hammer driving the nails into His hands and feet. Watch as the crowd jeers and mocks Him and challenges Him to prove that He is the Son of God. Pay close attention to His anguish as He takes on all our sins and is separated from His Father for the first time in all of eternity.
And when you wake up Easter morning, rejoice in your salvation which was freely given to you all because Jesus humbled Himself in obedience, even to death on the cross. Then follow His example and hear His promise:
“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
John 13 and Philippians 2:5-11
In Christ’s love,
I know you’ve heard the quote, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Of course, we understand that we shouldn’t allow the hurtful words of others to harm us, to define us, or to shape us. Of course we shouldn’t. But what we know we shouldn’t allow and what we are actually capable of not allowing are two different things.
Recently, an incredible woman shared with me the way in which she saw herself. The woman she saw herself to be and the woman that I saw were two totally different people. As we talked, she told me about some very hurtful words that were often spoken to her as a child. Sadly, those cruel words have followed her into adulthood. She believes them.
It is astonishing how those words spoken to her as a child have so defined her. She is not alone, though. Many of us have also allowed hurtful words to define us.
Hurtful words cut deep into our hearts. Truthfully, wounds from sticks and stones will heal a whole lot faster than wounds from hurtful words. When we encounter physical wounds, our bodies just naturally begin the healing process. But, when we encounter a heart wound from hurtful words, no “natural healing” kicks in. We have to become actively involved in the healing process. In fact, our natural response to hurtful words can be as destructive as the words themselves.
What is our natural response to cruel words? They hurt, and we tend to hold onto the hurt finding it difficult to move past it. The hurt turns to anger, and unresolved anger leads to bitterness. Bitterness is poison to our souls. If cruel words are spoken repeatedly, we start believing those words. True or not, we allow them to define us.
We cannot avoid the hurt of cruel words any more than we can avoid broken bones from sticks and stones. Those kinds of words are just going to hurt. What we can avoid is all the mess that comes after the hurt…but we have to be very intentional.
Here are some thoughts on how to be intentional in healing from hurtful words:
We choose to seek the approval of God rather than man. Galatians 1:10
We choose not to allow anger to move in and make itself at home in our hearts. Ephesians 4:26
We choose to recognize that bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the rat to die. (Couldn't find scripture about the rat poison, but Ephesians 4:31 will work)
We choose to recognize that the cruel words of another are more a reflection of who they are than a description of who we are. Luke 6:45
We choose to forgive because we have been forgiven. Colossians 3:13
All of these choices are much easier said than done, so we choose to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us through the process of healing. John 14:26
My Mom cross-stitched the saying, “I know I’m somebody ‘cause God don’t make no junk!” and it hung over my bed when I was growing up. I think I will send the saying to my precious friend and maybe write it down for myself while I’m at it.
God doesn’t make mistakes. We are fearfully and wonderfully made! (Psalm 139:14)
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