Paula and her husband, John, are the parents of five children and work with the church of Christ in Western KY. She is compiler and editor of the books, Once Upon a Bible Class, A Common Bond, and A Sunday Afternoon with the Preachers’ Wives. Her work has appeared in Christian Woman magazine, the Christian Chronicle newspaper, and numerous other sites and websites. A preacher’s kid, grand-kid, niece, and sister, she occasionally speaks at ladies events and lectureships. Book information can be found here: paulaharrington.wineskins.org
A few weeks ago, when life changed for all of us, I took the Children’s Ministry online (as many did) and began recording lessons for my kids on Facebook and YouTube. As I walked into the family room that first day, I noticed a children’s Bible on the shelf. I couldn’t remember whose it was but after opening it I saw the handwriting of one of my favorite 1st graders. Her name was written carefully on the intro page. Memories flooded in as I thought of our time together. I had met her through school when she was barely six years old and soon after had connected with her family. Before long, she was part of the kid ministry.
One Wednesday evening the church bus pulled into the parking lot of her home and parked behind the authorities. Within two days, my family had a new member. For nearly a year, we loved on the sweetest little girl. She had many questions about life and the way hers was going. We sat and talked about Jesus and hope every chance we got. We prayed a lot. There was one prayer I’ll never forget. She wiped tears away as she prayed, not for herself, but for all those who didn’t have anyone to take care of them. I still tear up when I think of her innocence petitioning the King of Kings on behalf of others while her heart broke for her own family. She was kind and wise beyond her years and several times, over that period, showed that she had a firm grasp on true love. I learned a lot from her. At the end of our time together, she went to live with family in another county and we lost touch. I decided to use her Bible in my weekly recordings thinking of her each time I opened it.
I woke the other morning and grabbed my phone. With a schedule that has come to a screeching halt, I use it sometimes to check what day of the week it is. Before I saw the date, I saw her name and message. Thanks to having a lot of time on her hands this beautiful teenager had started thinking about her time with my family. She thanked us, shared memories, and suggested we rekindle our relationship once this time is over. I doubt my reply conveyed how much I’m looking forward to that. I don’t know everything God is up to right now but I know that seeing her Bible, using it for my lessons, thinking so much of her, and the sweet note I got isn’t a coincidence. God is working in the lives of all those who love him. He is active anywhere there is love. He is building goodness and hope. He is here and hoping we’ll take the time to notice so send that note or make that call. Say what you need to say. Thank them for the way they have impacted your life. Be a blessing.
Who knows how long we’ll be staying in or wearing masks? I haven’t a clue on social distancing guidelines for every state or when I’ll get to see my favorite youth group kids again. But I am confident that God is still weaving love into this world in beautiful ways. May we all take the time to notice.
What’s your favorite worship song? Lately, mine has been ‘Jesus Loves Me’. I sing it on Sundays and Wednesdays with kids who know it well and during the week with kids who are learning the words. Anna Bartlett Warner wrote the poem that was put to music sometime around 1862 and it quickly became a church phenomenon.
Recently, a friend sent me the video of her barely three year old happily belting out the song unaware of the power it holds and it was adorable. I watched a couple times wishing adults could sing it with the same enthusiasm.
We all know it but what would happen if we really got the words? Would we treat that annoying person at work better? Would we let the car cut in front of us during rush hour traffic? Would we welcome the outcast, the immigrant, and the marginalized? Would we go out of our way to connect with them in ways that would bring God glory? Would we shut down gossip with prayer? Would our churches be filled, not with people punching an archaic time clock but with those excited to be with others who believe in the hope that the love of Jesus brings? Would our marriages be rejuvenated? Would our children grow up in homes that continually tell them who they are in Christ? Would we quit relying on politics and start recognizing King Jesus? Would we forgive our enemies? Would our curbs be filled with men and women on fire to proclaim the love of Christ? Would justice be a priority? Would our racism and bigotry be put to death?
What if we made it a habit of singing how Jesus loves us, not only to our three year olds but to our thirty-three years olds? It might just change the world and remind us that we will only find our peace, hope, and belonging in his love.
Accepting the truth of God’s love won’t take away the pain and depression this world doles out, but it will equip us for the battles. It will remind us who we are in a world that tells us otherwise. We need that. Church, you need to believe how loved you are so you can tell others.
Have you been broken and used? Jesus loves you.
Are you questioning your worth? Jesus loves you.
Are you in the throes of grief? Jesus loves you.
Have you been hurt by those who should have been trustworthy? Jesus loves you.
Have you lost your faith? Jesus loves you.
Are you an outsider that feels like you’ll never belong? Jesus loves you.
Are you grieving your childhood? Jesus loves you.
Are you overwhelmed with life and it’s endless stream of intrusions? Jesus loves you.
Are you angry at God? Jesus loves you.
Do you feel like no one truly cares? Jesus loves you.
Are you a misfit? Jesus loves you.
Have you been hurt by the church? Jesus loves you.
I invite you to listen to the words of this song. Sing them along with your Lord until you start to believe them. He’s singing over you.
There is nothing more true than the fact that you are loved. You belong. You matter. Ask God to help you believe it.
Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong.
Yes Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so.
Sometimes we just need a reminder of how much we are loved.
Please don’t confuse Jesus with our news organizations.
Please don’t confuse Jesus with our religious teachers, preachers, worship ministers, and pastors.
Jesus is the one who calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisioned regardless of their status or documentation. He’s the one who expects us to forgive our enemies, lay down our plans for others, and go the extra mile. He calls us to love others as he loves us. He builds bridges not walls. He gives justice to the oppressed and makes a way for the unheard. He seeks out those who others hate and grants them victory. He comforts all those who mourn. He delights in the children and severely rebukes those who mistreat them. He crosses party lines and overturns policies. He cares for all people regardless of where or how they live. He is not king of our politics, our congregation, or our country. He is King overall.
Make no mistake, if Jesus were starting his ministry in America right now he would not be popular with the celebrities, politicians, news outlets, or many of our churches. They would look for ways to silence him. They would try to trick him. They would hurl insults at him. They would build his cross. They would crucify him.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard a woman pray in a public setting. I stood in a large room at a kid’s event with my young family and, without warning, a woman who had been giving instructions for the day begin to pray for our meal. I barely heard a word she said. I was in shock that a woman had the audacity to pray in front of my husband, my sons, and the rest of the group. I quickly bowed my head and silently prayed over her. I prayed for her soul and the souls of those in the room and that she would learn and respect Scripture. I left that event disgusted and saddened that we had been subjected to such. I wanted to write her and explain the truth more clearly but I was too angry. That was nearly twenty years ago and somehow, without even realizing it, she became my hero.
I was still reeling from the prayer when I learned of an incident where a little girl in a Bible class setting was told she couldn’t pray because a three year old boy sat across from her. It stirred my soul and kept me awake at night. How could this be? I went to Scripture to find an answer.
If we were to take Paul literally in I Corinthians 14:34, then Scripture would forbid this child from praying in class. It would also restrict her from ever speaking in class. Not only would it seal her silence, it would seal her teachers and every woman who spoke in class or sang in the assembly. A woman couldn’t greet another or confess she believed Jesus is the Son of God before her baptism. Silence means silence. Something was amiss. I knew the Lord too well to believe he would cast this precious three year old to Hell for talking to him. So why did the prayer weeks earlier bother me so badly? I delved deeper into the Word.
First Corinthians eleven told me the church in Corinth had women praying and prophesying. Paul even gave instructions on how they should present themselves when they did. Why was it happening in 1 Corinthians 11 but not in 1 Corinthians 14 or the Ephesian church? It didn’t make sense for Paul to so quickly change his mind on something so important. Although, it made no sense to me, Paul’s readers knew exactly what was going on in Corinth and in Ephesus (as they worshipped in the shadow of the temple of Artemis). It was during this time of study when I accepted the fact that the Bible wasn’t written to me but for me. Since Paul’s letters weren’t always written to set rules for eternity but to solve their current problems, there must be more to this story. And it isn’t always for us to know so why do we cling so tightly to a verse that calls for women to be silent but explain away lifting holy hands (I Timothy 2:8), wearing jewelry (I Timothy 2:9), braided hair (I Timothy 2:9), or being saved in childbirth (I Timothy 2:15)?
I started to comb the Bible looking for something that would help me through this spiritual dilemma. I needed to know how God felt about women. I saw Miriam, along with her brothers leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. I was intrigued as wise Deborah ruled over God’s people as a prophet and military strategist. I became acquainted with Huldah who prophesied at the same time as Jeremiah and Zephaniah.
My relationship with the Father grew as I got to know his Son. I watched Anna weep over the newborn Jesus and take another opportunity to praise God in front of all those around her. I saw the look on the face of the woman at the well when Jesus revealed his identity. I have always been told she tried to distract Jesus with religion from her broken life when he mentioned her many husbands. But what if her heart had been inclined to God? What if wanting to please him kept her up at night? What if she ached for self worth and knew only God could fulfill her desire? What if this is why Jesus sought her out and gave her the opportunity to serve as a missionary to her entire town?
Why was Mary Magdalene the first gospel preacher? God knew her news of the resurrection wouldn’t hold up in a Jewish court. Why would he grant this beautiful act of servanthood to a gender that had no rights and little value unless he was taking a divine moment to show them how much they matter? Did Phillip’s daughter pray and prophesy only to women? If so, wouldn’t Scripture make this very clear? What can we learn from Phoebe, Junia, and Priscilla and their fervent desire to serve the God of Heaven and Earth?
And then other questions came to mind. Why can a woman speak while singing from the pew but not from the pulpit? Why can a women ask questions in Bible class but not teach a Bible class with men present? Why is a woman permitted to speak at a Ladies’ Day to men as long as they’re sitting in the audio booth or listening in the foyer? Why can a man read articles written by women but if she were to read them to him, she would be in error?
How is praying, a supplication to our Father in his name combined with gratitude for his favor, having authority or leading over others in the room? Was the woman who prayed that day usurping my husband’s authority? When I dissected the moment, I had to admit that she was not. Tradition had told me one thing. Scripture another. My view of God was tainted with tradition, fear, and a lack of knowing who he is. I had so many questions and was confused by what seemed to be many inconsistencies. I had to ask myself what kind of god I served? Is it a god who delights in confusing us with his Scripture, saying one thing in one chapter and something else in another, just to keep us out of Heaven? Or is it a God who is for us? A God who deeply loves us? A God who wants his children, men and women, to speak his name and proclaim his praises to all who will listen? A God of the entire Bible, not just a verse?
The woman who prayed didn’t attend the same kind of church I did but I had seen her do good things in his name. I had watched how she cared for others. I had heard her speak of hope and Heaven before. She was a godly woman. I thought of the disciples in Luke and could hear myself whining, “Lord, she prayed to you thanking you and lifting you up but she’s not a part of our group! Do you want me to stop her?” You can almost hear him sigh, “If she’s not against you…” (Luke 9:50).
God is not inconsistent. Neither is his Word. But we, as his people are, and accepting our faults is not shameful. It’s realistic. We need him. We can seek comfort in the fact that his grace covers our moral failures as well as our doctrinal ones.
If we are living in the last days, preached by Peter quoting Joel in Acts 2, as I believe we are, then women and men of God have not only have the opportunity but a responsibility to pray and proclaim the praises of the one who called us out of darkness.
The lady who prayed in front of my family that day, many years ago, proclaimed Jesus in her prayer and ended it in his name. She spoke gospel but it wasn’t good news to me then. As a wise friend once said, “Anytime someone is proclaiming the gospel and it is not good news to me, I am the one with the problem, not the speaker.”
Looking back on that event, I no longer see what I thought was her sin but I do clearly see mine wrapped in my self-righteous, judgemental, false view of God and his Holy Word. I’m glad I no longer see God through those lenses.
To the spiritual women who continue to call on the name of the Lord for their families, their communities, and the lost, those who so gracefully lift up their voice and speak light and hope into darkness, I thank God for you. You changed me, you encourage me, and you give me hope for the future.
My relationship with God has changed over the years. At first, he was someone I could only worship on Sundays and Wednesdays at a designated time and place. He always seemed just out of reach and unapproachable, unless I had the right words and I didn’t. He was inconsistent and appeared angry. I would guard my prayers, so afraid I would mess them up or accidentally say the wrong thing. Scripture was read through the lens of fear knowing I couldn’t understand it but too afraid to ask many questions. I learned early on that a “good, Christian girl” doesn’t ask many questions anyway. As I spent more time with him and his people, that view, thankfully, begin to change.
Several years ago, I taught a class of preteen girls. We talked about Father God and what our relationship with him should look like. We spent several class times talking about what a father was, how he should love his wife, children, neighbor, and enemy, and how he should influence his children to love others, as well.
Everyone in class had a dad story. Some had good fathers. Some didn’t. I told them about my dad and how he was a young preacher from Benton, Arkansas and barely out of Croley’s Ridge College when I was born. We talked about how my small family traveled around for a few years before settling in Western Kentucky. I told them how I couldn’t remember much about him.
I have a hard time with memories. Some seem made up; others too blurry to recall details. Trauma has a way of keeping our past just out of our reach. When I think of my dad, I think of that small church building in Heath, KY. I usually don’t think of the preacher’s home where we lived for a few years or the nursing home where he spent the remainder of his young life.
Dad died when he was thirty of ALS. Mom struggled with mental illness and addictions for years until her death a decade later. My brother and I became orphans while we were teenagers. Parentless, or so we thought, before God made it abundantly clear that he had been and always will be our Father.
I know my dad wasn’t perfect but it’s easy to hold him to that standard especially since we only had a few years together and three of those were watching him struggle with a terminal illness. When I think of the short time I had with my parents, two stories come to mind first. My parents loved other people and weren’t afraid to meet them where they were. When a lonely hiker was found dead thousands of miles from Kentucky, all the authorities had to identify him with was my father’s church business card. The man had passed through our area a few days earlier and Dad had been able to connect with him while he was here.
When my twenty-something, single mother had barely any money to her name, she took out her last twenty dollar bill and gave it to another struggling preacher’s wife. My parents loved people, not perfectly since none of us can, but persistently despite their pain.
The rhythm of this world is one of drama, chaos, and brokenness. Many dance to the brutal and painful tune well. It is all too familiar for some. It was and always has been a part of my life. The spiritual rhythms of God, however, have always been around, too and have constantly moved me closer to God and his people.
God is always willing and available to lift us out of the darkness and offer a stable hand. He is a constant reminder that life isn’t about our own glory. It’s about his. He allows us to see him in the lives of the poor, the grieving, the humble, those who desire justice, those who are merciful, those whose hearts are inclined to good, the peacemakers, those persecuted for doing what’s right, and those who are mistreated. He beckons us to love him by loving and serving them.
I was able to see this holy rhythm in the lives of my parents. I encourage you this week to see it in those around you. Resist the urge of the world to flee from what God is doing in your life. Give in to his grace, his mercy, and the relationship he is calling you to, not only with him but with his people. Give in to the rhythm of God.
Recently, writers for a popular kid’s cartoon married a male character to another male. Someone suggested that since I work with children and write, I should tackle this episode so others will be encouraged to respond. It is, after all, imperative that we do so.
I’ve thought and prayed about our response and this is what is on my heart:
What a wonderful opportunity for the church to teach our children how to love people who live and love differently. What a holy moment for those who love the Christ to be able to say to our neighbors, “I love you and I’m going to walk this road with you. Let’s be friends!” What a blessed anointing on those who proclaim Jesus to have the opportunity to make Him look good to those who may not yet know his love! What a beautiful time to teach ourselves and others how to love well. (We all need to work on that, especially me.) What an exciting hour to be able to build new bridges in a broken world!
We want to change people but Jesus calls us to love them. It’s messy, uncomfortable, and doesn’t always make sense but it’s the only thing that matters.
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27). Jesus looked at two people he dearly loved and said, “Friend, here’s someone who will love you through this. Sweet Woman, here’s someone to love you through this.”
Jesus is not only the Savior on a cross, the Messiah, the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah, the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the one who gave sight to the blind, and made a path for the lame but he was also the baby in the manger as the star shone above him, and the child of the mother who would treasure all these things in her heart.
As he looks down from the cross, I would venture to say the pain on his mother’s face hurt worse than the nails in his own body. Jesus shows us that even when we’re in the middle of our own pain, even when we’re in our darkest moments, even when we’re struggling and hurting, we are here to love others.
Maybe love came naturally to your parents. Maybe they were good at it. Maybe it didn’t and they weren’t. Maybe love comes naturally for you. Or not. The Apostle Paul tells us in Titus that we need to teach each other how to love our families (Titus 2:4). We need to do a better job at learning how to love. Thankfully, Calvary offers a place to lay down our frustrations, grief, and the cycle of not loving well, not only with the world and our daily struggles but the deep secret heartaches we may carry from childhood.
Children, love your parents. Love them regardless of their mistakes. Love them regardless of their brokenness. Love them in spite of the many things they got wrong while raising you. Love them even if you feel they didn’t love you well. Love them well.
Parents, love your children. Love your average children, your below average, and your above average children. Love your faithful child and your prodigal child. Love your easy child and your rebellious child. Love your straight children, your gay children, your loud fussy, temper tantrum, teenage children. Love your three year and your thirty-three year old. Love them regardless of what they look like or how they act. Love them even if you don’t agree with all of their choices. Jesus does.
Church, stop trying to love people into who we want them to be and start loving people for who they are. We have to start loving people the way Christ calls us to. Nobody else is going to do it.
In a few more days, Mary would begin to understand how much this cross matters. In a few more days she will see he didn’t die in vain. In a few more days, this will make a little more sense.
If you struggle with how to love those closest to you, look at the cross and see how Jesus loved those closest to him. Fearlessly. Fiercely. Faithfully.
For every grieving child and grieving parent who stands broken and weary in front of Jesus, just remember, he is returning in a few more days.
We were talking about God and the way he works on our behalf in a kid’s Bible class recently and one sweet kid sat on the edge of the seat. This child wants to go home but instead they go to someone else’s house everyday. It’s a good place but not what they want. The grief of what used to be is too much and leads us to pray each time we’re together for God to fix what’s broken in this young life. They just want to be with mom. Not the mom they are used to or the mom authorities had to remove them from. They want to be home with a healthy, happy, safe mom.
After we talked about the fact that God is for us and takes care of us, this sweet kid with teary eyes came to me quietly, took me by the arm, and asked, “But what if God doesn’t?”
I knew what those words meant. I remember losing my dad over Christmas break when I was in fourth grade and while my friends talked of their Christmas presents when we returned to school, my mind was on my father’s funeral. As a teen, I remember getting the phone call with the news of my mother’s death. The nights I spent asking why and finally accepting the fact that the why isn’t mine to know are countless. But I knew I needed something to say to the kid standing in front of me, so I silently prayed and offered a meager, “He wants to.” We hugged and the bell rang. And I was left alone with the reminder of how hurtful sin is, not only to adults but to the children around us.
What do we do when we feel as if God has forgotten us? And just as difficult, how do we deal with those in our lives who allow their brokenness to cause our own? It’s a difficult lesson when you’re an adult and nearly impossible for children but it’s happening all around us. Church, we have a responsibility to help those struggling.
If God has gotten you through the dark valley, tell people! The church needs more God stories. People are starving to hear from Christians who have overcome trials by the power of God. Encourage sharing by creating avenues for people to talk about their journey. Take every opportunity to tell how God has rescued you.
Love the church.
We know the sad and frustrating stories of the many times Church has gotten love wrong. But the times she has gotten love right (and they outweigh the others) need to be celebrated. The church has enough critics. She needs more cheerleaders. Support her. Love her. Tell others about the good she has done and continues to do. Remember you’re an ambassador of the Christ. Your words and deeds should reflect your calling.
We find healing from our past by the way we love and care for those in our present. Seek out those who are on the fringes of society. Reach out to the poor, oppressed, and unheard and love them. Listen to their stories. Make friends. Support your church’s outreach ministry and if you don’t have one, start one. Volunteer in the children’s ministry. Show them Jesus. Sit with those who sit alone. Service is not only a command, it is the key to our own healing.
Seek God’s face.
There’s a great verse in Colossians 3 that says to set your mind on things above. We tend to gloss over that verse but it is powerful. If we set our minds on the sadness, drama, darkness, and evil that permeates this world, we will be consumed by it. But if we resolve to see our Father through our struggles, we will have the strength to persevere. Spend time in the Gospels getting to know Jesus. Pray for the people around you. Practice loving your enemies and being for those you disagree with.
Fear has a way of telling us we’re alone but God is here, sitting with us in our grief, singing over us as we weep. Even if it seems he doesn’t care, he passionately does. God is for us. He wants the best for our lives and is working on our behalf. He did in the beginning. He did when we sabotaged ourselves in the garden. He did on the cross and he will when he wipes away every tear.
I have no doubt that God deeply loves that sweet kid as much as he dearly loves the child’s broken, addicted mother. Church, he expects us to go out of our way to show them both how much.