The Problem with Sheep

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I do not have a lot of experience with barnyard animals. Sure, I’ve driven by a lot of cows over the years, and even visited a few farms on school field trips. But, for the most part, my experiences with barnyard creatures has been relegated to petting zoos. This Christmas, our church set up a live nativity for Christmas Eve services. Our local veterinarian and his family brought an animal menagerie to the church yard that consisted of a donkey, a burrow, a sheep, a lamb, and a Scottish Highland cow. I was just as excited as the kids to spend some quality time with these animals. I even got to carry the lamb, which was an experience I never knew I wanted until I had it. I became immediately attached to the soft, snuggly, squirmy little fuzzball, and would have brought him home if my husband hadn’t intervened.

While all of the animals were a joy to behold, it was actually the sheep that proved most enlightening. This was because she had absolutely zero interest in being put on display for our Christmas Eve viewing pleasure. After descending from her trailer, this stout black and white furred diva lay down in the middle of the street and refused to move. Despite the pleading, prodding, cajoling, and nudging of her humans, she would not perform. Not even the promise of fresh hay could bring her to her feet. She stubbornly lay on the cold, hard concrete forcing her handlers to push and pull her short but stocky frame up a hill, across a yard, and to the front of the church. Once situated in her spot, she stood quietly and munched on the fresh hay while her lamb nursed, ensuring that her back was always turned toward the congregation–a quiet protest at being dragged from her barn and set out for all to gawk at.

I always assumed that sheep just blindly followed where they were led. But this little mama had spirit. She displayed a rugged individualism I didn’t know sheep had. She willfully refused to follow the lead of her shepherds, and as I watched her be dragged across the yard I thought to myself, “This is what Jesus really has to put up with!”

When Jesus talks about being the good shepherd, I always picture him standing in the middle of a field with all of these quiescent little sheep gathered around him blissfully following him with big doe-eyes as he leads them on their way. I never even considered that Jesus would have to push, pull, and prod his sheep where he wants them to go–even though that’s how Jesus has often had to lead me! Truth be told, I do not always jump up and run to God when I hear God calling me. Rather, like the sheep at our Christmas Eve service, I lay down right where I am and refuse to budge. Following God is often inconvenient, sometimes uncomfortable, and occasionally disruptive. It means changing my course, deviating from my schedule, and giving up my own personal ambitions or plans. I don’t want to follow because it’s not my will. Case in point, the other day I found myself thinking about a friend. Time and again she came to my mind. I knew I needed to give her a call, but I had so much work in my inbox. There wasn’t time. It was inconvenient. And yet, God kept pushing and pulling until I finally laid the work aside and picked up my phone. We had a great conversation. It was good, and the work was still there when I hung up. Did I make it through my to-do list for the day? No way. But, God reminded me once again that it is infinitely more important to invest in people rather than tasks.

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Recognizing the shepherd’s voice isn’t the problem for most of us. It’s following the voice that proves most difficult. This week, we have a choice to make. Will we willingly relinquish our own goals and plans in order to follow the voice of God we hear calling in our lives? Or, will we remain stubbornly ensconced in our own to-do lists, ignoring God’s entreaties to follow his lead? The shepherd knows where we need to go. Let’s try to follow him willingly and see what amazing opportunities he has for us this week!

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

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How Do You End 2020? Love.

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This is likely my last post for 2020. I’m in the midst of a staycation which involves sleeping in until mid-morning, laying on the couch binge-watching Apple TV and Disney + shows, re-reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and eating copious amounts of Christmas cookies. Oh, and of course, continuing my sort-of daily walking with Leslie Sansone’s Walk at Home! It’s a tough life…but I am relishing every moment. 🙂

2020 has been a….well…you can fill in the blank with your favorite descriptive word. We seem to have swung from one crisis to the next. Pandemic, racial injustice, contested election, economic hardship, pandemic again. It’s been stressful and exhausting, and for many it has been utterly devastating. So, how do we close out a year that has brought such tragedy to so many people? We end as we begin…with love.

God is love. It is this love that we celebrated on Christmas. God loved us so much that he sent his own son into the world to redeem it. God wants to be reconciled to us, his beloved. He has pursued us across time and space, from the Garden of Eden to the cross in an effort to open the door of our hearts to receive his love. As John tells us in the above passage, God sent his son into the world so we might live through him. And what does this life lived in the Son look like? John has an answer for that too–it looks like love. We live through Christ when we love others as God loved us. When we reach out beyond ourselves, beyond our own opinions and desires and personal ambitions to show another person that they are valued and have worth, then we are living through Christ. John says, “we ought to love each other”. So that is my prayer for all of us as we leave 2020 and embark on whatever the new year might hold. We ought to love each other.

What might 2021 look like if each of us makes the conscious decision to love each other? Would there be less sniping and bickering? Would there be less judging and condemning? Would there be more compassion and empathy? Would there be more encouragement and peace? I think so. I think, as we continue to navigate these uncharted waters, love is the key. We ought to love each other. This means thinking the best of people, not anticipating their worst. This means offering the hand of forgiveness, not the middle finger. This means listening to others instead of shouting out our own opinion. But above all, this means accepting the fact that those we interact with on a daily basis are also beloved children of God.

We ought to love each other.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.  The following is a prayer ascribed to St. Anselm. As we end 2020 and venture into 2021, let us take this prayer to heart. Let us love each other with the love that comes from a life lived in Christ. We ought to love each other. Will you pray with me?

Lord, because you have made me, I owe you the whole of my love; because you have redeemed me, I owe you the whole of myself; because you have promised so much, I owe you my whole being.

Moreover, I owe you as much more love than myself as you are greater than I, for whom you gave yourself and to whom you promised yourself.

I pray you, Lord, make me taste by love what I taste by knowledge; let me know by love what I know by understanding.

I owe you more than my whole self, but I have no more, and by myself I cannot render the whole of it to you.

Draw me to you, Lord, in the fullness of your love. I am wholly yours by creation; make me all yours, too, in love.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Advent 2020 Day 15: That the World Might be Saved

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One of the greatest hindrances to God’s love is judgement.  As Christians, we often take it upon ourselves to judge others.  We judge people by how they look. We judge people by how they vote. We judge people by how they spend their time. We judge people by how they spend their money. We judge people based on our own perceptions of the world and by our own systems of belief…but the way we perceive is not someone else’s reality. And the way someone else perceives us isn’t accurate either. The only one who perceives in absolute truth and understanding is God. The Father. The Creator. The One who knit us together in our mother’s wombs. God knows you. God knows me. And the above Scripture makes it clear that God did not send Christ to judge the world, but to save it.  When we focus only on John 3:16, we miss the point. Yes, Christ brings salvation, but it is a salvation born of love. God saves because he loves. This is the great love story of all of Scripture. God created. God loved. God wants to be reconciled with those he loves. And who does God love? The answer is in John’s Gospel–God loves the world. Think about that. We look at the world and see something broken. God looks at the world and sees something he loves in need of salvation. God doesn’t just sit idly by while 2020 rages around us. He is acting in the midst of the hurt, the divisiveness, the despair, and the fear to bring salvation. He’s there in the nursing home workers who decided to move into the nursing home where they worked in order to protect their residents. He’s there in the volunteers who give of their time to make sure families in need have a meal. He’s there in the friend who calls to say, “Hey, it’s been rough. But, I’m here.” He’s there in the kindness people show to strangers as they try and navigate the craziness of shopping in the midst of a pandemic. He’s there in the forgiveness someone offers when they have been wronged, or they have perceived a wrong. When we choose love over hate, peace over fear, kindness over bitterness, contentment over envy, confidence over insecurity, God is there.

God doesn’t condemn us, even when we deserve it. So, how can Jesus followers take it upon themselves to pass judgement on others?  Our job is to love others without condemnation.

Today, have an honest conversation with God about judging others.  Ask God to reveal to you the stereotypes or self-righteousness you have within you.  Then, ask God to help you as you work to love others without judgement.  Seek to see others through Christ’s eyes.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Advent 2020 Day 14: Beautiful Feet

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Feet are not often considered a mark of beauty in our world.  As someone who prefers to be shoeless, my feet are a mess. I don’t prioritize them in my “beauty” routine. They’re just there…a hard-working under-appreciated appendage of my legs. However, the prophet Isaiah declares that the feet that bring news of God’s love to others are one of the most beautiful sights we can see.

Take a moment to look at your feet.  Do you use your feet to bring peace where there is discord?  Do you use your feet to offer encouragement and hope to those in despair?  Do you use your feet to tell others that “God rules!”?

As Jesus followers, we are God’s messengers.  When people look at the world and wonder, “Where is God?” our feet should provide the answer.

In our acts of mercy, our acts of generosity, our acts of encouragement, our acts of justice and our acts of forgiveness we show the world that God is right here living and working among us.

Today, think about how you might use your feet to offer God to someone today.  Pray that God might direct your feet.  Pray also for others, that they might use their feet to proclaim God’s love, too.

Blessings and Peace

Sara

Advent 2020 Day 13: Forgiveness and Peace

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There are many barriers of hatred that divide people in our world.  Differences in gender, skin color, cultural traditions, religion, politics, family ties and even marriage create chasms of distance and distrust among God’s children. 

Jesus offered himself as a bridge over the divide.  In Jesus’ death and resurrection we have our identity.  Nothing else matters.

Today, pray St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer for peace.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console,

to be understood as to understand,

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

Blessings and Peace

Sara

Advent 2020 Day 12: Messengers of Peace

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I love the imagery in the above verse…the idea of God’s compassion breaking over us like the dawn. The light reveals all things. What we thought was a marauder lurking outside of our house turns out to be a bush. God’s light illuminates everything around us, allowing us to see things clearly. We gain new understanding, new perspective. We feel more confident and (maybe) less afraid. The light allows us to get our bearings…to find our path…to get our footing. Everything is easier when there is light to show us the way. And God gives us this gift because of his compassion…because he loves us and wants to enter into our lives. How beautiful is that gift!? Everything else pales in comparison to the fact that God loves us so much he comes into our lives, every day, to walk beside us as we journey. So what do we do with such a gift? Like the prophet John, we are called to be Christ’s messengers of peace.  We have been appointed to give light to those sitting in darkness and to guide others on the path to peace.

Today, ask God to show you how you might be a light to someone sitting in darkness.  Ask God to use you to guide others on the path to peace.

Also, say a prayer of encouragement for someone else.  Pray that they, too, would be a light in the darkness today.

Advent 2020 Day 11: Worry

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I know a lot about worry. It’s something I do quite well. I worry about big things, like will my kids who love watching YouTube videos on Minecraft and Funko Pops ever be able to live outside of our house and have successful careers. I also worry about little things, like whether or not I have enough stocking stuffers for my family for Christmas. Of course all of my worries, big and small, have been compounded and magnified in a way this year that makes me one giant ball of anxiety. It looks like me, speaks with my voice, and engages in the activities I normally engage in, but it’s always there, just beneath the surface.

Worry is one of the enemy’s best tools of destruction.  Worry is a worm that invades our thoughts, disrupting our ability to think clearly and weakening our trust in God.

Everyone has worries—it’s a part of life.  However, what we do with those worries is up to us.  Today, make a choice to give your worries over to God.  Even if they seem silly or insignificant, name them in God’s presence.  Then, accept the peace that God is offering to you today.

Moreover, share that peace with others.  Listen to the worries of someone else today, then pray with or for them.  Ask God’s peace to surround all of those you hold in prayer.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Advent 2020 Day 10: A Future of Hope

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Life can be a struggle.  I think we’ve all become very aware of that in 2020. The thing about being a Jesus follower that we tend to forget, especially in the United States, is that Jesus didn’t promise a “good life”. In fact he was very clear that in this world we, his followers, would have troubles. For the early church leaders these troubles were often physical persecution and emotional abuse. There are those who still face such tribulation. At some time in our lives, we all will face suffering, injustice, grief and pain. And not just once. Life is a tapestry pieced together from moments both raw and beautiful.  There are times when the whole world seems to be against us.  But God has plans for you, my friend.  And his plans are plans of peace and hope.

The prophet Jeremiah reminded the Israelites of this while they were in exile in Babylon. Though they were persecuted and scattered, God would not abandon them. There was a future filled with hope for them, if only they would turn to God and seek him. Though this message is old, it rings true today. God has plans for us. More importantly, God has a FUTURE for us. Whatever darkness we find ourselves fumbling in the midst of, it is not the end of the story. God has given us a FUTURE of HOPE. God has already written the final page, and it’s perfect. In the end, God saves. In the end, God brings peace. In the end, God reigns.

In the meantime, God brings us his Word which is full of story after story of how he fulfills his promises. God also brings us, his people who carry him within themselves, to go out into the world and bring a message of hope. We are to show those who are grieving that they are not alone. We are to provide those who are hungry with food to eat. We are to stand with those who face injustice and lift our voices to say, “No more.” We are to remember those who are imprisoned and to treat them with compassion. In these acts, we proclaim our firm belief that God has already won life’s battles, that the end of the story is already told, and that we all have a FUTURE of HOPE.

Today, call on God to help you face whatever difficulties life has thrown your way.  Pray, too, for others who are struggling to overcome adversity.  Pray that they will experience the Lord’s peace in their time of trial.

Finally, give thanks beforehand for the work God will do to bring peace to your life.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Advent 2020 Day 9: Prince of Peace

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Prince of Peace…

In a world so often filled with conflict and strife, peace seems like some sort of magical fantasy.  It’s a noble ideal, but not a practical reality.  And yet, Jesus is called the Prince of Peace.

As Jesus followers, we are called to walk the path of peace.  Jesus taught us to love our enemies, not persecute them.  He commanded us to turn the other cheek in times of conflict instead of hurling punches, insults and accusations.

Jesus told us to forgive again, and again and again—as many times as it takes.

Today, prayerfully consider the conflicts you are holding onto in your heart.  What grudges are you harboring?  What hurts are you feeding?  Who do you need to forgive today in order to walk the path of peace?

Ask God for the gift of forgiveness, both for yourself and others.

Blessings and Peace

Sara

Advent 2020 Day 8: A Living Hope

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Ponder the phrase, “a living hope”.  What does this look like?  Mary reflected a living hope when she answered the call to carry the Messiah with “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” (Luke 1: 38) Elizabeth showed a living hope when she responded to Zechariah’s encounter with the angel with “This is the Lord’s doing. He has shown his favor to me by removing my disgrace among other people.” (Luke 1:25) And, oh, the hope that abounded when Elizabeth and Mary met and the unborn John lept for joy in his mother’s womb! (Luke 1: 44-55) These women faced an uncertain future with joy and confidence because they had hope in God’s promise of salvation. They knew the stories of their faith, and they trusted that the Lord would continue to deliver, as he had always delivered in the past. They did not fear, but accepted the shake-up God had brought to their lives and stepped forward into the unknown with assurance. God would save.

Do you reflect a “living hope” in your life?  Do you live as one who has an “inheritance that cannot perish”?

Today, give thanks to God for the gift of salvation.  Then, ask God to show you one thing you can do today to share with someone the “living hope” we have in Christ Jesus.

Blessings and Peace

Sara