Confession 415: On the Church, Relationships and Honoring Life

Now Christ Jesus has come to show us the kindness of God. Christ our Savior defeated death and brought us the good news. It shines like a light and offers life that never ends. 2 Timothy 1:10 (CEV)

 

Lately, I’ve been catching up on some episodes of one of my favorite shows. Call the Midwife is a British drama set in London’s East End in the early 1960’s. It follows a group of midwives as they work with working-class families (mostly women and children) during a time of immense social change. One of the reasons I love this show is that it’s created by, for and about the everyday lives of everyday women. Call the Midwife doesn’t just tell the stories of everyday women, it honors those stories. It shows life in all its phases–the good, bad, ugly and heartbreaking–yet does so in a way that is pure and beautiful.

heart on wood

I feel like, as Christians, we don’t always honor life. We don’t seek to see the beauty in others; especially those who live in the ugliness life can bring. We don’t want to see the desperation of poverty, the horror of abuse, the reality of racism and sexism, the brutality of addiction or even the presence of grief.

It’s easier to donate food, clothes and toys to organizations that employ other people to deal with all that. It’s easier to write a check and move on. It’s easier for me, anyway…maybe not you.

One of the things the Holy Spirit has been impressing on me is the absolute necessity of Christian community. I don’t mean community as in church fellowship dinners (although I do love a good church potluck). I mean Christians being in the community; Christians working together to give others hope, forgiveness, healing and peace in a manner that both honors and validates the beauty in every life.

I long to see the church as the center of a great social change; a change not born of judgement and condemnation, but a change born of the desire to see everyone within the community live the abundant life God has promised. But that means we have to be in the community. This involves building relationships, which involves getting to know people, which involves taking risks. For introverts like me, that can be a bit of a challenge.

It’s much more comfortable for me to dump a few boxes of macaroni and cheese into a box at church than strike up a conversation with the person behind me in the Aldi check-out line. And having a conversation with the person in the check-out line at Aldi is a lot easier than inviting that person to yoga. And inviting that person to yoga is a lot easier than saying, “Hey, what are you doing Sunday morning?”

But that’s how ministry works. Ministry is about relationships. Thriving churches are good at building relationships with all members of their respective communities. The thing about effective relationships is, they have to be based in mutuality.

Often, well-intended church folk look at doing ministry with a sort of savior complex. We, the great “Church People”, will come to you poor, misinformed downcast people of the world and “save” you.

life preserverI don’t know about you, but I’ve never actually performed CPR or the Heimlich on a live human being. I’m not certified by the Red Cross to perform life-saving procedures. In short, I can’t save anybody. And, honestly, I’m not supposed to.

**On a side note, I do believe CPR and the Heimlich are important life skills that everyone should learn. And, if someone is in medical distress, seeking to save them is ok!**

Jesus didn’t commission his disciples to go into all the world and save. He knew that he (Jesus) was, is and will be the only Savior of the world. He commissioned his disciples to go and make more disciples. And do you know how they did that?

Yep…they built community relationships. The book of Acts records Paul working as a tentmaker alongside future members of the fledgling church he was starting. Paul was building tents because he knew that building tents would build relationships. (He also needed to provide his own income.)

hands

If I could puzzle piece together an ideal church, it would include the following:

  • free school for grades Pre-K-8 that specifically targets children falling behind in regular public school
  • free medical clinic staffed by certified NP’s
  • counseling center specializing in family, marriage and grief
  • evening job skills classes
  • youth center and mentoring program
  • addiction recovery groups and services
  • senior meal and fellowship programs
  • music and art classes
  • summer camps for kids
In short, the church would be the place in the community where everyone feels safe and welcome. The church would be the place where anyone in the community could plug in and get fed (spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally). The church would be…well…the center of the community.
You might be thinking…yeah, but my church is too small, doesn’t have enough funds, is already doing this or that…I understand. Every church is different, as is each community our churches serve. But how do we know what we’re supposed to be if we’re not engaged in our community? How do we know what we’re supposed to be if we’re not building relationships?
This week, I would challenge each of us to answer one key question:
Am I building relationships within my community so that others will know Jesus Christ?
Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Confession 414: Overwhelmed with Joy

I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!
    For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation
    and draped me in a robe of righteousness.
I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding
    or a bride with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10 (NLT)

clothesline

As I was looking through a kid’s devotional book for lunch box notes (I try to send Scripture with my boys once a week), the above verse spoke to me.  When I say the verse spoke to me, I really mean that God grabbed the verse,  smacked it onto my forehead and said, “Do this!”

I did not wake up this morning overwhelmed with joy.  Instead, I woke up thinking about to-do lists, which led to an in-depth self analysis of my own talents, abilities, quality and worth.  I don’t think I’m the only person who jumps on that crazy train.  In fact, I think the ability to view our own self-worth based on the amount and quality of to-do list items we accomplish is one of the Enemy’s greatest tools for driving a wedge between us and God.

Here’s how it works.

  • I didn’t go to the PTA meeting=I’m not doing enough for my children.
  • I forgot to send a birthday/anniversary/sympathy/congratulations card=I’m not a very thoughtful person.
  • I made tacos for dinner three times this week because they’re quick and easy=I’m pretty lazy and don’t take care of my family.

Part of the problem, of course, is that our society has a completely false and unrealistic expectation of who we are supposed to be.  Advertisers and marketers have conditioned us to think that every meal, outfit, and family outing has to be Pinterest worthy and Instagram fabulous.

But those aren’t expectations we can truly hold ourselves to.  The truth is, life can be messy.  We forget to send cards, miss PTA meetings and even serve tacos three nights a week because who has time to cook elaborate meals every day?  (Some people enjoy cooking elaborate meals, and I appreciate that and would love to come over for dinner!)

The truth is, our worth is found in the love of God.  We are his precious jewels.  And, as Isaiah says, the knowledge that we are clothed in salvation and draped in righteousness should bring us overwhelming joy.

Today, take a moment to see yourself as one of God’s most precious jewels.  Then thank him for the salvation and righteousness he has poured over you.  Hold fast to the joy these gifts bring.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 413: Obedience Lessons–40 Days of Decrease

You must definitely obey the Lord your God’s voice, keeping all his commandments that I am giving you right now, by doing what is right in the Lord your God’s eyes! Deuteronomy 13:18 (CEB)

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This past summer, we installed an invisible fence around the perimeter of our yard for our two dogs.  The dogs wear a special collar that is programmed to emit a high beeping sound when they get to close to the boundary of the fence.  If they cross the boundary, then they get a slight vibration.  (I tested this collar on my arm before I put it on the dogs, and it doesn’t hurt them–just in case you’re wondering.)

The key to the success of this fence is training.  For several weeks after the fence was installed, we took the dogs outside on a regular basis and taught them the boundaries of the yard.  The training taught the dogs to both recognize and obey the boundaries we had put in place.  Now, we can confidently leave the dogs alone in the yard and trust that they will do what they’re supposed to do.

That said, our Newfoundland likes to test the boundaries every now and then.  If you’re unfamiliar with the breed, here are two things to know about Newfies:

  1. They’re huge.
  2. They’re stubborn.

Our Newfie knows where the boundaries are, he just doesn’t always care.  If another dog is walking down the street and he wants to say hello, he’s perfectly fine taking a hit and  charging through the fence.  In those moments, he is choosing the instant gratification of disobedience rather than sticking to the boundaries we’ve marked for him.

After roaming the neighborhood for awhile, we drag him back across the boundary line and keep him close to us for a week or so.  (Actually, we ban him from the front yard, which is where he likes to break free,)  During this time, we teach him (again) the boundaries of the yard and insist that he respect those boundaries.

In Alicia Britt Chole’s 40 Days of Decrease, she describes obedience as an ongoing process “connected by countless moments”.  Obeying God is not something we do one time, but rather, something we consciously decide to do each day (or maybe multiple times a day).  Chole writes:

…when we hear Jesus’ “Come, follow Me,” our opening “Yes!” and the Father’s closing “Well done!” are connected by countless moments in which we discern and reconfirm our decision to follow over and over and over again. (pg. 105)

I see a connection here between obedience and grace.  None of us are going to be obedient to God all the time.  We’re human.  We make mistakes.  Like our Newfie, we sometimes choose the instant gratification of disobedience over God’s commands and plans.  However, our momentary failures do not prevent us from continuing on our path to obedience.  God extends his grace to us and says, My sweet child, let’s try this again.  

God doesn’t banish us to the backyard when we disobey.  Instead, he flings the front door of his love wide open and beckons us through.  God patiently teaches us and instructs us again and again and again.

Today, instead of fasting, let’s partake of God’s grace.  Let’s confess our acts of disobedience and accept the love and forgiveness and mercy of a loving father and teacher who wants what is best for his children.  Let’s accept grace and recommit to a life of obedience.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 412: The Lure of Discontentment–40 Days of Decrease

Your way of life should be free from the love of money, and you should be content with what you have. After all, he has said, I will never leave you or abandon youThis is why we can confidently say,

The Lord is my helper,
    and I won’t be afraid.
What can people do to me? 

Hebrews 13:5-6 (CEB)

cherry blossom 2

It’s not enough…

This is the thought that went through my head as I was lying awake at four A.M.  I was mentally calculating the amount of a recent paycheck versus the amount of medical bills I needed to pay, taxes I needed to prepare for and vet appointments I needed to make.  (It was thanks to the dog I was lying awake anyway.)

Lord, I said, It’s not enough.  

Do you know what God said to me in that moment?  Go to sleep!

In the middle of the night, when everything is quiet and still, it’s easy to fall prey to the Enemy’s murmurings and mutterings of discontentment.  Satan worms his way into our thoughts and attempts to disrupt our harmony with God by casting doubt and creating fear so that we’re lured into a place of anxiety and feel as if what we have or who we are is not enough.

In those moments when we are swept into the Adversary’s web of untruth, we forget that where we may perceive not enough, God stands resolute and says, I AM enough.

One of the most challenging fasts in Alicia Britt Chole’s 40 Days of Decrease is the fast of discontentment.  The truth is, our culture thrives on discontentment.  Companies profit from our belief that we don’t have enough.  Case in point, I have two pairs of Converse sneakers sitting in my closet and am actually contemplating a third.  Why?  Because I don’t have Harry Potter ones.

Discontentment isn’t just about consumerism.  Discontentment goes far beyond our desire for more stuff.  Discontentment encompasses about how we feel about ourselves, and how those feelings are then transferred to others in ways that are unkind, ungracious and unloving.  Discontentment with who we are leads us to be jealous, bitter and judgmental toward others we perceive as having more or being more than we are.

Discontentment kills relationships.  We’re so consumed with how we feel and our perception that our needs aren’t being met that we completely ignore the needs and feelings of others.

In short, discontentment robs us of joy and leaves us exhausted and unhappy in the never-ending quest for more.

cherry blossom 1

Throughout Scripture, God tells his people time and again that he is enough.  When the Israelites wandered in the desert and wondered how they’d eat, God said I Am enough.  When they faced the towering walls of Jericho and wondered how they’d breach them, God said I AM enough.

When Mary questioned the angel who spoke God’s beautiful words of salvation she wondered how it was possible.  God said I AM enough.  When Peter wondered how he could walk on water and not sink, Jesus said I AM enough.  When the disciples wondered how they were to spread the good news of Jesus Christ throughout Judea and Samaria and the world, the Holy Spirit said I AM enough.

This is the same message God speaks to us today.  When the Enemy lures us with thoughts of discontentment, God stands beside us and whispers, I AM enough.

Today, I would encourage you to join me in fasting discontentment.  As Chole writes:

Refuse to allow discontentment brain space.  Each time you are tempted to picture your life with something else or something new or something different, stop.  And redirect your mental energy to thank God for anything in your current reality for which you can be grateful. (pg. 138)

Thank God for being enough.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 411:Let Your Love Grow in the Wilderness

Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I’ll give up my life for you.”

Jesus replied, “Will you give up your life for me? I assure you that you will deny me three times before the rooster crows.

Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too.  John 13:37-14:3 (CEB)

Last week, I wrote about love.  Love is a controlled burn.  Love helps us to go where we cannot go on our own.  However, as I was reminded in Alicia Britt Chole’s 40 Days of Decrease, love needs time to grow.  Jesus walked the path to the cross out of love, but is our love strong enough to make that same journey?

Confession 243: Fan or Follower

Peter wasn’t ready.  Peter had spent the better part of three years living and working with Jesus.  Yet when the time came, his love wasn’t ready to follow Jesus to the cross.  Peter needed the wilderness of denial.  And Jesus knew it.  Look at this exchange between the Teacher and his disciple.

Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I go with you now? I would die for you!”

“Would you really die for me?” Jesus asked. “I tell you for certain that before a rooster crows, you will say three times that you don’t even know me.”

Peter asked Jesus why he couldn’t go with him now.  And what was Jesus’ response?  You’re not ready.  

My boys, at almost nine and eleven, often think they’re ready for more grown-up things.  They really want to stay home alone sometime.  My response is always the same–you’re not ready.  There’s too much I still have to teach them about being self-sufficient.  And, they can’t even reach the microwave to make food.  They need more time.

Confession 254: Why Wait?

Peter needed more time.  In the church, we look at Peter’s denial of Christ as a cautionary tale.  We tell believers to be strong in their faith, not fickle like Peter.  But here’s the thing: Jesus knew Peter wasn’t ready.  He told Peter that Peter wasn’t ready.  And then, do you know what he said–in the very next breath?  Don’t worry about it.

Don’t be troubled.  Trust me.  I’ve got it covered.  And there will come a time when you will be ready, and you will be with me. 

Jesus didn’t condemn Peter for his coming lack of faith.  Instead, he comforted him.  He encouraged him.  He loved him.

Peter wasn’t ready to go to the cross.  His love needed more time to grow.  He needed to sit in the darkness of that long night of Jesus’ arrest and to wrestle with what he believed.  He needed to see the empty tomb, to see Jesus appear once more.

Jesus understood this.  And he waited.  He waited until Peter’s love was ready.  And when Peter was ready, Jesus asked him: Peter, do you love me?

Peter’s response was a resounding yes.  Peter, who had denied Jesus out of his grief and fear, now proclaimed Jesus as Christ.  Peter, who stood in the shadows as Jesus was arrested, tortured and nailed to the cross now willingly walked that very same path Jesus had trod.  Peter’s love was ready to go where Jesus called him to go.

Confession 271: Making Meaning

This week, ask yourself if your love is ready, really ready, to go where Jesus is going.  Is your love ready for the cross?  If the answer is no, be at peace with that response.  Allow your love for God the time it needs to grow.  Live a bit in the wilderness, trusting and depending on God.  Let God reveal his steadfastness to you, so that when the time comes, you will be ready to follow wherever Jesus might lead.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

*Note: This post originally published March 21, 2016.

Confession 410: Love Goes Where Passion Cannot

Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 (CEB)

fire in jar

One of the things I loved about living in a rural community was watching the dance of life take place across the acres of fields cultivated by local farmers.  I watched, in awe, as bright green shoots pushed their way out of the seemingly lifeless dark, brown dirt.  As spring gave way to summer, it was a joy seeing the shoots grow into tall ears of corn or thick, lush soybeans that brought so much color to the landscape.  During harvest, the green turned once more to shades of brown and the land was still.  But then, out of the darkness of winter, there was light; deep oranges and yellows that would send plumes of black smoke into the sky.

It is not uncommon for farmers to burn off their fields before spring planting to get rid of the remnants of last year’s crop.  The fire not only removes the old, but it prepares the soil to receive new life.  In the process of burning new chemicals are produced in the ashes which then get folded into the fields to make the earth richer and stronger.  The burn is carefully orchestrated, monitored and controlled.  And this controlled burn leads to life.

heart on wood

In day 24 of 40 Days of Decrease, Chole asks two questions.

  1. Has passion ever led you somewhere that love would not have gone?  
  2. Has love ever led you somewhere that passion could not have gone?

I confess, I had to sit on that for a minute.  I had to think about passion and love beyond our physical relationships with others.  And when I delved deep within my being, here’s the truth that I came to.

Has passion ever led you somewhere that love would not have gone?  Absolutely.  Passion has led me to anger, to bitterness, to harsh words and vengeful actions.  Passion has led me to draft sweeping generalizations about people–to categorize others into “good” and “bad”.  Passion has led me to be mean and spiteful.

Has love ever led you somewhere that passion could not go?  Thank God for grace.  Love has led me to forgiveness.  Love has led me to hold my tongue.  Love has led me to patience, which has led me to understand others rather than to judge others.  Love has opened my eyes to things that I need to change.  Love has taught me kindness, and shown me how to be kind.

This, I think, is the difference between a controlled burn and a raging wildfire. Wildfires consume with no orchestration.  They leap up, burn tall and wreck everything in their path.  Wildfires leave behind destruction, barrenness and devastation.

Look again at Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is kind and patient,
never jealous, boastful,
    proud, or rude.
Love isn’t selfish
    or quick tempered.
It doesn’t keep a record
    of wrongs that others do.
Love rejoices in the truth,
    but not in evil.
Love is always supportive,
loyal, hopeful,
    and trusting.
Love never fails!

1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 (CEV)

Notice the fruit that love produces: kindness, patience, humility, forgiveness, grace, mercy, truth, encouragement, loyalty, hope, trust and strength.

Where our passions consume, love renews.  Love, I think, is a controlled burn orchestrated by God through Christ and the Holy Spirit to make our hearts ripe and fertile fields in which life will blossom.

heart on path

Love leads us to look beyond ourselves and our own desires to engage in the world with God’s eyes, hands, feet and heart.  Love leads us to do crazy things,like:

  • quitting a corporate job to go into ministry
  • downsizing a home or car to support the work of God
  • spending vacation time and money on a mission trip
  • becoming a foster parent
  • volunteering at a local school, retirement home, hospital, animal shelter, etc…
  • coaching youth sports and activities
  • building homes and schools in both local communities and developing countries
  • teaching Sunday school

The list goes on and on…

Love leads us where passion cannot go.

This week, I would challenge each of us to consider if we are acting out of passion or love.  And then to ask the question, “Where can love lead us that passion cannot go?”

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Note: This is an updated version of a post originally published in March 15, 2016.

Confession 409: Can I Be Honest? 40 Days of Decrease

Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32 (CEB)

I love taking my boys clothes shopping with me.  That sounds crazy, I know.  But, at eight and ten, my boys are very honest (and free) with their opinions.  If I try something on and it looks awful, they tell me.  And trust me, I need that feedback!

Dandelion

As we get older, we tend to struggle with honesty.  We don’t want to say something that might hurt someone’s feelings, cause us to lose face or be painful to acknowledge.  I’m not saying that we should be brutally honest with one another in the dressing room at Kohl’s or Dress Barn–my mother tells me there is something called tact.  However, I am saying that perhaps we need to be a bit more honest with ourselves about why we think, feel and act in a certain way.

We need to be honest with ourselves about the state of our relationships with others.  We need to be honest with ourselves about our own gifts and abilities.  We need to be honest with ourselves about our own biases, prejudices and contributions to discord and disharmony.

Why is honesty so very important in our lives and relationships?  Because honesty, my friends, enables us to grow.  Putting a good spin on a difficult situation is not going to solve the problem.  Placing all of the blame for a falling out on someone else is not going to pave the way for forgiveness and reconciliation.  Hiding pain behind a false smile is not going to make us feel better.

Society tells us to “fake it until you make it”.  Fortunately, as Jesus followers, we don’t need to fake anything.  You see, Jesus valued honesty.  In fact, he criticized the religious leaders for being dishonest; with the people, with themselves and with God.  In the book of Matthew, Jesus calls the religious leaders hypocrites twelve times–six times in one chapter alone!

“How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You shut people out of the kingdom of heaven. You don’t enter yourselves, and you won’t allow those who want to enter to do so.”  Matthew 23:13 (CEB)

“How terrible it will be for you, legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You travel over sea and land to make one convert. But when they’ve been converted, they become twice the child of hell you are.” Matthew 23:15 (CEB)

“How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You give to God a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, but you forget about the more important matters of the Law: justice, peace, and faith.” Matthew 23:23 (CEB)

Jesus detested the dishonesty of the religious leaders.  Their dishonesty poisoned their faith.  These leaders were consumed by self-interest.  They were self-righteous, judgmental, unjust and ungodly.  They put a spin on faith that prevented others from coming to know God, and the consequences of those untruths were going to be eternal.

dandelion

In 40 Days of Decrease, Alicia Britt Chole challenges readers to avoid the dishonesty of the religious leaders and to fast revisionism.  Chole writes:

…valuing something more than truth limits our interaction with Jesus.  Taken seriously, this is rather sobering.  Do we value something more than truth?  Have control and position become more precious to us than sincerity?  Are we committed tot he pursuit of emotional and intellectual honesty in God’s presence? (pg. 93)

Jesus states in the Gospel of John that truth will set us free. Being honest before God allows us to release all of our fear, insecurity, pain, ambition, need for control and anything else we try to spin our way.

And what do we receive for our honesty?  Peace.  Forgiveness.  Redemption.  Grace.  Strength.  Healing.  Wisdom.  Mercy.  Freedom. Compassion.  Love.  Restoration.

Notice that God’s blessings don’t include things like: happiness, ease, prosperity, universal appeal, promotions, privilege.  Those promises are dishonest.  As humans, we will grieve, face challenges and sometimes suffer.  Adam and Eve’s dishonesty marred God’s perfect creation and closed Eden’s door.  However, our ability to be honest with God deepens our relationship with him, the effects of which will flow out from us and into the lives of others.

Today, I would challenge you to spend some time honestly talking to God.  Tell him your fears, your desires, your frustrations and your hopes.  Then, ask him to fill you with his presence so that you can go forth and share his great love with others.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 408: Ask Away–40 Days of Decrease

I am the LORD!  There is nothing too difficult for me. Genesis 18:14 (CEB)

girl on swing

When I was a kid, I asked a lot of questions.  My mom recalls a memorable experience seeing Disney’s Sleeping Beauty in a theater where, at the age of two, I very loudly demanded to know a plethora of things.  Important things like, “Why is the dragon purple?  Why is her dress pink?  Why is the prince riding a horse?”

My parents were professional educators, so they didn’t discourage my questioning–even when it drove them crazy.  Now, I have two children of my own who question everything.  I find I have a new appreciation for the amount of self-discipline and control my parents must have had not to ban me from speaking until I was eighteen.

And, although it’s incredibly annoying to have your ten year old constantly ask you if you’re driving the speed limit whenever you hit the highway, questions are (by and large) good things.  Questions lead to knowledge, to new understandings and perspectives, to a greater appreciation for the world and the people within it.  Questions also lead us into a deeper relationship with God.

girl on swing 2

There’s a fallacy among some religious people that questioning God is sinful.  I think this idea is born out of the great fear we humans have with uncertainty.  Many of us struggle with the concept of holy mystery. We can’t handle the complexity of God’s great all-encompassing love coupled with the reality of the ramifications of free will and human suffering.   When tragedy strikes, it’s more comfortable to say “Well, it’s God’s will” rather than “What the —-?”

The truth is, our desperate cry of “Why would you let this happen?” draws us much closer to the heart of God than an apathetic response of, “Okay…whatever…”  Accepting without question doesn’t engage in a conversation.  It doesn’t open the door for a relationship; instead, it shuts the door in God’s face.  Ignoring the questions in our hearts only serves to weaken our faith because we deny ourselves an opportunity to speak to God openly and honestly.

choleIn 40 Days of Decrease, Alicia Britt Chole refers to our process of trying to rationalize God’s ways as a means of fixing faith.  She writes:

The church in general panics when miracles miscarry.  We scurry clumsily to prop up God’s sagging reputation.  There must have been a problem, we offer.  God must have something even better around the corner, we propose.  Must He?  (pg. 34)

In her challenge to fast “fixing it”, Chole acknowledges the need for questions in our faith.        When we fast “fixing it” we allow ourselves to become children once again, running to the great Parent with questions, fears, disappointments, anger and broken hearts.  And God, the great Parent, welcomes us with open arms.  He listens to our questions.  He understands our fears and disappointments.  He accepts our anger and he grieves our broken hearts.  God is our safe place–our refuge in times of trouble. (Psalm 18:2)

That is not to say God will provide an answer to all our questions.  How could he when there is so much at work in this world that is way beyond our understanding.  But God wants us to ask the questions, because he wants to be in a relationship with us.

As a parent, it’s important to me that my children know they can always come to me with any questions.  I don’t answer all of them, sometimes because I don’t know the answer and sometimes because they’re not ready to hear it.  However, in listening to their questions and responding in love, I’m teaching my children (I hope!) that Mama is a safe place for them to come and lay their burdens down.  And, as their questions get bigger and harder, I’m hopeful that my willingness to engage in their questions will teach my boys that they don’t have to hide anything from me–that when they are with me they are free to be themselves,even if it’s not always pretty, because I love them.

If you’re like me, you have a lot of questions for God.  Some days those questions are born out of mere curiosity.  Other days the questions come from a deep place of hurt or anger.  Whatever questions of faith you have today, I would encourage you to bring them before God.  Lay them down at his feet and let him be your safe place.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession407: Are You For Real? 40 Days of Decrease

Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking,  “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Matthew 11:2-3 (CEB)

In 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole, we are asked to fast artificial light.  This fast comes to us out of the depths of a dark and lonely prison cell.  John the Baptist, who once commanded great crowds in the wilderness and carried the light for God, now sits broken and chained in a dark, dirty, dank dungeon far below Herod’s great palace.  John, who first recognized Jesus as Messiah from his mother’s womb is now asking the question, “Are you for real?”

caged bird

This question brings me to my knees each time I study it.  It brings me to my knees because, my friends, I’ve been there.  There are moments in each of our lives where our surety of faith born in the light of God’s goodness and grace gives way to uncertainty in the darkness of disappointment and disillusionment.  God’s promises of health, protection, love, and stability haven’t materialized as we expected.  Life threw a curveball and we grounded out in the dirt.

A couple of years ago, I took a “leap of faith”.  God and I had been discussing a career change for a few years, and I was finally taking the plunge.  I gave up full-time employment to become a freelance writer.  I gave up a salary package, benefits, vacation time and tax refunds to pursue this calling.  I knew that if I jumped, God would provide.  For over a year and a half the floodgates were opened.  Work poured in and I basked in the glow and wonder of God’s ability to make this new life happen.

But then, the streams began drying up.  The floodgates of opportunity closed.  The famine that I knew was part of this journey began, and I felt betrayed.  Where once was sureness, now was doubt.  Did I follow the wrong path?  Did I misunderstand?  Did I neglect part of a bargain I didn’t know I’d signed?  Did I miss the fine print?

Over the past several months, I’ve found myself asking God, “Are you for real?”  

One of the things I love about Chole’s book is that she gives me permission to ask God tough questions.  Her reminder of John the Baptist’s question to Jesus brought peace to my troubled soul.  Because John was one of the few people in Jesus’ sphere who got it.

From the beginning, John knew who Jesus was and what his own role was to be in spreading the good news.  John’s job was to prepare the way for Jesus–to be the supporting actor, so to speak.  And John was totally okay with this.  In fact, when his disciples attempted to start a turf war with Jesus, John cut them off.  John clearly says, “I’m not the Christ, but the one sent before him.” (John 3:28)

So if John, whose entire life was devoted to preparing the way for Jesus, asked Jesus if he was for real, then I think my own questions of doubt are okay.

So the question remains, “Are you for real?”

Look at the response John gets from  Jesus.

“Go, report to John what you hear and see. Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them. Happy are those who don’t stumble and fall because of me.” Matthew 11:4-6 (CEB)

I feel a great love in Jesus’ response.  Notice he doesn’t rebuke John’s doubt.  He doesn’t dismiss John’s question.  He doesn’t say to John, “Well, if you really knew me you wouldn’t ever question.”  No…Jesus responds with kindness, compassion and love.  He says to John, “Look at what I’m doing.  The work you started is coming to fruition.  I never want you to doubt because of me.”

Do you see the great beauty in Jesus’ response?  Do you see the depth of love?  I feel like if Jesus were sitting before John in his prison cell he would have taken John’s face in his hands and looked at him with eyes brimming over with compassion.  As Chole writes so eloquently in her book:

Jesus’ calm response to John echoes to us today: “Recall what I have done in the past.  Accept me as the Great I Am of your future.” (pg. 16)

free bird

I don’t know what crises of faith you might be experiencing today–what promises you have yet to see fulfilled in your life.  But know this, your disappointment, your doubt, you disillusionment is okay.  God can handle it.  But first, you have to bring it to him.

Today, tell God what you’re feeling.  Ask him if he’s for real.  And then, listen to the loving way he speaks to your fears.  As Chole writes, “accept [God] as the Great I Am of your future.”

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 406: 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole

Growing up in the Southern Baptist church, Lent was not something I was familiar with.  My understanding of Lent went something like this: people give up sweets or soda for a couple of months and then pig out on Easter.

I didn’t get it.  After I joined the United Methodist church and went to a United Methodist seminary where I earned a master’s degree in Christian Education…I still didn’t get it.  I think my precise thoughts on the matter were: This is dumb.  Aren’t we always supposed to be engaging in penitence and confession to prepare ourselves for Christ?  (Deep down, I’m still a bit of a Baptist girl).

And so, I just ignored Lent for several years.  I avoided Ash Wednesday service, didn’t give anything up and used the time known as Lent to memorize Scripture, pray more and practice stillness.  These are all good things, and my faith grew stronger with them.  But really, there was no deep Spiritual journey for me in engaging in these practices.  I just did them because I thought I was supposed to do something for Lent, even though Lent really meant very little to me.

And then, last February, my husband bought me a book.  My husband rarely buys me books.  He’s not against book buying or book giving, he just understands that the selection of books is a somewhat sacred process for me and doesn’t want to assume or impose by giving me something of his choosing rather than mine.  I say all of that to tell you that when Chris gives me a book, I pay attention to it because I know it’s not something he does lightly.

chole

40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger, A Different Kind of Fast by Alicia Britt Chole forever changed my “journey” of Lent.  For the first time ever, I got it.  More than that, Alicia’s thoughtful devotions and deeply spiritual reflections on fasting things like regret, keeping faith tidy, “fixing” things, religious profiling, spectatorship, comparison, discontentment and escapism took me on a spiritual journey that left me breathless and hungering for God in a whole new way.

Finally, Lent made sense.  Finally, Lent was a spiritual journey.  Finally, I felt myself walking with Jesus through the wilderness these 40 days.

40 Days of Decrease goes beyond the traditional Lenten fasts.  Like the contemplative sages of old who lived in the desert and guided pilgrims into a transformative encounter with the HOLY, Chole’s book guides those of us seeking a deeper and more meaningful faith into the desert places of our souls and leads us into a transformative encounter with the great I AM.

Are you hungering for God?  Are you thirsting to be filled with his Spirit?  Are you craving an experience with the risen Christ?  I would invite you to take this 40 Days of Decrease journey with me.  Every Tuesday and Thursday from now until Easter, I will be posting about 40 Days of Decrease here.  I’ll discuss the ways that God is speaking and changing me though this journey, and pose some questions for reflection.  You can always share your own experiences with me by emailing me or leaving me a comment.

I’ve placed links to Amazon all over this post so that you can purchase your own copy of the book.

This year, let’s do a different type of fast.  Let’s take a walk in the wilderness and allow God to feed our souls so that we can emerge transformed, rejuvenated and on fire to bring God’s love into the world.

As Chole writes:

Faith, in general, is less about the sacrifice of stuff and more about the surrender of our souls.  Lent, in kind, is less about well-mannered denials and more about thinning our lives in order to thicken our communion with God. Decrease is holy only when its destination is love.(pg. 2)

Blessings and Peace,

Sara