Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Death

The first funeral I remember was my Aunt Libby's, my paternal Grandfather's sister.  I think I was 6 or 7, either in kindergarten or first grade.  She was Catholic so there was a lot of fan fair to her church funeral.  My mom cried.  I drew her a picture in an effort to make her feel better.

Since then, I can't count the number of visitations and/or funerals I have attended.  The hardest funeral I ever went to was the service for a one-week-old baby of a family connected to the school where I taught.  He just looked like he was sleeping in his tiny casket.  I started crying and had to excuse myself because I couldn't stop.  I remember an intense feeling of anger.  Anger at sin.  No, not any sin this sweet baby or his parents ever committed, but anger at the fallen, sinful condition of the world in which we live.  You see, death, was not supposed to be part of our lives.

Before sin entered the world, death did not exist.  Death is the punishment of sin.  But for the Christian, the one whose sins have been forgiven, death is not to be feared.

Today James preached the funeral of Bro. Bill, one of our (two) deacons at church.  He was 80 and had suffered the past six weeks; his body desperately trying to recover from open-heart surgery.  But as of Saturday morning, he was struggling no more.  Rather, he was seeing his Jesus - the Jesus he met spiritually many years ago and had spent the decades of his life worshiping, obeying, and serving.  James preached a rather nontraditional funeral message on the brief snapshot Scripture gives us on the life of Simeon.  Simeon had waited his whole life to see Jesus, believing the promise God had given to him.  The Holy Spirit prompted Simeon to go to the temple the very day Mary and Joseph were there to present baby Jesus to be dedicated.  Though he was old he obeyed, went to the temple, and immediately recognized his Savior even as an infant.  In his burst of praise he declares, "Sovereign Lord as you have promised, you may dismiss your servant in peace."  He was ready to go, to die, because he had seen his salvation.  James then called those there to grieve Bro. Bill to examine their hearts and determine if they were ready, prepared to die, knowing their salvation was in Jesus.  Bro. Bill was confident in his salvation because he, too, had "seen" Jesus and was eager to see him anew.  Such a beautiful picture of the gospel, of trusting the Lord.

Between our house and the church stands the community cemetery.  I've had several remark that it must be creepy to live next to it.  I'll admit that one of our first nights here it was a tad scary as one of those solar flower things was putting out random lights in the dark - thankfully I have a husband who isn't easily frightened so he went to check out the random lights.  But it really isn't.  It's a reminder.  A reminder that we are mortal, finite creatures.  A reminder of our sinful condition that screams for a Savior.  A reminder of the forgiveness I have in Jesus, a forgiveness that stretches beyond any grave.  A reminder of the resurrection to come, when Jesus will make all things right and death will be no more.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Darkness

This week my sweet friend Rachel sent me an email with a link to an article from the Missouri Baptist Convention about evangelism demographics in our state.

When I saw it, I was immediately struck and somewhat humored by the "Population Density" map.


Do you see the top right (northeast) corner where it's all dark?  Yep, that's where we live!

It's a rural area for sure.  The cows outnumber the people by the thousands.  There is a lot of land but few houses and few families - hence the literal darkness on this map.  It is beautiful here at night, the stars are amazing and the sounds of frogs, crickets, birds, coyotes, etc...can be heard clearly especially in the Spring which I hope is right around the corner!

But there's another map that's indicative of the area we now call home and in which we serve.


Look again at the top right (northeast) corner.  
We are on the line between Lewis and Clark counties.  

So somewhere between 45 and 84% of our neighbors do not know Jesus.  Not only is it physically dark here; it is spiritually dark here, as well.  Very dark in fact.  And it's not the "Everybody loves Jesus" Southern culture I grew up in.  This is an aggressive out in the open rejection of Christ.  

Just this week alone I have encountered two women - one Catholic background Agnostic and one New Age who denies Jesus' exclusivity.  It has been an exhausting week for me spiritually as I have spent hours just this week sharing the gospel, answering questions, and practicing scriptural apologetics with these women.  I have spent a good part of this afternoon in tears and a tummy ache, physically sick, after these encounters.  And that's just me.  James, as the pastor, carries the brunt of the work in this community and encounters the darkness much more than I do.  I really don't get out of the house that often - haha!

I would love to do an exposition of verses on Jesus being The Light of the World, but honestly I am tired.  Hudson has been cranky all afternoon save a short hour of playing at the park so that hasn't helped.  So instead, I point you to this sermon by John Piper as encouragement.

Please pray for us and our little family and the ministry we are seeking to do in this area.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ministry Update - Winter 2013

This winter (2013/2014) has been rather slow ministry-wise.  Why you ask?  Here's why:


Snow and lots of it! I've looked online and can't seem to find a snowfall total thus far, but just from my memory I'm guessing we've had near 2 feet total for snowfall this winter.  That's a lot of snow for this Tennessee girl!  The snow caused us to have to cancel several services this winter as it simply wasn't safe to be out on the roads.

Hudson is not yet a fan of snow.








Not only have I experienced more snow this winter than in my enter life, but I also had my first experience with snow drifts.  The wind here is fierce.  It would push the snow around.  This is particularly dangerous when the snow is being pushed around on the road - many vehicles get stuck.


You remember how I can look out the kitchen window and see our church?  Well, not with freezing fog.






I'm learning that the story I heard growing up in the South that northern areas are more prepared for snow is a myth.  Perhaps it's true for those who live in a city, but not for us.  The state and county road crews are in no hurry to come blade our roads.  More often than not, by the time they arrived the area farmers had already used their tractors to remove the snow from the road.


So you can understand why we've not been out and about much this winter.  Not only has there been a ton of snow, but the bitterly cold temperatures have simply kept us inside where it was warm.  I'm ready for spring, y'all!

But all has not been lost - here's somethings the Lord in his kindness allowed us to do.


A Christmas Play!  It was very sweet and the kids (including mine) did so well sharing the story of our Lord's birth.




James rocks at nursing home visitations.  Truly, it is a gift from the Lord for him.  He's patient, caring, and listens intently to their stories.  Always prays for them and seeks to be an advocate for them for better care.

Nursing home visitations are so hard for me.  Confession - I don't enjoy them and try to avoid them like the plague.  But I know it is a vital ministry and that the Lord uses them to soften my heart so Hudson and I do go sometimes.  All of our nursing home church members absolutely love Hudson. He's such a good "therapy baby."  Mrs. Hazel especially adores him.  She had many miscarriages and never had any living children of her own but is so sweet to my boy.  We took her a Christmas present (Christmas kleenex) in December and when James went back in January, he found out that she had refused to open and use the facial tissues because they were "Hudson's."  She also saves her dessert from her meals for him.  Heart melting, I know.


 Youth Christmas Party was almost cancelled due to ... you guessed it, snow and ice.  Thankfully we were able to have them over and get them all home safely, even with a little slip and slide along the way.  We sorted Christmas cards to be delivered at church, played games, watched The Natvity Story, and just had a good time being together.  So thankful for these kids.




January was a quiet month due to snow, again.  But from the New Year through Valentine's Day we studied purity in the Sunday evening youth group.  Not just sexual purity but also purity of speech, sight, thoughts, dress, and especially heart.  I am a firm believer that one can be sexually pure but impure in heart and therefore, not pleasing to the Lord.  But that's another post for another day :)  As a culminating activity, I planned a modesty scavenger hunt at our local mall that I shamelessly stole from an AcTeen activity Mary Ann and Lora once led with dinner out at Applebees afterward.  Sadly it snowed the night before we were to go, so we had to reschedule.  But the day we finally got to go was a beautiful 40 degree day. :)

Here's Hudson anxiously waiting to pick up the kids from school in the church van.  Huge benefit of living in a small town is that all of our kids (Pre-K through 12th grade) go to the same school.


Hudson and his BFF riding the rides at the mall.




Can you stand the cuteness?


Grubbing at Applebees!






Valentine's Day, it snowed again (sigh) but later the next week we were able to deliver cookies and an adorable picture of Hudson to our church widows.  Valentine's Day is hard for many and it's amazing what a little gift can do for one's spirit.




So our winter didn't go exactly as planned due to the weather.  But the Lord is in control of the weather, so it's all good.  We have big plans for the Spring - Ladies' Spring Tea, Easter, etc...and even bigger plans for the Summer.  Bring on the warmer temps!

Prayer Requests:


  • Neighbor, L.  I was to begin a Bible Study with her at her home but due to this horrible winter weather it's hasn't gotten off the ground yet.  Pray for her heart to still be open to the study.
  • Neighbor, E.  Her daughter and son go to our church and I've somewhat befriended her.  She comes from a different-church background so there are some misconceptions to relieve.
  • A & A - our neighbors who became believers in our home back last summer are now living in Iowa.  They also recently had a baby boy!  We miss them and hope to visit them this spring.  Pray that they will get connected to a local church.
  • B, J, G, and D - all people in our community with serious illnesses (strokes, cancer, lymphoma, etc..)  Mercy is needed desperately as only B is a believer.
  • I'm newly leading a ladies' weekly Bible study at a sister church.  It's exciting though I am finding that with a toddler in the house, my time available to study is quite limited.  
  • Encouragement for James.  I think we're all suffering a bit from Seasonal Affective Disorder a bit from being stuck in the house, but I am learning just how discouraging ministry can be for a pastor.  I also encourage you to pray for your pastor.  And let him know through a note or email or even face-to-face - the encouragement will be huge!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Enter Season: He is Sovereign

I've always thought of my life in terms of seasons.

2001-2003 the Lord showed me that He is my Savior and God.  I became a believer and was baptized in 2001 and very quickly felt called to some sort of ministry.  The next two years, I was able to teach at a private-Christian school and serve with Mission Discovery in Mexico and Tennessee in the summers.  It was an exciting time of learning what it meant to follow Jesus.

2004-2008 the Lord showed me that He is faithful.  In 2004, I moved to Louisville to attend seminary.  To be completely honest, I was totally unprepared.  Unprepared theologically and financially.  Yet the Lord was so kind to be faithful to his promise to guide me if I just trust him.  During this time, he was faithful to provide jobs to support myself, provide the ability to "catch up" quickly in terms of learning theology, and eventually provided the desire of my heart to be a wife.

2008-2011 honestly were rather quiet years.  I'm not exactly sure what the Lord was trying to teach me during these years.  I was a recent seminary grad, a new wife, and returned to teaching in a classroom.  I think the sheer busyness of life was overwhelming so I'm still processing that season in some ways.

2011-2013 the Lord showed that He is my provider.  He miraculously provided the ability to conceive and deliver sweet Hudson.  He provided amazingly through the generosity of his people lovely hand-me-downs for our sweet boy.  He provided financially despite all odds.

Though we just started 2014, it seems that the Lord is somewhat (not so) gently ushering me into a period where I am to learn about his sovereignty.

Without going into too many details, I've had three rather major disappointments, for lack of a better word, in the past 2-3 months.  These things (disappointments) are completely out of my control.  No amount of my effort or the effort of others is really going to make a difference.  I've done quite a bit of praying and meditating on this and can only come to the conclusion that the Lord wants me to trust in his sovereignty.

Sovereignty, to be simple, is God's ultimate control over everything (including my disappointments).  Though the Lord can work through doctors, government agencies, friends, whatever to accomplish his will - if something is not his will no amount of efforts on the part of these forces will change anything.  God is in control, it's that simple.  And that should be a comfort.

Why is that a comfort?  Reading a sermon on Jeremiah 32, Pastor John Piper says there are many reasons why God's sovereignty is comforting.  Here are three:

1) God is God.  Jeremiah 32:38 says, "They will be my people and I will be their God."  This promise comes in the midst of a very depressing time for God's people.  But he is their (my) God so all his wisdom, power, and love are for me.

2) God promises to change my heart.  Psalm 34:4 states that if we "delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart."  Repeatedly throughout scripture God promises to change our hearts - make stone hearts soft.  The Lord is not "Santa" he's not going to give me what I want if I'm good.  Rather he will change my heart's desires to align with what he wants for me.  Rather, he changes my heart and its desires.

Jeremiah 32:39 says, "I will give them one heart and one way that they may fear me always...I will put the fear of me in their hearts."  This sounds like a scary verse - God will make us afraid of him.  But it's not.  During this time, the people of God were disobedient.  Rather than sit idly by and wait to see if by some free-will of their own his people would return to him, the Lord is active in changing their hearts.  Like the loving father that he is, he is going to make sure that through discipline, our hearts learn to trust and obey him.

3)  God promises not to leave us.  We are not orphans, left to navigate this world on our own.  Rather we have a heavenly father who has covenanted with us to be our God, always, despite our unfaithfulness he will be faithful to us.

This is a comfort.  My hope does not lie in anyone/thing else other than God who is in ultimate control of every situation - good, bad, and ambivalent.  This is a lesson I'm continually learning.

Not grace to bar what is not bliss
Nor flight from all distress, but this;
The grace that orders our trouble and pain
And then, in the darkness, is there to sustain.
-- Pastor John Piper

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dear Mama-to-Be

Dear Mama-to-Be,

I know you are scared.  According to statistics one of the top-three reasons women abort their babies is because they are not financially prepared.  Having a baby is expensive, I hear you.

A little over 2 years ago, I discovered I was pregnant.  I was happy and scared.  You see, I have a birth defect which means I didn't qualify for health insurance.  Having a baby without health insurance? It's not what is recommended.

Even scarier was when we were denied medicaid insurance - the insurance the state provides for mamas-to-be who don't have insurance.  We were denied because though we were definitely not rich, we did make more than their cut-off.

The insurance issue notwithstanding, my husband at that time didn't have a full-time job.  He subbed for the public schools which is on an as-need basis.  I worked full-time, but for a private school that paid little and had no benefits.  So we were definitely not what one would consider financially prepared - there was no emergency fund at our bank.

So, I know how scary it is to think of the bills.  The average delivery in America costs between $18,000 and $30,000.  Mine hospital bill alone was almost $16,000 and that doesn't include the OB/GYN's bills, the anesthesiologist's bill, etc..I could go on and on.  My pregnancy and delivery was close to $26,000.  That's more than we made the year our son was born.  It is scary to open the mailbox and see bill after bill. It is embarrassing to try to hash out payment plans with doctors.  But you know what? The Lord provides.

As of today, almost 20 months after my son was born, we owe only about $1,300.  Yes, you read that correctly.  No, my husband didn't win the lottery.  The Lord provided, that's what happened.  He provided through generous gifts from his people.  He provided through charity from the hospital.  He provided through the establishment of payment plans.  He provided through monthly payments to doctors.  He provided.

I am confident he can provide for you, too.  I don't know what that will look like.  It may mirror how he provided for us.  It may be through adoption.  It may be long years of working hard to pay monthly payments.  I don't know how he will choose to provide for you, but I do know that if you will trust Him and let your child live, he will provide.

So that's my story.  A story of how the Lord provided in a desperate situation.  Let him provide for you.

Choose Life,
Melissa



Monday, January 13, 2014

Christmas 2013

Christmas Eve we opened gifts from sweet church members and opened our first ever Christmas Eve box.  Inside were PJs for all and a movie for Hudson.



Sweet church member, Mrs. Darlene gave him two puppies
He also got a book, a ball, two cars, and some cookies from different church members.
So thankful for the saints at Providence Baptist who love on our boy.



Christmas PJs for all!





Watching the Veggie Tales Christmas Movie and snacking on popcorn.



Our second annual waking up on Christmas morning picture!  
Hudson didn't wake up until 9 am!  I was up at 4 - always excited for Christmas morning - I know eventually he'll "get it" and will be up early with me anxious to start the celebrations.


Present Time!




Mommy got a hat!






A heated throw - best.gift.ever

We loosely followed the "Four Gifts Rule" for Hudson.  I say loosely because James didn't obey - therefore Hudson ended up with three small "want" gifts.  I'm not mad at him though it is so hard.  We are both gift-givers by nature and Hudson is such a joy we want to give him lots of stuff.  But also know Christmas isn't about gifts and so we're desperately trying to be intentional in limiting the number of presents to build a heart of gratitude.


Something to wear - PJs (I got on after-Christmas clearance last year!)
Something to read - Tonight You are My Baby
Something you want - Mr. Potato Head, Wooden Tool Bench, Tool Box with Drill
Something you need - Hidden in My Heart: Scripture Lullabies CD

After presents and a quick breakfast we headed to a sweet church members' home for lunch
 (or dinner as it's called here in MO)


The dinner group

Playing

Sitting at the piano, playing with Mr. John
When we came home from lunch and Hudson napped, we opened stockings since we forgot to do so that morning.

"Reading" his Christmas Card

Candy & a Harmonica

Merry 2nd Christmas, Hudson
P.S. His cool Charlie Brown Christmas shirt was found
for $1 at Goodwill and it was new with tags!
It's a 2T so hopefully he'll get to wear it again next year.  Yahoo!