There’s a Plank In Your Eye, Miss!

“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Matthew 7:1-3 ESV

Ah…this scripture. I love it and yet…I find that it drives a stake right into my heart every time I read it. Yes, it kills the monster in me that just want to scream “You’re a fool!” to some random person. You see, I can’t do that because I’m a fool, too.

We all are going to make mistakes daily. We’re all struggling in some way to do something right all the time, but we’re never going to reach perfection. We’re not God. We are called to sharpen our brothers and sisters by gently rebuking them, redirecting their attention to the scriptures and by praying for them, but we are never called to monitor their every move in order to harshly judge them or call them a fool. Search your hearts, brothers and sisters. You may not be doing exactly that, but there may be something similar going on in your life right now and you…as well as I, need to stop it right now.

We are not loving our neighbor when we’re people watching only to create websites that display the foolishness of humanity. ( Yes, I’m talking to you, People of Wal-Mart.) We are not loving our neighbor when we call out their insecurities and make fun of them for it. We are not loving our neighbor when we feign friendship only to gain insight for scholarly gain. (Term papers, social studies, etc.) And we are certainly not loving our neighbor when we’re consistently, without love, calling out our neighbor for mistakes they’ve made in life. You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all done some variation of this. We have to check our hearts, folks. If we’re not correcting out of love and concern for their souls, we’re judging harshly and inappropriately. Check your heart and then lead your heart.

Most of us will naturally become annoyed with anyone with whom we’ve spent too much time. We’ll step on each others’ toes and make silly mistakes that don’t feel silly. They’ll hurt feelings. We’ll intimately get to know our neighbor and yes, we’ll discover hot buttons that when pressed, will create deep wounds. We are not to take advantage of this, or even use this to “correct” our neighbor when we finally find out “what’s wrong with them.” Chances are that whatever “issue” you are finding fault with in your neighbor is more your problem than theirs. We will see our own issues and insecurities manifest themselves in others when that is what we’re placing our focus on. Regain focus. Look to Jesus and pray for your own heart, then look back to your neighbor with a heart full of Grace and love. What do you see? If it’s not a person made righteous by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, then you’re going to need to look away again and refocus your eyes and your heart on Jesus before you can safely (without sin) look at your neighbor again.

I am speaking to you, too…self. I am having such a problem with this issue as well. I really struggle with making harsh judgments towards those with whom I am spending too much time. God has placed my family in an interesting and sometimes extremely uncomfortable situation right now. I’m learning that God doesn’t care too much about my own comfort as He sets my heart right.I am very grateful for this and that He checks my motives before giving me the desires of my heart!

Jesus has already died to set you free. You are no longer a sinner, but a saint. (read: 1 Corinthians 1:2) You are made perfect in God’s eyes because Jesus absorbed all of your punishment on the cross. (read: 2 Corinthians 5:21) We are not called to obey the law in order to retain our salvation. (read: Matthew 5:17) We’re called to obey the law out of love. (read: Romans 13:10) We need to live this out every day, to the best of our ability. When we can’t or don’t, there is grace. Please don’t abuse that! (read: Romans 6) We are all in need of grace. None of us are in competition with anyone else for our salvation. We already have it. Just look to Christ to grow you and mature you more each day. You can do this! God has equipped you with everything you need.

Let’s pray:

Heavenly Father, we come to You boldly, in the name of Your son, Jesus. We thank You for the Holy Spirit that loves us and guides us. We ask that You would make us sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Help us to hear it more clearly and know when we’re making harsh judgements and when we’re truly seeking to correct or rebuke a brother or sister out of love. Help us to focus first on You, Lord and correct our behaviors, thoughts and attitudes before we even dare to look to others. Thank You for growing us and for fulfilling Your word that You began a good work in us and You will see it to completion. We confess that sometimes we don’t trust that. Sometimes we also try to do things on our own and that leads to burnout. We get frustrated with ourselves and become critical of others. Our focus is lost and we sin against You by sinning against Your children. We are sorry and we humbly repent, admitting that all sin is against You and Your will for our lives. Thank You for Jesus who has borne our sin and those of our neighbors as well. Fill our hearts with Your love as we reset our focus back onto You and away from idols and sin. In Jesus’ Holy and perfect name we pray. Amen.

 

The Tirado 5, hours after Jackson was born.

Then and Now {Praise Him}

Have you ever looked back to the worst moment in your whole entire life and then looked around you at your present life? Can you see an immense difference between the two moments in time? This morning, as I was holding my son, I did just that. As I attempted to count my blessings, I found that I could not, for they are far too numerous. That realization caused me to stop everything I was doing (other than breastfeeding) and just praise God for His mercy and grace. He delivered me from what once felt like the pits of Hell. I cannot even begin to fathom how different the world would be without my kids. You see, the worst moment in my life is the moment I was pronounced dead at age 16 during a suicide attempt. I had totally given up on life because I figured that everyone who mattered had already given up on me. I was wrong. God had not given up.

At age 16, there was no way that I could even begin to fathom that my life would work out to what it is right now. I married my high school sweetheart. We have been together now nearly 20 years. We have two beautiful daughters and a very handsome infant son. I survived military life (which almost killed both of us) and I have spent years teaching Sunday school, working with kids – including special needs children. I’ve traveled to and lived in several different states and I’ve met people from all over the world. I have a great life, despite our struggles. None of this would’ve happened had God given up on me.

1997

Anthony and I in 1997, shortly after we became a couple and not too long before my suicide attempt that nearly took my life.

You see, when we’re at our worst moments and we don’t even have the strength to call on God or to acknowledge His existence, He’s still there anyway, saving us from the Enemy. He knows we have a purpose long before we know we do.

I did not call on God that day until the bitter end. I called on Him to bring me Home – to Heaven. He said “later” and sent me back to the World. Initially, I was outraged by the outcome of a failed suicide attempt. Now, I am praising Him for it. I cannot imagine a better life than the one He has given me.

 To all who mourn in Israel he will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory.

Isaiah 61::3 TLB

The Tirado 5, hours after Jackson was born.

The Tirado 5

You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.

Psalm 23:5 NLT

Let’s Pray: Lord, we thank You for the blessings You’ve bestowed upon us. We have experienced such intense moments of weakness that we could not even call out to You, but You in Your infinite Mercy came to our rescue anyway. You have replaced our mourning with joy and songs of Praise. All Honor and Glory rightly belongs to you, O Lord. How we love Your ways! In Jesus’ Name we Praise You. Amen.

How has God come to your rescue in moments of weakness? Has your life turned out better than you ever thought it could? In what ways?

God Bless You {Food, housing insecurity}

For the last several years, Anthony and I have struggled so hard with money, attempting to get back on the same page with finances, make ends meet, put food on the table, pay down debts…that we’ve often missed the boat and continue to struggle harder. We rarely have food security. There are entire weeks each month where we have to carefully ration food  to make sure everyone eats 3 meals a day. I cringe hearing my kids tell me they’re hungry because I don’t know if I can make our food last to the end of the month if I give them one more snack in between meals.

Most months we run out of gas money too early. We have to borrow. It’s soul crushing to ask more than once.

Every month we have to watch our bills pile up, debts increasing because we just don’t enough money to pay everyone. It grates on our nerves, threatens to break us. Yet we know – somehow we have more than enough.

I remember once walking through the grocery store helping a friend shop for her family. I hadn’t eaten a full meal in days.  I desperately wanted to grab some fruit, crackers, cheese – anything really – off the shelves, run to a secret corner somewhere and devour the food like a wild animal. I was so desperate for food. I’d been pretending to eat at home, but there wasn’t enough food to go around, so I was saving my share for my husband and kids. I count them as better than myself.

I didn’t steal food that day and I never told my friend how hungry I was. Not too long later, she surprised me with a grocery cart full of food that she’d paid for. It was a gift for my family that she’d felt compelled to give. My faithfulness was being rewarded – for lack of a better term. I’d not grown weary in doing good. The Lord provided.

We are facing similar (but not the same) issues right now. I feel tired – exhausted, really. Every day I wonder when the glass floor will shatter, so to speak, and we’ll be knocked off our feet and lose everything. I know if we remain faithful the Lord will provide. We will not ever need to lie, steal or cheat in order to provide for our family. I pray continually that the Lord will give us wisdom to use our resources wisely. Sometimes I fear we’ll never get it right. We are trying and we are praying. So much is coming at us so fast that it seems like we’ll never float – we’re always fighting not to drown.

We won’t drown. The Lord knows our needs. He will provide.

I share this to encourage anyone else facing the same or similar situation. There’s no shame in asking for help, especially when you have kids. You are going to get through this. So are we.

We’ve been selling extra items, Anthony’s taken on extra hours at work, I’ve worked briefly in the past (but had to quit to save money). We’re cutting expenses left and right and always looking for more ways to do so. Nothing sticks for long. We pray about finances a lot, never wanting to burden anyone else.  This is our problem. Except that it’s not just our problem. It’s a problem millions of people face each day in our country and so many of us pretend we’re alone in this, not wanting to burden anyone else, not wanting to share our shame. We’re afraid that people will think less of us. What does it matter if someone thinks less of us because we’re struggling? Isn’t that indicative of a larger problem within themselves, rather than with us?

We can hold our heads high and continue to look to the Lord for help. Our help does come from the Lord. He is ever present in our time of need and in our time of rejoicing. He can be trusted with all that we are going through, good and bad. Won’t you take some time to share your burdens with Him today?

Remember: Do not grow weary in doing good.  God sees you. He has not left you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He will supply all your needs. Have faith and rest in Him.

God bless you, Brothers and Sisters.

An Open Letter to My Unborn Son {Jackson Henry Aaron}

15 weeks

Jackson Henry Aaron due May 27, 2015

Dear Jackson,

For you son, we have prayed fervently. God has blessed us with your conception. I’m looking forward to the day when I can hold you in my arms and kiss your head as I praise God for bringing you into my life. Your father will do the same thing, as will your sisters, grandparents and all who meet you. You are a blessing son. I pray that you never forget how important, loved and blessed you are. May God bless you and keep you safe all the days of your life.

Your sisters, Theresa and Chelsea are so excited to meet you. They’ve been singing songs about you since the day we told them we’re expecting you (September 21st, 2014). They don’t really understand that May 27th is a ways off, but they’re eagerly awaiting your arrival. They’ve been praying for you, too.

There has never been a moment when we haven’t wanted you, or wondered if you should be a part of our family. You were always wanted. You have always been loved.

Before you were conceived, several of your brothers and sisters were born into Heaven. You and your sisters currently have more siblings born into Heaven than you do here on earth to embrace. I often wonder if you kids played with them before coming here to earth. That is one of life’s great mysteries. Someday, when I meet God in Heaven, I’d like to ask Him. I know your brothers and sisters were beautiful because they were a gift from God – a blessing. I know I will meet them someday and embrace them. I thank God for their lives, short as they were. I thank God for your life, and for your sister’s lives as well.

Little one, you are strong! I have felt your kicks and barrel rolls since week twelve of pregnancy. At first, they felt like tiny flutters and now, they tend to feel more like a mighty warrior, looking for the exit. Sometimes I wonder if you haven’t mistaken my bladder for a bouncy house. I have a feeling you’re really going to enjoy those someday. 😉

I wonder what you’re going to look like and what your interests will be. Your dad and I keep going back and forth about whether you’ll be a football player, a soccer player or a baseball player. I wonder if you’ll be a mighty preacher, a lawyer who stands up for civil rights, or something else. We have big dreams for you, but we also know you’re going to have to make up your own mind about a career, based on your relationship with Christ. We trust Him to direct your steps and ours as well as we raise you in the Church and in relation with Him.

Jackson, you’ll never be able to meet your aunt Melissa, great-grandpa Tom, or great grandmothers Verla and Mary Jane (among many, many other deceased family members) but I want you to know that they’ve already influenced your future in so many way, just as we will, who are still here among your earthly relatives. You see, you’re part of a beautiful legacy of God’s people. We’re a little broken, a little silly, and a lot hopeful for full restoration among God’s creation. We’re all part of the foundation for yours and your sister’s future. Our stories, woven together create a beautiful tapestry that can help lead back to God if you allow it. There are stories of triumph, wisdom, love, death, sadness, sin, and foolishness. There are stories of victory and joy. There are stories that will help you understand the importance of hard work, loyalty and friendship to your fellow-man. Some stories will inspire, some will make you cringe, but all are part of the beautiful tapestry. All are important for you know.

More than anything dear Jackson, I just want you to trust God and love Him with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul and love your neighbor as you love yourself. That is my greatest prayer for you, my son. I also want you to know that there is nothing you can do to separate yourself from the love of God or from the love of your father and I. You are our son and you are first and foremost, God’s beautiful, beloved creation. We’ll see you soon, Son.

With love,

Mommy

The Root of Sin {My A-ha! Moment}

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about coming into a closer relationship with Christ. For years I’ve desired a closer relationship with Him, but haven’t really been willing to put in the work. You see, I really, really enjoy living in comfort. Pain isn’t all that enjoyable for me (who is it enjoyable for, really?) and I’ve worked hard to avoid it at all costs. This has included isolating myself from outsiders, hiding away in a closed room when I’ve sinned, refraining from prayer (what if God actually knew what I was thinking?) and running away from Christians whom I perceive as better than myself. (Afterall, I don’t need more reasons to feel bad about myself. I already know I’m a sinner!)

One of the biggest a-ha(!) moments I’ve had lately is that I sin because I don’t fully trust God. I want to do a lot of things on my own in order to earn my own salvation and please God. In his award-winning book Jesus Is, Judah Smith tackles this very subject. After relaying the story of the prodigal son, Smith reminds us that we’re often like children who want to earn our salvation, but we are never able to. Smith likens this attitude to a child who walks up to his father and says that he suddenly doesn’t deserve to be his son anymore. How asinine! The son has never been able to earn his place in the family. He did not choose his position in the family. The father did. Can you see the correlation between us trying to earn salvation and God having already chosen it for us? There is nothing we can do to earn it. God has already provided it for us. Why shouldn’t we trust Him and show our gratefulness to Him through obedience and trust? God has done nothing to harm us.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in the book of Romans, chapter 14, verse 23 that “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” (John Piper has an excellent sermon recorded on the website Desiring God on this very subject. I suggest you read it as soon as you’re able. It’s very compelling.) Paul is correct. When we’re not acting out of faith, we’re going to sin. When we trust ourselves to make “good” and “moral” decisions, we’re often caught in the throes of sin. Even the best of us make some pretty poor decisions sometimes. This grieves God, yet He’s not surprised by it.

Beth Moore has written a fabulous, life changing book entitled When Godly People Do Ungodly Things. In it, Moore discusses the spiritual battle behind our sin. I’ll admit I’m not yet finished with the book, as I’m reading it slowly and intentionally. I’m often so moved by her words that I find myself setting the book down and picking up my Bible to pair the passage with corresponding scripture. This has led to a deeper relationship with Christ and understanding of my own human nature. I’ve also come to understand the spiritual war behind sin and just how deceitful Satan is. God is so much more powerful, thankfully.

As I come to understand how Satan knocks us down and brings the seduction of sin to us, I find myself becoming more vigilant, more repentant, more eager to enter into deeper relationship with Christ. I want to trust Him more because I see, finally, how much more He has done for me than I could ever do for Him. I see the folly in trying to please a God that has given me everything I could ever and will ever need. He has already defeated Satan. He has already promised everlasting life. He has already promised victory over sin. I simply need to obey.

There is so little that I feel I can say on this subject because Christ has said and done it all. He came to earth as a little child to live among us and minister to us. He sacrificed His life for us. He conquered death for us. He rose to Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I did none of these things. What more could I possibly say to persuade you or even myself to repent from sin and trust Christ with your life and your witness? He has done it. He has spoken. He was walked the walk to match the talk. I’m just working on it. Still.

Bullying From Both Sides {Homosexuality Debate}

It is possible to disagree with someone and still respect them. The “homosexuality is OK” camp is really deep into bullying anyone who disagrees with them, slinging names like “bigot” and “ignorant”. Conversely, the “homosexuality is a sin camp” tends to do the same.

Folks:  no one can hear you if you’re screaming and bullying. It defeats the purpose of the discussion. In the end, what does it really teach our kids anyway? That they no longer have to mind their manners and be respectful of others because their personal agenda is too important? How sad.

We can separate all sin from the individual person and love them anyway. My kids have told lies to me and I hate the lies, but I love my children. God feels the same about sin. We don’t need to bash each other for our beliefs.

If you’re placing your identity in your sexuality, think about this: have you ever told a lie? Well, then you’re a Liar. Do you want to go around with that label hanging over you your entire life? No? Then why would you walk around with the label of homosexual hanging over you? You don’t need to carry that sin on your shoulders.

Labeling ourselves by our sin is dangerous. Even Christ does not do that. He has taken our punishment and in turn He calls us Beloved. That is our identity. Turn from your sins and repent. There is One who is waiting to receive you.