children's ministry

Day 24: Not yet perfect

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.
— Galatians 2:17-18 The Message

I feel this sentiment.  Have you noticed that I'm not perfect yet?  (If you're not sure, just ask my kids.)  Is it a surprise to anyone that I'm not perfect yet?  I've been a Christian for 27 years now.  Shouldn't I be getting closer to perfect?

We are sanctified as Christians, but we will never be perfect here on earth.  Oh for that glory in Heaven!  We all long for it, especially on Mondays.

I'm still sinning up a storm in my life.  (Again, just ask my kids.)  Is Christ an accessory to that sin?  Did Christ aid and abed my sin?

The English Standard Version of the Bible phrases the question like this, "Is Christ then a servant of sin?"

In either case, Paul says this, "Certainly not!"  Christ is neither an accessory to my sin or a servant of sin.

The sin has been dealt with, once and for all.  He finished that wrath-appeasing on the cross.  He paid the wages of those sins when He died that death.  He brought us forgiveness from those sins when He rose from the dead.

Christ is not an accessory to your sins.  Christ is not an accessory to your friends' sins.

Our goal cannot be to just have good behavior, and if you are a teacher, your goal cannot be just teaching and expecting good behavior.

Paul says that "trying to be good" would be rebuilding religion that the Jews had before Christ came.

Jesus is greater than religion.

Paul says that if he were to promote "being good" that he would be a charlatan, a fraud.  The ESV phrases it like this, "For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor."

I am trying to hold myself to the same standard as Paul.  I am trying to live in grace and truth without striving to define myself by my good behavior.  I am trying to teach heart changes when I teach God's Word because behavior changes save no one.

 

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I like to include a song with each blog post.  Here's one for you.

My Third Visit to Ethiopia

My trip to Ethiopia this July with Storytellers Missions was such a good trip.  I want to tell you about it. 

When I got home from Ethiopia mid-July, all I wanted to do was sit by the pool, watch my kids swim, and read.  Now that the kids are back in school, it seems ridiculous that I haven’t written and posted this yet.  I’ve been home for over a month, but I still want to let you in on God’s goodness that I witnessed on this trip.  I especially want those of you that prayed for me and my daughter Lucy and/or supported our trip to know how God was glorified.

This is my third summer in a row to visit Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with AWAA Storyteller Missions.  The last two years, I have written very thoroughly about my week, including highlights of each day of the trip.  I believe doing that in this blog post would just be redundant.  There are things about my trip that don’t vary greatly from the last two years, traveling, from Amarillo to Addis was largely a similar experience.  I don’t have anything interesting to add.  Instead of giving my report in daily reflections, I’m just going to give you the most interesting observations.

 

1. Encouraging Reports of Domestic Adoption

 

This is something I observed last year, but I continued to see positive improvements in this area.  Socially, adoption has not been accepted by Ethiopian people.  That opinion is beginning to change.  America World Adoption has taken a proactive role in changing that social norm, even though it doesn’t benefit them financially at all.  In fact, one of the nannies employed by America World’s transition home was proud to share with us that she was pursuing adoption of a beautiful orphaned girl in her care as a nanny.  This sweet nanny has no children of her own, and a very modest income.  The fact that she was willing to sacrifice financially and personally to add a child to her family through adoption was really beautiful.  The ripple effects of her adoption is helping change the social norm of her country.  Please pray that adoption becomes more accepted in Ethiopia.  If children can be cared for and loved by a family in Ethiopia, that is so, so much better than a life in an orphanage.

(Photo by Traci Judd)

 

2.  Traveling With Adoptees

 

I had the great privilege of traveling with the Heckart family.  Ryan and Karmyn Heckart adopted two brothers through AWAA’s Ethiopia program two years ago.  The boys they adopted are named Jackson and James.  This was their first time traveling back to their birth country since their adoption, and getting to see their reactions to Ethiopia was worth billions to me.  Our first day at the guesthouse, they served us a very typical lunch, penne pasta with veggies (carrots, cabbage, zucchini), oil, and basil.  It was quite good, but watching James devour it was hilarious.  At one point he said, “I’ve had dreams of this pasta.”  It was adorable.  Karmyn was able to arrange visitation with the boys’ birth family.  Our fourth day there, Karmyn, the boys, and Karmyn’s other two children went to the boys’ aunt’s home.  About 15 members of their birth family came to visit, including their sister and a living grandfather.  By all reports, it was a very lovely visit that had some heart-wrenchingly touching moments as they bonded over the love that everyone had for the two boys.  Honestly, thinking of ever visiting a birth family of the child we will hopefully be allowed to adopt seems pretty scary to me.  It is not any kind of social situation I have ever been involved with, and the feelings all sound very, very big.  Hearing Karmyn talk about that meeting made me wish that I had been there.  It didn’t sound scary; it sounded precious.  We were able to take the boys’ aunt and sister out to dinner with us during the week and also have them visit our guesthouse one night.  Jackson was able to remember all of the language.  He was able to converse in Amharic with his family, the nannies at the orphanage the boys lived in, and the driver we had all week.  In fact, he made great friends with the driver, as they bonded over “the raps music” (as our diver called it.)  James, who is two years younger, could recognize some Amharic, remembered a lot of words, but he couldn’t converse at all.  He was however an excellent dancer.  Ethiopian traditional dances all include some amazing shoulder movements, and everyone was impressed with his moves.

 

3. The Kids Presented the Gospel

 

Since we had mainly children on our team, we empowered them to share the gospel on our trip.  Karmyn found a great idea of sharing major points from the creation to Jesus.  Two of the adults held a clothes line, and the 7 kids (my daughter Lucy being the oldest and 8 year old Dawson being the youngest) hung a picture on the clothes line as they shared their piece of the story.  The kids were able to share that presentation at each of the orphanages we visited, as well as the ministries Hope for Korah and Make Your Mark.  Oftentimes children are underestimated by adults.  They are not often given opportunities to share their faith or participate in ministry to others.  Since we were doing the presentation to children, I believe letting children share with children was the most powerful presentation of Jesus we could have offered.  The children were really listening as those seven children, two of which were Ethiopian, share about the story of the Bible.  Karmyn did something else really smart.  She made mini-coloring books with the pictures the kids had placed on the clothes lines.  She also added Bible verses in Amharic.  We were able to hand out hundreds of these to the children we shared with.  I am so proud of the kids.  So many adults will never have the opportunity to stand on foreign soil and proclaim Jesus to a crowd of people while having a translator share their words in a foreign language.  These kids have already done that at their age of 8 to 17.  God used them mightily.

(Photo by Traci Judd)

(Photo by Traci Judd)

 

4. Communion

 

I had the joy of taking communion at one of the churches we attended in Addis.  It was such a special moment, sharing that with believers in Ethiopia.  I will cherish that memory.

 

5. Small Improvements

 

My favorite thing about going back to the same mission field three years in a row is seeing the small improvements in the children’s lives each year.  The smallest thing can give me so much hope that the Church is making a difference for orphans and marginalized families.  The biggest improvement I saw in the large baby orphanage we visit each year was that they had new playground equipment.  That is something the kids hadn’t had before.  Honestly, the soccer ball is still their favorite form of entertainment, but it was getting a lot of use from the handful of kids who had physical disabilities.

There were also big improvements in one of my favorite ministries in Addis, Hope for Korah.  Their ministry has grown year after year, and it is obvious God is blessing their efforts.  They had a new program for families to join that included classes in money management and a group savings account to be used for business start-ups within the group.  Hope for Korah and the groups rally around each other’s entrepreneurial ideas and help make those dreams into a solid business plan.  Since jobs are so hard to come by in their tough economy, starting a business can be life-changing for a family in extreme poverty. 

The children’s ministry in Hope for Korah had grown as well.  They had Bible studies in the evening for the older children, and they had begun renting a soccer field once a week for soccer clinics that included Bible teaching.  If you don’t follow Hope for Korah on Facebook, I would encourage you to do so.  It is a very worthy cause if you are looking for a ministry in Ethiopia to support. 

 

6. Testimony

 

One of the team members from Karmyn’s church in Perryton was Justin Thompson.  Justin was able to share with about 20 older boys after our team helped with a soccer clinic at Hope for Korah.  He shared his testimony of losing his brother-in-law to suicide, his life before meeting Jesus, and how God had changed his life.  Sitting in that little room in Korah, the economically poorest community in Addis, was on of the most spiritually deep experiences I have ever had on mission.  It was clear to me that his testimony was sinking into the hearts of those boys in a deep and profound way.  The air was thick with the Holy Spirit’s movement.  I know the pain of losing a loved one to suicide, and I knew in my heart that most of the boys in that room had suffered some type of deep loss in their short lives.  Hearing hope come from such pain and despair was an unbelievable experience.  Justin was not planning on coming on our trip to Ethiopia until unexpected circumstances caused him to join our team at the last minute.  I know God had Justin go to share that night, and I know his testimony was used to further the Kingdom.

 

7. Sponsor Family Reunion

 

America World Adoptions has a sponsorship program that allows about 100 families who are in danger of losing their children be supported through sponsorship.  Sponsor children are given a better chance to stay with their family as they face the difficulties of poverty.  This year we met five mothers who’s children are sponsored through this program, and we heard their stories.  Their stories were extremely hard.  All of them had lost their husbands, one because of war and the others because their husband had chosen to abandon their families.  Two of the children we met were products of rape.  They were loved and their mothers expressed that they were thankful to God to have that child.  That was a humbling story, and it was a little shocking to hear it more than once.  It was beautifully redeeming to see how much these children were loved by their mothers.  

 

This was the third time to get to meet sponsor families, and one of the women, "M," was a family I had visited on my first trip to Ethiopia with my friends Barry and Shelly.  We had visited her modest home two years ago and met her lovely son "S."  "S" had grown a few feet since we met him two years ago.  "M" remembered having us to visit her home, and was glad to see me.  When our visit was over, she gave me such a long, hard hug.  It was such a dear moment for me.  Pray for "M" and "S" with me.  Their small family of two has faced such hardship, but they love Jesus and they love each other.  Pray God keeps them healthy and encouraged in their faith.

(If you want to read more about first meeting "M" & "S", scroll down to "Day 8" on this link: http://www.jenniferllane.com/heswithus/2014/09/my-week-in-ethiopia.html)

This year.

This year.

2 years ago.

2 years ago.

 

8. State of Adoptions

 

It was clear during my trip that less and less international adoptions are being processed from Ethiopia to any other country, including the US.  This is the first time that I did not see any adoptive families at the airport in Ethiopia.  Our agency’s transition home has downsized their property, and had very few children.  Adoptions have not stopped, but they are on a very slow trickle.  The large orphanage we have visited year after year still is busting at the seams with children, but the government has no interest in allowing a large quantity of adoptions to continue.  Ethiopia is broken into nine regions (kind of like states.)  Many of those regions have closed adoptions completely.  God keeps giving me a hope that doesn’t seem logical that we will still adopt a son, even in these dire prospects.  The logical part of my brain wants to point out the facts, but there is still a flicker of hope in my heart.  God is not finished with our adoption story.

(Photo by Traci   Judd)

(Photo by Traci Judd)

If you'd like to read about my other visits to Ethiopia, here are links to the blog posts.

 

My first trip to Ethiopia.

My second trip to Ethiopia.

 

 

With my blog posts, I always like to share a song.  This song really speaks to my "try-hard, good-girl" heart.  I especially love the lyric, "I'm realizing that all my striving is just chasing wind.  But you freed me so I can just be.  Nothing to prove.  Nothing to loose."  That is a lesson I had to learn the hard way this year, and laying in my bed each night in Africa, I'm not ashamed to admit that I listened to this song on repeat.

Ministry's Companions

We are in the thick of summer ministry.  Being in the neighborhood four days a week brings the struggles of poverty into glaring light.  The heartaches that are faced in our neighborhoods are in my face, impossible to ignore, rehab recoveries, working poor struggling to provide groceries, frugal landlords that neglect their properties in unsafe ways, young men who’s lives have ended with gun shots in our city parks, parks that should be sanctuaries for children to play are places of business for drug dealers and gang members, seeing disfunction be the norm for families, hardened hearts and hungry stomachs.

There is a sadness that comes in intense times of ministry.  I wrote about it last summer and this winter.  It is a natural part of any type of incarnate ministry, when you meet people where they live.  When you get street-level, eye-level, to a person who is suffering, how do you not feel compassion well up in your spirit?

I found out this spring that I had a vitamin D deficiency.  I have attacked the problem with full force, supplements, salmon, eggs, and I haven’t been this tan since I was a kid that spent weeks at the lake.

Low vitamin D can contribute to depression, and some days I feel like that cartoon character that has the little cloud following him around.

I’m told that I look tired quite often.

I’m conscious of it, I’m resisting, but there’s no mistaking it, I’m sad.  Sad for the problems I can’t fix and sad because my brain needs some vitamin D.

I know I’m in trouble when I start taking offense meaningless crossed arms.  Or feel hurt by not words said, but unsaid words.  Or when I want to take up residence inside a Tres Leches cake.

These are all signs that my hormones or brain chemistry are letting me down.

I try to tell my brain to just hold on and feel better, but it doesn’t want to listen to me.

My husband tells me that I’m making it worse by reading sad books.  He might be right, but I would tell you to pick up The Kitchen House or Just Mercy in a heartbeat.  We can’t fix a problem that we don’t know about.  I think coming to a place of grief over our country’s problems is the first step in working towards better race relations.

This isn’t a blog post where I have ah-ha moments for you or some neatly wrapped lesson for you to take away.

What is the solution to sadness?

Joy?

Joy is right there beside the sadness, but it isn’t so much a solution.  It is a companion to sadness.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls, 
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
— Habakkuk 3:17-18 ESV

My joy is just as present this summer.  It is always with me.

Maybe you are getting ready for a mission trip or an intense season of ministry.  I feel responsible to warn you that sadness will come, but you can weather that storm.

Hold onto joy and celebrate hope.

Maybe your pastor or a missionary friend looks tired.  If they are doing their job right, there’s some sadness and joy in their eyes.  They might need some extra love, maybe a hug or a slice of Tres Leches (as long as they are not lactose intolerant.)

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
— 1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV

 

 

When you're feeling sad, you know Glen won't let you down.  His music will keep you company, and the horns will cheer you up.

Get out of the classroom

#servetogrow part 2

How did Jesus teach His disciples?  He didn’t put his carpentry skills to work and a bust out a dozen desks.  Instead, He said, “Let’s go.”

I believe the Lord still teaches OTF.  OTF, that’s “on the fly.”

If this is the case, why does 90% of our discipleship as a local church involve sitting down and taking notes?  Could we missing out on a big component of discipleship?  

I feel like I’m saying something a little bit controversial here.  If you have felt any hesitancy to accept #servetogrow, it might be because so few local churches are doing discipleship outside of a classroom.  Please set what usual churches do aside.  

Or your hesitancy might be because you interpret my #servetogrow idea as “works” based teaching.  I don’t intend to suggest that any works would save us.  I believe fully in the grace that God offers all of us, and I know that there is not a single physical ministry anyone could do that would make them worthy of His Throne.

But aren’t studying, reading, and praying verbs that could be considered works too?  Those church activities should set off your “works” based teaching red-flags as well.

I want to be clear that reading The Word is as necessary as eating and prayer is as necessary as breathing.  As Christians, we should be filling ourselves with His Word and His Spirit.  Without this preparation, no ministry is possible.

If you read through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you begin to see a pattern to Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus traveled from town to town, doing things.  He healed men, women and children.  He raised people from the dead.  He fed huge crowds of people.  He taught in stories called parables.  He preached the sermon on the Mount.  He welcomed the children to Himself.  He calms storms.  He gets alone to pray to His Father.  He dines with tax collectors and sinners.  

As Jesus was performing these miracles and acts of mercy, the disciples tagged along asking questions.  Sometimes they also got a little side lessons the Bible calls “being rebuked.”

A few times Jesus sends the disciples out on their own.  He gives them His authority to proclaim His kingdom and heal sickness.  Whenever He did this, He would send them empty handed, going out in complete faith.

Can you even image a bigger opportunity to learn lessons about God?

As His disciples, we can still go out empty handed to serve the lost, sick, and lonely.  Wouldn’t we learn from such an experience?

Last week, when I introduced #servetogrow, I said it was a theory that we grow spiritually by serving others.  I’ve been witness to something at my church, Citychurch, for a few summers now that I want to share with you.

Our ministry at Citychurch is seasonal.  We have different outreaches during different times of the school year.  We have spurts of meeting physical needs during the school year when children have holidays and school breaks, but the majority of our ministry is old-fashioned Bible teaching.  We have youth and pre-teen services, elementary aged Bible clubs, a preschool, and Sunday school.  You would think that during these times of the year, as a teacher in these programs, I would observe a lot of spiritual growth in our children and youth’s lives.  That isn’t what I’ve observed.  I’ve actually seen more spiritual growth during the summer months.  In the summer, our church is action-packed and busy with outreach.  Many of our pre-teens and youth are very active in these outreaches.  They help pack lunches, deliver on vans and bicycles, and assist with programs in the park for children.  It is during these times of outreach when our youth seem to make leaps and bounds in their ability to bear fruit.

During these times of service, the young people in our church are being mentored by the staff and volunteers.  They are putting their faith into action.  They learn OTF, and the lessons stick.

What about you?  Have you ever come back from a short-term mission trip, and said these words, “That trip changed my life?”  Have you ever learned something about the Lord as you were teaching others?  Have you served your community out of His grace, and realized you had been receiving His grace through that service?

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing some active commands the scripture gives us.  I believe that completing these actions is a huge part of your discipleship and how you should be discipling others.

 

 

I like sharing music, and I'm still on a Santigold kick.  Her new album, tho.  This song is a hilarious comment on the state of American culture.  My friends who've been to Ethiopia will recognize the influence of Ethiopian music, especially in the intro of the song.  I don't know about myself, but I can't get enough of this song.

Tres Trees

Yesterday I knew Bible Club was going to be all about Christmas.  The Citychurch staff had gathered supplies for the children to make hot-chocolate mix gifts for their families.

I wanted to read the class my favorite book to read this time of year, The Tale of the Three Trees.

I didn’t have a copy of the book.  I had borrowed it from a friend and from the library the past two Christmas seasons.  Maybe it was time to invest in my own copy of the book.

I went into Mardel’s and found a copy.  At first I thought it was just a Spanish language copy, but then I realized it was a bi-lingual copy.  And the price was only $5.99!  Score!  My bi-lingual 2nd graders are going to appreciate this find.

The class was a little hectic because kids are extremely ready for Christmas break.  We read the story of Christ’s birth out of the Gospel of Luke.  It was amazing to me that the simple details of Christ’s birth are still new information to most of the children in my class.  I told them that their would be candy prizes if they could answer questions about our stories at the end of class, and high-spirited Jarrett started practicing how to say “Bethlehem” (except it came out wrong about 5 times before he got it right.)  He had his strategy to ensure winning some candy, and at least he would learn new detail about Christ’s birth.

The class impatiently waited their turn to fill their plastic red and green canisters with hot chocolate and marshmallows.  As the last kiddo was filling his jug, I sat the rest of them down in a circle that immediately lost it’s shape due to wiggling, and I read them the story of the three trees.

I hyped the book, and told them how much I loved the story, and off we went.  The book tells about three threes growing together in a forest.  One tree dreams of being a treasure chest, one tree dreams of being a great sailing ship to a king, and one tree dreams of growing to be the tallest tree pointing to Heaven.  Woodcutters come and chop down all three trees.  The first tree becomes the manger that our treasured Jesus lays in after His birth, the second tree becomes the fishing boat that our King Jesus calms the sea from, and the third tree becomes the cross pointing to Heaven.

As I read each page, sweet little Melissa read the spanish with absolutely perfect pronunciation.  It is amazing to me that at 8-years-old she can read in two languages.  Her sing-song second grade voice didn’t carry very far, but it was like music to me.

Melissa had really touched both mine and the other adults helping in my class when she had written her list of things she was thankful for a few weeks ago durning a Thanksgiving, turkey craft.  She had listed her bed and water among the ten things she was thankful for.  Instead of it her list in English, she had written it in Spanish because she wanted her mom to be able to read them.

Some people might be worried that Melissa’s mom isn’t integrating, that she’s not learning English fast enough.  After getting to know Melissa in my class, that is not my biggest fear.

My biggest fear is that in the coming months Melissa doesn’t take an opportunity to grab hold of Jesus, make Him a permanent fixture in her heart.  Her heart is obviously tender right now, and I hope that we have to opportunity to lead her to make a decision to follow Christ.

My second biggest fear is that Melissa would lose the simple gratitude she has.  As Melissa becomes more American, has more opportunities for financial success in her life, I fear that she will forget the feeling of being thankful for running water.  I fear she will forget what it was like to not have a bed, and forget to remain thankful to God for this gift.

My third biggest fear is that I would not be as grateful as Melissa.  I’ve always had a bed and running water.  I hope I can learn some gratitude from Melissa.  I don’t want to take anything God has blessed me with for granted.

The three trees in our story got more than what they had wished for as little tree sprouts.  God used them in mighty ways.  I know God has big plans for Melissa, the other kids in my Bible Club class, and my heart as continue to long to be more like Him.

 

If you would like your own copy of The Tale of Three Trees, here is the link:

They also have the Bi-lingual copy for $5.99!

Merry Christmas!