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Will Huddleston

“Oh stand now, stand by me, stand by me.  Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me…Oh stand by me, oh won’t you stand now, stand…Stand by me…”

As I listened to our worship team sing this song Sunday morning, I was reminded of a time in my life where those words became extremely significant.  It is profound and life-changing when people stand at your side…when you feel all alone.

A Personal Story
A transparent moment here…one of which my wife and I have chosen to be open and honest about.  Sixteen years ago, we found ourselves in a difficult spot…our marriage was broken. As a husband, I felt ill-equipped to lead us out of hurt and failure.  Many of our closest friends, all in our same stage of life, out of fear, knew nothing to do but run the other way.  This was a time at Heritage when small groups did not exist formally.  However, in the early days, Heritage was much of a small group in and of itself.

Pastor Matt, brought an encouraging message this past Sunday entitled Circles. From the first part of my story, you may say the circle that we experienced many years ago was broken. But that just isn’t the case. We were a young couple in a young church that had in its fellowship people who understood the very truths that Matt spoke about Sunday.  From Leviticus (a book often recognized as a book of laws) to John, Romans, and out to James, we see prescription throughout scripture to love your neighbor as yourself. More so, to love your neighbor as Christ has loved you.

Honestly, we were at crossroads and a deep dark place in our relationship and our lives. All hope seemed lost and those closest to us put their heads in the sand, not because they didn’t care but because they also were young and scared.

The Circle Around Us
However, there were people that were a bit older than us, that pulled alongside us and understood. They understood how life and Satan throw obstacles (often times small things at the start) in order to cause us to stumble, and be cut and bruised to a point that we see little to no hope All we see is our own hurt and fears. But they also understood grace and love and the hope that God has for us despite what we may see in our circumstances.  They understood, without judgment, as Pastor Matt spoke Sunday—hurt people, hurt people. They took the time out of their own lives to listen and encourage and love us and show us that we could be and are set free from that hurt, guilt, and shame we were experiencing. We experienced Jesus with skin on it.

They were willing to get down in the dirt and grime with us and showed lovingkindness. In their own lives, there was an overflow of an understanding of who they were in Christ and His love, and it absolutely changed our lives. They mentored us past what at the time seemed to be a mountain that could not be conquered.

We experienced Jesus with skin on it.

Who we are
We will each find ourselves challenged by life. Yet in God’s word, Romans 8:37 tells us that we are more than conquerors. As Pastor said Sunday, He has set us free to be free…even free to disagree. Yet, our immaturity or our own personal convictions causes these disagreements to become divisive. We must understand that countless times in scripture, the redeemed in Christ, are called beloved. That isn’t just us, but also those around us.

There is freedom in seeing ourselves as Christ sees us—complete, perfect, and the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. There is also freedom in seeing that that same complete, perfect, righteous nature lives in those around us who belong to Christ. In addition, the love that Christ shared by giving His very life and bringing us into that relationship is the same love by which He died for those who haven’t put their faith in Christ.

In the coming days, may each of us better understand God’s beautiful provision of community. May that permeate our conversations and relationships with those around us in a way that causes them to see something different than the chaos they are seeing in the world today. May this understanding cause each of us to understand the importance of joining together in community with other believers in order to love and be loved.

If we are all honest, we recognize that each of us needs or will need the support and encouragement of community.  The original small group at Heritage recognized that and God used those people in our lives.  They stood in the gap for us and with us. They encouraged us and showed us hope in what seemed a hopeless situation. Had we given up—and let me just say, many days we wanted to—we wouldn’t have been able to be there throughout our oldest daughter’s childhood and adolescent years. We wouldn’t have our second daughter. We wouldn’t have been able to sit TOGETHER and celebrate the marriage of our oldest daughter, to a believer, just 10 days ago. We wouldn’t be able to spend a life TOGETHER with a community of people around us that have loved and continue to love us through life’s darkest days and biggest celebrations.

My prayer is that we each see healing in our homes, in our families, in our communities, and in our country.  May we each grow and understand how He loves us. As we do that, the love He has for us will overflow into the lives of those around us—likely changing their lives and even their eternity.

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