Confession 427: Remembering to Exhale

via Confession 427: Remembering to Exhale

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Confession 427: Remembering to Exhale

He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, human one! Say to the breath, The Lord God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live.” Ezekiel 37:9

BlowingBubbles

I’ve seen a lot of posts in the blogosphere this Advent season about the importance of breathing. With the rush of holiday fever that sweeps our culture this time of year, it’s easy to get busy and stressed and forget to just breathe.

I love taking deep breaths. Did you know that three deep breaths are all it takes to shut off the stress mechanisms in your brain? Three deep breaths can clear your head and help you focus, calm down, and begin again. It feels good to breathe deeply–to fill your lungs full to bursting with oxygen. But for me, the real payoff of breathing deeply is the exhale. When you exhale, oxygen is propelled from the lungs through the veins until your entire body feels blissfully empty and light.

There’s release in the exhale. Where breathing in is about consumption, exhaling is about letting go. It’s a time to rid ourselves of the impurities in the world around us. When we exhale, we release the worry, anxiety, fear, anger, bitterness, sadness, and stress that can bind us. Exhaling allows us to empty out the negative so that we can breathe in afresh all of God’s love, mercy, and grace.

Advent is a season we should spend practicing the art of exhaling. Think of it as making room at the inn for the Christ child. Advent is a time when we can exhale our brokenness. Advent is a time when we can exhale our need for control. Advent is a time when we can exhale our desire for more stuff. Advent is a time when we can exhale the trappings of the world, so that we can then inhale the glorious gifts of God.

As you go about this hectic holiday season, I encourage you to practice the art of exhalation. Take some time to focus on your breathing. Push out all of those negative feelings and thoughts. Expel the stress and expectations of the season. Instead, focus on making room for the coming of the King.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 426: What I Really Want for Christmas

You teach me the way of life.
    In your presence is total celebration.
Beautiful things are always in your right hand. Psalm 16:11 (CEB)

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Now that Thanksgiving is over, my boys have begun their Christmas lists. We have a four gift policy in our household for Christmas: 1) something to wear, 2) something you need, 3) something you want, 4) something to read. It’s our effort to simplify Christmas and focus less on self, and more on God. That said, our boys always have quite the list for their one “want” gift. The conversation around the Christmas list always goes something like this:

Boy=Trampoline: Mom= Our yard slopes down into a lake.

Boy=A Gameboy: Mom= Seriously, how many screens do you need?

Boy=A drone: Mom= Please…it’s an expensive kite.

Boy=(Huff and Puff) How about some cooking stuff? Mom=Hmmm…you can write that down.

I know what you’re thinking…I’m a total Grinch. But, in a house already overflowing with stuff, the last thing I want to get my children is more stuff. For the past several years, my husband and I have practiced simplifying Christmas. We try to put traditions in place that emphasize the gift of Jesus, not the gift of stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I like presents, but sometimes I want more that what comes in a box.

images-18What I really want for Christmas is an encounter with the divine. I want that moment, when the holy and human intersect for one brief moment and all you can do is stand in awe and wonder. I want to be with the shepherds, looking up as the angels sing. I want to be like Mary, full of the ponderous weight of God’s love. I want to experience the fresh hope that God’s salvation brings. I want to know, without a doubt, that “God is in us, God is for us, God is with us…Emmanuel”*. And that is not going to come from a department store.

Instead, I need to spend some time cultivating holiness. I need to sit in the quiet before God’s throne, seeking his presence, his wisdom, his light. I need to contemplate the Scriptures–mediate on them in the presence of the Holy Spirit. I need to go out into the world and see where God is moving and working, and then pick up some seeds and start planting his love.

And then, I need to celebrate his love. That’s what Christmas is really about, after all. We celebrate God’s love, God’s salvation and God’s presence among us. Because, as the psalmist writes, in God’s presence is total celebration. God makes beautiful things, and it’s our job as his followers to show others these beautiful things. So, at Christmas, we offer the gifts of hope, joy, love, and peace. Our celebration of Christmas should extend God’s beautiful gifts to the world, in the hope that his kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.

As you put together your Christmas list this season, consider ways you might bring the gifts of hope, joy, love, and peace into the world.

I don’t know about you…but what I really want for Christmas is Emmanuel.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

* Wayne Kirkpatrick, “God is With Us”, recorded by Casting Crowns 2008, track 6 on Peace on Earth, Reunion Records. compact disc.

Confession 425: Gratitude as a Way of Living

As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory. 2 Corinthians 4: 15 (CEB)

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This Sunday, I did my perennial thanksgiving message during Children’s Time at church. You know…that Sunday when you pass the microphone around to all of the children and ask them to list one thing they’re thankful for…hoping against all hope that it’s not something humiliating for parents like “cheerleaders” or “when my mommy doesn’t cook”. The children are usually very thoughtful in their responses. We get a lot of “family, friends, food, God” responses, and those are all good things. However, sometimes I think that setting aside one Sunday (or Thursday) a year to express gratitude for things that mostly make us happy is really not a stretch of spiritual fortitude. Sometimes, the tiny time we carve out to give thanks before binge eating and shopping feels a bit trite.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving. I love spending time with family, eating copious amounts of my mother-in-law’s mouth-watering stuffing, playing cards and board games,  browsing Black Friday ads, and strolling around Target in the wee hours of the morning with my husband just because we can. My heart swells with gratitude during Thanksgiving, and it’s nice to have the opportunity to express love and thankfulness to the people around us.

But, as I read Paul’s words to the church in Corinth, I’m reminded that gratitude is not just a state of mind; it’s also a way of life. According to Paul, gratitude is a byproduct of grace that is used to bring glory to God. Think of it this way: God pours his grace into us, which causes us to pour gratitude out. As God’s grace fills us from within, we are able to pour gratitude out to the world. This pouring out of gratitude helps others see and experience the great love of God.

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There’s a difference between thanksgiving and gratitude. Thanksgiving, as the word appears,  is the act of saying thank you. We literally give thanks for a  gift received. Gratitude, however, is the “quality” of being thankful. Do you notice the slight derivation between the words thanksgiving and gratitude? Thanksgiving is something we express, but gratitude is a state of being. In other words, it’s part of who we are. People who live with gratitude are in a constant state of thankfulness, and it is this state which Paul is calling the people of Corinth to enter into. It is this state which we, as Jesus followers, are still called into today.

When we live lives of gratitude, our actions become an extension of God’s grace. Living a life of gratitude means thinking of others before ourselves. It means that we seek to listen rather than be heard. It means we practice generosity–with our time, our talents, our resources, and our presence. It means we seek to see the good in others, and work to bring God’s goodness into the world. It means we forgive and let go. It means we carry the light for others. It means we seek peace.

Don’t mistake gratitude for positivity. We’re human, and we live in a human world. Stuff happens–sometimes terrible, devastating, life-altering stuff. There are times when we are consumed with grief, anxiety, anger, or hopelessness. God’s not asking us to thank him for those moments, that would be cruel. In those moments, living a life of gratitude means simply tossing the blankets off in the morning and taking one step out of bed. In our darkness, gratitude means simply trusting God enough to move into one more day.

This Thanksgiving, let’s do a gratitude check. Are we living lives of gratitude? Are our words and actions pointing others toward God?

As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory. 2 Corinthians 4: 15 (CEB)

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

 

 

 

Confession 424: Why Christians Need to Stop Thinking Like Everyone Else

Jesus began telling his disciples what would happen to him. He said, “The nation’s leaders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law of Moses will make the Son of Man suffer terribly. He will be rejected and killed, but three days later he will rise to life.” Then Jesus explained clearly what he meant.

Peter took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that. But when Jesus turned and saw the disciples, he corrected Peter. He said to him, “Satan, get away from me! You are thinking like everyone else and not like God.” Mark 8:31-33 (CEV)

Walking direction on asphalt

“Can I get a Lego Advent calendar?” my nine year old asked as I was getting my coffee ready in the kitchen. It wasn’t even Halloween yet, but he was already working on a Christmas list. I have to be honest, I kind of lost it.

“Absolutely, not!” I exploded. “Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. That calendar has nothing to do with Jesus, it’s just a countdown to Santa Claus!” And thus commenced the first “Christmas is Not Your Birthday” lecture of the 2017 holiday season. My boys know it by heart. They often finish it for me, albeit in bored tones with eyes rolled to the ceiling. The truth is, even though we know that Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of God, it’s easy to get caught up in the commercial trappings of the season. At Christmas, we often think like everyone else and not like God.

This tendency for humans to think like humans and not like God is something that has plagued us from the beginning of time. We tend to think that more is better. We value commercial success, popularity, strength, power, and self-righteousness. And yet, Jesus tells his disciples time and time again that kind of thinking is totally irrelevant to the work of God.

Case in point: the book of Mark records two miraculous feedings of thousands of people. In both instances, the disciples are completely flummoxed when Jesus suggests they feed the multitudes. And yet, both times, the disciples witness the miraculous ability of Jesus to feed the hungry. Immediately following the second feeding, the disciples get into a discussion of bread. Namely, they’re worried about the lack of it. When Jesus tells the disciples to beware the yeast of the Pharisees, the disciples mistakenly think Jesus is chastising them for forgetting bread. Look at Jesus’ response:

“Why are you talking about not having any bread? Don’t you understand? Are your minds still closed? Are your eyes blind and your ears deaf?” Mark 8:17-18 (CEV)

Obviously, the disciples are not thinking about the things Jesus is thinking about. This is further clarified later on, as Jesus openly discusses his path of suffering and death. Peter, who just before identified Jesus as the Messiah, now scolds Jesus for speaking in such a defeatist manner. Peter is seeking an earthly king. He sees Jesus as a major political power player, not a suffering servant. And how does Jesus respond to Peter?

He said to him, “Satan, get away from me! You are thinking like everyone else and not like God.”

You are thinking like everyone else and not like God…

How many times in our churches do we think like everyone else and not like God? How many times do we focus on those things that are only important in the human sphere–the polity, politics, and traditions of the church? We argue among ourselves about the proper way to “do” worship, rather than actually worshipping God with our whole heart, soul, and mind. We put parameters on our giving instead of generously opening our hands to all those in need. Sometimes, we even go so far as to decide who’s in and who’s out when it comes to God’s great love of all his children.

Feet standing on fallen autumn leaves

You are thinking like everyone else and not like God…

Thinking like God requires us to completely change our mindset. We can’t think like the rest of the world. Rather, we have to think like Jesus. I know what you’re thinking–human’s can’t think like Jesus. And that’s right, but also wrong. You see, Jesus left us an example to follow. He was very clear in both word and deed about his expectations for his followers. The religious leaders tried to engage Jesus in church politics, but time and again he made it clear that the kingdom of God is not about politics or policy. Rather, the kingdom of God is about faith, love, and redemption. Jesus broke cultural barriers and completely ignored time honored religious and social traditions when he ate with sinners, healed the sick, and touched the unclean. Jesus’ words and actions defied convention, tradition, politics, and social mores. So why do we, as his followers, continue to harp on those things?

You are thinking like everyone else and not like God…

If we truly want to be Jesus followers, then we have to stop missing the point of his message. Jesus offers love. Jesus offers salvation. Jesus offers redemption. Therefore, we have to stop thinking that we’re right and everyone else is wrong. We have to stop building walls around his love, spewing condemnation and judgement. We have to stop focusing on the aesthetic instead of the spiritual. We have to stop thinking like everyone else and start thinking like God.

This week, I’d like to challenge each of us to examine our thoughts. Are we thinking like everyone else? Are we passing judgement? Are we placing barriers around God’s love? Are we focused on the traditions of the church instead of the message of Jesus? Let’s take some time this week to identify one area where we can start thinking less like everyone else and more like God. Then, let’s put those God-like thoughts into action so we can work to build his great and glorious kingdom.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 423: Making Tomorrow Better, One Day at a Time

Many people say,
    “We can’t find goodness anywhere.
    The light of your face has left us, Lord!”
 But you have filled my heart with more joy
    than when their wheat and wine are everywhere! Psalm 4:6-7 (CEB)

Confession 175: Soccer and Psalm 42

A few weeks ago, my nine year old stomped off the school bus in a huff. He’d had a very bad day. He’d lost a behavior point at school for something that was entirely NOT his fault, done poorly on a spelling test, and had a newly purchased glow stick broken on the bus. There was nothing in the house he wanted for a snack, I was insisting on homework before TV, and he had to come with my husband and I to church later that evening. Could life get any worse?

Being the mama hen that I am, I took him in my arms and held him for awhile, then got up and made him some nachos, because what problem can’t be solved with some chips and queso? After his mood improved a bit, we had a discussion about the appropriate way to handle “bad days”–namely that bad days happen to everyone and lashing out at the people who love you most is counterproductive. “Every day is a fresh start,” I told him as he licked cheese sauce from his finger. “You’re going to let this day go and try your hardest to make tomorrow better.”

One of the things I want my boys to understand is that what we put into the world is an important choice we make on a daily basis. There are always bad days (even in Australia, according to one of our favorite children’s books!). But how we respond to those bad days is the difference between bringing goodness into the world, or continuing to spread darkness.

The world is and always has been a tremendously messed up place. Violence, hate, distrust, corruption, immorality, and injustice reign supreme. As human beings, we seem to be incapable of finding the path to peace. As the eyes of the nation turn, yet again, to another senseless massacre, I wonder sometimes what the point of our faith is anyway. Jesus’ talk of love and grace doesn’t seem to be making much headway in our current culture. But then, I remember the conversation I had with my son, and I think…we have to make tomorrow better.

candle 10Psalm 4 is a song of David. Like many of David’s psalms, it begins with a plea to the Lord. David is having a bad day. David, in actuality, has many bad days. In his youth, he’s forced to flee from a madman who wants his head on a platter. He has to engage in battle to secure his kingdom, and then continue in battle to maintain that kingdom. He fails God over and over again, and a civil war erupts in his own household. David, the man after God’s own heart, is a hot mess. And yet, God redeems all of humanity through him. This is because David, for all of his faults, continues to follow God. David understands that, at some point, he is going to see God’s goodness again. And so David sings to the Lord, spreading God’s goodness and love to others looking for a light in the darkness.

As Jesus followers, this is our mission, as well. Jesus commissioned his disciples to go into the world, not pull back from it. He sent them out to share the good news of Jesus Christ to all who would hear it. Make no mistake, the disciples had bad days. They experienced personally the worst life had to offer, but they kept going because they knew that God had a better tomorrow in store for all who would follow him.

So, how do we make tomorrow better? I think, as Jesus followers, we do everything we can to put as much of God’s goodness into the world as possible. This doesn’t take heroic efforts, although sometimes God does call us to impossible tasks. Rather, we can bring God’s goodness into the world one day at a time.

serveMaybe you can bring God’s goodness into the world by taking a meal to a busy neighbor or a friend who is recuperating from an illness. Maybe you can bring God’s goodness into the world by unexpectedly blessing someone with the gift of time, assistance, or encouragement. Maybe you can get some friends together and volunteer at a local charity. Maybe you can commit to only posting positive and encouraging messages on social media, rather than criticizing or complaining. Maybe you can offer forgiveness to someone who has hurt you. Maybe you can stop nursing that grudge you’ve been holding onto choose to let it go. Maybe you can volunteer to tutor or mentor a child at a local school. There are millions of ways to bring goodness into the world, we just have to make a choice and do it.

This week, I challenge you (and me) to find ways to “do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the place you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”

Blessings and Peace,

Sara