Confession 454: Ending Racism with Micah 6:8

Racism. What an ugly word. And yet, one that is still so prevalent in our American society. As a white person, growing up in a predominately white town, it took me awhile to understand that my realities of equality, justice, and fairness were very different from the realities of my black and brown brothers and sisters. And yet, the evidence of the inequity that still exists in our nation is all around. It’s in the disproportionate numbers of black men who sit behind locked bars. It’s in the disproportionate numbers of black and brown men and women dying of Covid-19. It’s in the disproportionate numbers of black citizens killed by the police.

While I am as close to a pacifist as you can get without marking the “conscientious objector” box, I understand the outrage fueling the protests over the killing of George Floyd. Moreover, I support those who are making a stand and demanding change. That’s why I am, once again, lending my voice to the call for change.

For too long, the burden of ending racism in our country has been relentlessly pressed onto the shoulders of black and brown Americans. White Americans, so afraid to confront our racist past, bury our heads in the sand instead of tackling the issues head-on. But…change will never come if we don’t pull our heads up and engage in the hard conversations of inequity and systemic racism that not only built this nation, but keeps it moving today. It doesn’t make you, as a white American, a bad person for acknowledging the fact that racism exists. It doesn’t make you, a white American, a bad person for understanding that being white in America comes with certain privileges that are not offered to people with black or brown skin. It doesn’t make you a bad person (or unpatriotic) for admitting that our law enforcement systems (not people) are inherently biased against black Americans. Acknowledging, understanding, and admitting the problem is the first step to solving it. And, I believe we CAN solve it! Moreover, I think that we, as Jesus followers, MUST work to solve it. God calls us to engage in the hard work of rooting out racism…of bringing his kingdom, in which there is no division based on race, ethnicity or class, to fruition. But how do we start?

As I’ve been praying over what to do this past week, God brought Micah 6:8 to mind. As I prayed over this verse, it came to me that following Micah 6:8 is a great start for seeking an end to the legacy of racism.

Look closely at what Micah tells us:

  1. Micah makes it clear that God has already given us the tools needed to do what is right. God gives us his Word…that Spirit-breathed knowledge passed down from generation to generation in which we see God’s character manifested in black and white. In Scripture, we receive God’s instruction on how to live, how to treat others, and how to follow God’s path. We KNOW what God calls us to do because he tells us over and over through Scripture.
  2. God requires justice to be done. As followers of God, therefore, we are called to fight injustice. Our call to fight injustice supersedes any political view we might have. If there is an injustice, God compels us to speak up. One of the most damning things Christians have done in this country is to politicize our faith. God and the American government are not the same. God is above our politics. Whether we lean left or right should have absolutely no bearing on our understanding of justice. God fights for the oppressed, for those who do not have equal opportunities, for those who are unfairly treated and cast down by society….and so should we. As a white American, it is my job to speak up when I see racial injustice, not because I live in a red state, not because I took a Democratic primary ticket, but because God compels me to do so.
  3. God compels us to show mercy. What is mercy? Mercy is compassion OR forgiveness shown by someone who has the power to punish or harm. In a hierarchical relationship, mercy is the compassion shown by someone in power to those who have less power. Compassion opens the door to justice because we feel empathy for those who are being treated unjustly. Compassion leads us to fight for justice for those who are oppressed. White Americans, myself included, should seek to look at the struggles of many of our black and brown brothers and sisters with compassion, not judgement. How different might our nation, our world, be if we could look at others through the lens of compassion?
  4. Finally, God tells us to humbly walk with him. I want to key-in on the word humbly for a moment, because I believe it is this word that opens the floodgates of compassion/mercy and enables us to fight for justice. It took me many years to be able to admit that I was prejudiced. My prejudice wasn’t intentional, but it was borne from being a white American living in white America. Society taught me preconceived notions about black Americans…from television shows where the perpetrator of any crime was always black or brown, to conversations with adults about the dangers of “the city”. My grandparents used racist language because that’s what they were taught (one of my grandfather’s points of pride was when he started using the phrase African-American). I have ancestors who owned slaves…imagine that. In my family tree, people owned other people. That is an uncomfortable understanding to sit with. But, it’s important to sit there…because it’s in the uncomfortable soul-searching and tending that true changes takes place. I believe that it is time for white Americans (myself included) to humble ourselves in regard to racial equality. We need to do some digging, and allow God to uncover our own preconceived notions about race. We need to have the humility to stand up and say, “You know, we got it wrong in the past, but now we want to make it right.” THEN, we need to continue to walk in humility and LISTEN to the experiences of our black and brown brothers and sisters. It is when we are humble enough to listen to the experiences of injustice and prejudice that we grow our compassion for others and are enabled to fight for justice.

So, what is the Lord requiring of you today? Is he asking you to humble yourself and to listen to the voices of those whose experiences are different from yours? Is he asking you to show compassion to those who are hurting? Is he compelling you to speak up and lend your voice to the fight for justice?

My friends, there is so much work to do! Change takes time, it takes effort, it takes unwavering commitment to a vision of a better world. But change can happen. Will you lend your voice to the change?

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 453: Stone-Rolling: God’s Sport

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For those of you who know me, you know I’m not really a sports fan. I love the Olympics, and because I married my husband, I really like Cardinal baseball. Baseball makes sense to me in a way other sports don’t. One of my favorite things about baseball is that it is, at its core, a fundamentally team sport. You can have great players, but great players don’t carry a team. Everyone has to contribute in order for a team to be successful.

In 2011, the Cardinals played the Texas Rangers in the World Series. The Rangers had never won a World Series, and the odds were in their favor. Game 6 was not good. Both teams committed several errors and the players just seemed tired…worn out by the long fight it had taken to get to this moment. The Cardinals were down to their last out. My husband had his finger on the remote, waiting to punch the power button so he didn’t have to see the Rangers celebrate their first-ever World Series win. But then, David Freese came to the plate. The Rangers had already taken care of the top of the Cardinal line-up. The power hitters were out, and this youngling at the bottom of the team roster shouldn’t be a problem. He was a stepping stone to the Rangers’ victory. The win was in the bag…until it wasn’t. Freese hit a ball into the outfield that should have been caught, but for some inexplicable reason what should have been a routine play became a fielding error and the Cardinals tied the ballgame. The game went into extra innings, and the Cardinals were once again down to their last out. The power-hitters were taken care of, and Freese came to the plate again. Could lightning strike twice? Yep! Freese hit a walk-off home run and the stadium erupted. The Cardinals had forced a game 7.

In sports, there are no foregone conclusions. Any team can have a great moment, or a really terrible one. There’s a reason why games are played and awards held under lock and key until the end of the season. You never know what’s going to happen.

This is, of course, completely counter to the message God gives us about how he moves and works in our lives.

With God, there is no question about the outcome–He has the victory–every time.

In Joshua 5, the Israelites are at the beginning of a long journey to conquer the Promised Land. They’ve just witnessed a mighty display of God’s power as the Jordan River dried up before them and they were able to cross on dry ground. Behind them is the wilderness, ahead is the prize. In this moment, God assures His people that he has “rolled away” the shame and disgrace of their slavery in Egypt. No more are they bound by the chains of oppression, injustice, persecution, and fear. The Israelites have been freed and a new life awaits….a life of peace, prosperity, and faithful communion with God.

God has told the Israelites how the story ends…they will be victorious. But, as the Israelites are human, there are lots of bumps along the way as they learn to trust in God’s word. Looking out over a land that is occupied by people and defended by armies, the Israelites wonder if this is truly the best course of action. They are completely unprepared, on their own, to take this land.

The Sport of Stone-Rolling

I think if God has a sport, it has to be stone rolling. He’s an expert at moving those huge boulders out of our way so that we can continue on our path to grace. There is no stone too heavy for God to move, and I think it delights Him to do so. Where we see a roadblock, God sees an opportunity.

Joshua 5:9 is an echo of God’s ultimate victory. In this verse, God is rolling away the shame of slavery. In Luke 24, God is rolling away the finality of death.

I love this sentence. These 9 simple words encompass the entirety of the Gospel message…the entirety of God’s message throughout all of Scripture really…They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. It’s a mic-drop moment. You see, God showed once again that the victory is already won. The stone is rolled away.

The tomb is empty. God wins. Again. Always. Forever.

Honestly, this verse just makes me want to cheer. I can’t read it and not feel the kind of joy Cardinals fans felt when David Freese hit that walk-off home run nearly a decade ago. I want to jump up and down and shred someone’s jersey! That’s how strong the power of God’s sport is! We can’t help but be ridiculously and blissfully joyful when we play on God’s stone rolling team because we KNOW we ALREADY HAVE the victory!

I don’t know about you, but I NEED this reminder right now. The world seems impossible. Life as we knew it has gone (at least for awhile). There are challenges we’re facing that we never thought we’d have to face. Our plans have not just been detoured, some have been completely demolished. Roads are closed. Stones are all around. But know this…we serve a stone rolling champion! Our God rolls away stones. So, whatever circumstance you face…whatever stones have rolled across your path…understand that God has already moved them. You have the victory. So, keep walking. Keep looking forward. Keep celebrating the fact that God has already rolled the stone away.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 452: Stacking Stones in the Midst of a Pandemic

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Sometimes God speaks softly, his voice so quiet that you have to strain to hear it. Other times, he speaks in a resounding gong that echoes over every aspect of your life. In the past few weeks, I have heard God resounding. I began a Bible study with my women’s small group based on Barb Roose’s Surrendered: Letting Go and Living Like Jesus. Roose discusses the Israelites as they journey through the wilderness and stop, poised at the edge of the Promised Land. Three days later, my husband preached a sermon using some of the same Scripture passages. I have walked with God long enough to know that when the same Scripture passages appear in your life within days of each other, it is not a coincidence and you need to pay attention. I abandoned my reading of the book of Romans (great book…but not where God is leading right now) and turned, instead, to the book that God kept calling out over me….Joshua.

There is a word in Joshua that God wants me to hear. And, perhaps, he wants you to hear it, too. You see, Joshua opens with the people of Israel in a time of transition. They are standing at the very edge of the Promised Land. After 40 years of wandering the Judean wilderness, they are there. The problem is, other people are there, too. And these people have been there for a long time. They’ve built cities. They’ve built armies. They have kings. The Israelites were lacking in all of these things. Moses was gone. He died while the people were in Moab, still wandering the desert, and was buried in a valley in an unmarked grave. (Deuteronomy 34:6) Joshua was the heir-apparent…a gifted soldier and faithful follower of God who had been by Moses’ side throughout the wilderness journey. Joshua had been told by God that he would lead the people into the Promised Land. But he wondered, standing before the Jordan River, would the people who rebelled against Moses actually have the faith to take what the Lord had promised would be theirs?

The Israelites face a crisis of faith. Who should they follow? Who should they believe? What is the right thing to do? Do forge their way across the Jordan River and charge a fortified city? Or, do they hang back and make a home in the wilderness ? In the first chapter of Joshua, God gives Joshua a pep talk. He reassures Joshua that Joshua is, indeed, the man for this job, and that all of the promises God made to the Israelites are about to be fulfilled. God also provides encouragement.  4 times in this chapter of only 18 verses God says to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous!” 4 times!

The first real test for Joshua comes shortly after this divine pep talk. The people are at the Jordan River, which is running at flood stage. Being a Missouri girl, with the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, I know rivers at flood stage. The number one rule when facing a river at flood stage is to turn around and go the other way! But that is not what God tells Joshua to do. With the echoes of “Be strong and courageous” ringing still ringing in his mind, Joshua commands the priests to carry the Ark of the Covenant into the river. And lo and behold, at the very second when the first priests’ toes hit the water, God acts. Just as with the Red Sea, the waters of the Jordan part, the ground dries, and the people walk through.

There was no mistaking that this was indeed a miraculous supernatural event. God proved to the Israelites once again that He is their leader, that He loves them, and that He has a plan for their future.

After the people cross the Jordan, but before the Ark is carried to shore, Joshua issues one more instruction. He tells the 12 tribal leaders to go back to the river and gather one stone each from the dry riverbed. He then instructs each of these men to carry their stone on their shoulders, high enough for all of the people to see. “These stones,” Joshua calls out, “are a symbol…an enduring memorial for the Israelites.” These stones, ordinary river stones, are a sign for future generations of the faithfulness and power of God.

My friends, as we continue to forge a new path through the wilderness of this pandemic, I think we need to start stacking some stones. I think we need to remember God’s mighty acts in both Scripture, and in our lives. I think we need to remind ourselves that God is always faithful, that he loves us, and that he has a beautiful future in store for us.

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The Israelites stacked their stones at Gilgal, so that “so that all the earth’s peoples might know that the Lord’s power is great and that you may always revere the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4: 24) I don’t think it’s an accident that these stones were placed in a location where the Israelites would have to pass through if they were retreating. Those stones were stacked before the Israelites began the fight for the Promised Land as a reminder, in the thick of battle, that God would always provide. Life can be brutal. It can be unfair and unjust. It can be tragic and painful. We fight battles: relational battles, health battles, financial battles, addiction battles. Yet, along the way, we pick up stones. Each time God provides, each time God heals, each time God sends a friend for support, each time God opens a door or a window, each time God brings us just what we need we pick up a stone. It is a stone of hope, of faith, of reassurance that all will be well. Yet, often, we let our stones fall. We let them become scattered across our soul, more of a hindrance than a help. The message in Joshua is clear: we need to hoist those stones and stack them in a place of prominence. We need to make sure that we have placed a reminder for ourselves of God’s goodness and providence in our place of retreat. But, our place of retreat is the path forward for those who follow us. In that way, our sacred memorial is a call of encouragement, a marker that clearly says “This way forward!” to those seekers who come behind us.

This week, I want to encourage you to gather some stones. Hoist them on your shoulders and pile them up until you have a tower of promises fulfilled by God. If you’re a visual person, go out and get some rocks. Paint or write the promise fulfilled on each rock. Or, if you’re a task master, consider writing a list of all of the promises God has fulfilled in your life. Don’t hesitate to share these stones with others…sharing the Good News of God’s love and faithfulness to someone else who needs to see those promises fulfilled.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Zondervan Artisan Collection Bible Review

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Last month, I had the opportunity from Bible Gateway to receive a FREE copy of the Zondervan Artisan Collection Bible for Girls to review. These new Bibles are pretty special, and here’s why:

“Artisan Collection Bibles are beautiful inside and out. They’re the only NIV Bibles with printed hand-painted cover designs and beautiful art hidden in the page edges, paired with the exclusive Comfort Print typesetting and wide margins, inviting you to journal, reflect, take notes, and create art.” https://biblegateway.christianbook.com/page/tcg/biblegateway/bg-bibles/bg-artisan-bibles

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I requested a copy of the Girl’s Bible, and promptly delivered it to my 10-year-old niece to review. To be honest, upon initial review, I was not blown away by this Bible. The cover is gorgeous, but inside there’s are no commentary, notes, or asides for younger kids to read. Therefore, there’s no real guidance for them as they read the Scriptures. I prefer Bibles for kids that have age-appropriate explanations of Scripture, because I think it helps them engage.

However, there is ample room for kids to draw, doodle, or journal. And, although I was not blown away, my niece LOVED it!! She read the Easter story and the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. She doodled in the Bible after reading, and it really helped her to process what she had read. The ability to draw and doodle in the Bible made reading it a less formal experience for her. She was truly able to engage with the text and to express her interpretation of it through drawing. Here’s a sample of her work.

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Honestly, as a former teacher, I’m blown away by her interaction with the text. She really engaged with the reading and came to her own understanding of it. As a parent, it’s so important to me that children come to their own conclusions and understandings of faith. This Bible is a perfect way for kids who enjoy expressing themselves through drawing or doodling to do just that. They can read the text, grapple with it, and work out their understandings of it right there on the page!

For more information about this Bible, I would encourage you to read through the interview with mixed-media artist Olivia Joy, one of the artists who worked on these Bibles.

https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2020/03/new-artisan-collection-bibles-an-interview-with-olivia-joy/

Finally, here’s a note from the publisher:

“Our Artisan Bibles have inspired thousands of readers to see the beauty in God’s Word. These new editions in our second iteration will do the same, and in a unique way because of the one-of-a-kind art technique that Michigan artist Olivia Joy uses,” says Melinda Bouma, vice president and publisher of Zondervan Bibles. “And we’re thrilled to expand this beautiful line of Bibles into the NRSV translation, providing NRSV readers with beautiful Bibles in their translation of choice.”

If you’d like to purchase a Zondervan Artisan Collection Bible from Zondervan, use the links below. This is a great addition for both kids and adults to deepen their understanding of God’s Word.

Bible Gateway

Amazon

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

 

 

 

 

Confession 451:Searching for Unicorns and Discovering Deer

Psalm 42_1

Last week ended with a bang…and not the good kind. Suffice it to say, the economic consequences of a global pandemic have trickled down to my educational publishing company, and the team of nine I previously worked on became a team of one. My editor sent me the following note before clocking out for an extended leave of absence:

Let me know if you hear of an amazing editorial position that opens up. You’re more likely to see a herd of unicorns, though.

I laughed, then told her I would be keeping an eye out for rainbows. Inside, though, my heart was breaking. It’s not fair that these wonderful, gifted women I work with are being put in this position. It’s not fair that people throughout the world are suddenly unemployed and facing economic ruin. It’s not fair that health care providers are being put in the position where they have to put themselves at risk in order to save others. It’s not fair that governments cannot get it together enough to send immediate aid to those who need it most. It’s not fair that people are being sickened by the millions and dying by the thousands.

Feeling overwhelmed with anxiety and grief, I did the only thing I could. I went with my husband for a long walk. As my feet slapped the asphalt, I envisioned myself pounding out the fears and frustrations that were piled up within me. With each breath, I released a little more of the anxiety coursing through my veins. My thoughts slowed, and I was left with the blissful sounds of spring birds calling, distant construction equipment humming, and my husband and I breathing in harmony. It was in this quiet space that I saw it…a lone deer standing alert beside the path. It had emerged silently from the woods, and was waiting, still as stone, to see if it was safe to cross over. My husband and I slowed, giving the deer space as it sized up our threat level. Then, with a swiftness and grace only deer can muster, it sprung across the path and cantered into an adjoining field. Three other deer followed in quick succession. Just when we thought the path was clear, a young fawn clattered from the woods and bolted across the path to join its family.

A herd of deer.

Crazy as it might seem, I felt like God was sending a very clear message in that moment. While it wasn’t a herd of unicorns, it was a promise. God is here. God is working. God will prevail.

Psalm 42 begins with a deer. As the deer thirsts for water, so the psalmist thirst for God. The psalmist is in despair, his “whole being depressed.” He is walking around filled with sorrow, to the point that he says that his bones are crushed. His enemies have him surrounded, and he will surely fall victim to their onslaught. The psalmist is begging God to make himself known…to come to the aid of those who love him. Sound familiar?

I don’t know about you, but my prayers have been pretty desperate lately. At one point this week, I found myself walking through my living room with my arms outstretched calling out “Hosanna! Hosanna!”, and it wasn’t even Palm Sunday. The word hosanna translates to save now…and that has been my prayer for all of humanity. God, save us now.

I’ve been praying for a herd of unicorns….for God’s miraculous power to burst forth in a shower of rainbow-colored confetti and to cover the entire Earth. And, while God is perfectly capable of doing just that–rainbow-colored confetti and all–it’s not really his M.O. There is a natural order to the world. It is an order that God designed from the beginning, and it is in this natural order that God is working. God sent the deer to remind me, to remind us, that he is still here working. In seeing the deer, I remembered God’s goodness and love, and my soul was lifted.

Psalm 42_5 (CEB)

I cannot promise that there won’t be dark days ahead. All of science seems to tell us that the worst is still to come. But in those moments of despair, when anxiety threatens to tear us apart from the inside out, remember the deer. Remember that God is working for us. Remember that God is still fighting for us. Remember that we, like the psalmist, will again give him thanks.

So, today, keep looking for that herd of unicorns…but be sure to give God thanks when he sends you a herd of deer instead.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 450: Taking the Long Way Round

Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.

Growing up, our family enjoyed taking long drives through the countryside. Sounds strange, I know, but when you’re poor and have basic cable, it’s either that or C-Span most Saturday afternoons. We drove to see the buds bursting forth in their flowery glory each spring. We drove to experience the wonder of the phoenix song that is fall in the Midwest, as the leaves burst into fiery shades of color before falling from the trees. We drove to see the water pour forth from Truman Dam, as the Corps of Engineers opened the floodgates after summer rains. One winter, as we were driving home from my grandparent’s house in the Ozark, we saw the after-effects of an ice storm, and I marveled at the crystalline world outside.

Our long drives were not relegated just to weekend entertainment. My parents worked hard to avoid the major highways and Interstates on any road trip. “You don’t see anything on the Interstate!” was the refrain I heard time and time again. And so, we drove through the countryside on two-lane state highways and out-of-the-way county roads, stopping at every roadside attraction and mom and pop gas station along the way. While the teenage me would roll my eyes every time my dad pointed out some long-forgotten obscure Civil War signpost, the adult me understands that my being took shape along the curves and hills of those two-lane roads.

My dad was a storyteller. And, as we drove miles and miles to see trees bud or sample cheese curds at Osceola Cheese, he shared stories with us about his childhood. He weaved these epic tales about mischief he and his friends got into, about Sunday dinners at his Grandma Polly’s, family camping trips on the James River, long summer days spent on his Uncle Paul’s farm. There were stories about growing up in Kansas City…buying chips out of the back door of Bryant’s barbecue, watching a baseball game at Municipal Stadium, working at his parent’s diner, playing baseball for East High School. On those drives, I learned who I was, where I had come from, and the spirit of all of the people who lived within me.

We talked about other things too, faith, politics, dreams and goals. The time in the car opened up something between us. Our drives were a sacred space in which we laughed, teased, debated, and even argued our way through a myriad of topics. There was freedom as we drove, freedom to just be. I remember one summer drive down a two-lane country highway in the Ozarks, windows down, my dad’s favorite Janis Joplin tape blaring from the cassette player, the station wagon winding its way to my grandparent’s house while we sang “Me and Bobby McGee” over and over again.

My friends, I think we’re taking the long way round right now. Like the people in Isaiah, we are blind and walking down a road we don’t know. Our lives have diminished to this one time, this one place. We can’t think about tomorrow, because tomorrow seems too unreal. We’re at the start of a tall incline–in the middle of a sharp curve. But, as I learned from our family drives, there is so much to be gained from taking the long way. If we commit, truly commit, to this road we are on right now, what might we learn? What insights about ourselves might we come to? What new understandings of God might we experience? How might God work within us to bring us closer to him, and to help us become more the person he designed us to be and less who we think we should be? How might our families and communities be changed if we embrace this road God is leading us down…if we allow him to direct us each day to the work he wants us to do?

The world is living in darkness now, but God will bring it light. And we have a part to play in that process. We are the light-bringers! We are a lamp that is lit with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. His Spirit works within us to keep our light burning, even in the darkness. It’s our job during this time of fear and tragedy to shine on! But, we can’t do that if we’re not connected to the source of our light. Now, more than ever, we need to connect to God through Scripture, through prayer, through individual and corporate (online) worship. We need to give God the wheel as we drive along this road, and we need to listen to Him as he tells us who we are, where we came from, and what plans he has for our future. Because there is a future, both here on Earth and in Gods’s great Kingdom. Like all roads, there is a destination to which we are headed. We’ll get there, but let’s commit to showing up better than we were before.

This week, let’s commit to taking the long way round. Let’s embrace the journey, and open ourselves to listening for God’s direction. Here’s a final verse to take with you today. As always…I pray for you blessings and peace.

Sara

We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. 9 We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.-2

Confession 459: Deny Fear

After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.

I have to be completely honest with you this morning…I’ve been a little freaked out this week. As someone who struggles with anxiety anyway, the global corona-mania has left me feeling more than a little on-edge. It’s like I wake up each morning already having had three cups of coffee. I can’t focus, I can’t settle. I just keep waiting for more bad news. I don’t know if I’m over-reacting, under-reacting, or just reacting. The problem is that there are just so many mixed messages. I’m not a virologist or epidemiologist or any sort of ologist for that matter, but I do believe in seeking out facts and know these things:

  • most of us will get the virus at some point in the next couple of years
  • over 80% of those who have coronavirus will be fine
  • the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions are most vulnerable
  • the extreme measures that are being taken by government officials are precautionary
  • no one needs to stock up on toilet paper (seriously…put the tp back…it’s not the stomach flu and this is no time to tp your neighbor’s house)

And yet, despite having these facts firmly established in my pre-frontal cortex, my limbic system is a hot mess! Disney World closed for crying out loud….surely this is a sign of the apocalypse, right?!

Interestingly enough, Scripture says not. As I was reading through my Lenten study of Mark this morning, the Spirit passed along a message that I very much needed to hear. In Mark 8, Jesus is traveling around Judea with his disciples. He’s already fed two crowds of people with just a bit of bread and fish. He’s also healed several people and brought a young girl back from the dead. Jesus finally decides that it’s time to be brutally honest with his disciples about his divine mission to save the world. It does not go well….Peter, ever the impulsive one, rebukes Jesus for saying that he will suffer and die. This is not the way to lead a grass roots movement. Jesus tells Peter, “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33)

But, that’s not all. Jesus then turns to his entire posse and call Peter out. “Look,” Jesus says. “Do you really want to follow me? Well, guess what? It’s not about you! Those who truly seek to follow me must deny themselves…” When we hear Jesus’ words about self-denial, we often think of the material. We think Jesus wants us to only relinquish our physical comforts and securities in order to focus on the Gospel. Give up materialism and take on generosity. However, as I was reading this passage this morning, I had an epiphany. What if Jesus isn’t just talking about the physical here? What if he’s telling us that in order to follow him, we need to deny our most primal emotions, too? To follow Jesus, we need to deny our fear.

Fear is a primal emotion. It is absolutely necessary to our survival. If we didn’t fear, we’d never make it past the age of two. However, fear is an emotion that is usually self-focused. Fear keeps us from seeing and responding to the needs of others because we are focused on self-preservation. This type of thinking is completely counter to what Jesus lived and preached. Jesus knew the horrors he would face under trial, imprisonment, and execution. He agonized over it in the garden the night of his arrest. And yet, Jesus denied his fear and went to meet his captors anyway…because the world needed his saving grace.

The book of Mark tells us that when Jesus looked out at all of the hungry people following him, he had compassion on them. This then, I think, is how we are to respond to a world in need. When we look around and see people who are sick, or hungry, or frightened, we must have compassion and not fear. We must ask God to enable us through the Holy Spirit to deny our fear in this time of uncertainty and to give us a spirit of compassion so that we might share God’s love through this crisis. Here are some practical steps I think that we Jesus folk can take during the course of this pandemic.

  1. Don’t spread fear. Stick to the facts. Be cautious, but not fearful. Get information from the WHO or CDC, not Facebook or Twitter.
  2. Seek out the most vulnerable citizens in your community and determine now how you might help them through this pandemic. If it’s your neighbors, make it a point to check in with them. Talk to you pastor about ways your church might work to ensure the most vulnerable in the community are cared for. This might involve starting a calling tree to check in on older church members or those with other health conditions. You could also arrange meal or grocery deliveries for those who are being encouraged to avoid large public gatherings. While you’re at it, take a few rolls of that toilet paper you’ve got piled in your closet over to a neighbor. Seriously friends, we really need to stop stocking up on toilet paper.
  3. Make a plan to provide assistance to families in need. School are closing across the nation. This means that many parents will be struggling to find childcare. It also means that thousands of children who depend on school breakfasts and lunches will be left hungry. How can you meet the needs of these families and individuals? Consider partnering with community organization to provide meal deliveries to families with children who depend on free or reduced lunches. If you’re comfortable with the idea, consider offering a neighbor in need of childcare some free babysitting during working hours.
  4. Support healthcare workers and first responders. If they’re not already, healthcare workers are going to be bearing most of the burden for this crisis. Consider ways you might show your support to those workers. Work with friends, community groups, and churches to assess the needs of healthcare workers and first responders. Then, work together to try and meet those needs. Don’t go to the ER right now unless it is truly an emergency. And, be thoughtful about going to the doctor. It’s not okay to overwhelm them by freaking out over a runny nose.
  5. Listen to officials and follow their directives. Politics aside, most local health departments and CDC officials know what they’re doing. So, listen to them and follow their instructions. While practicing social distancing might seem a bit over-the-top, consider the ripple effects of our actions. Social distancing is put into place to protect vulnerable populations. Remember, we’re focusing on compassion for others.

Like all alarming events, this too shall pass. Because we’re humans and just can’t seem to create God’s kingdom here on earth, there will be another crisis down the road. Whatever the future brings, I pray we will meet it with compassion.

I have compassion for these people

Blessings and Peace

Sara

 

Confession 458: If You’re Happy and You Know It…

What a beautiful sight! On the mountains a messenger announces to Jerusalem, “Good news! You’re saved. There will be peace.

“You’re going to complain tomorrow about it being dark again in the morning.” This was my husband yesterday at church, just after he told me about the beautiful moonscape he had seen driving to church after Daylight Savings Time began.

“No, I’m not, “I countered. “I’ve already committed to having a positive attitude tomorrow morning.” Truth be told, I’d already complained about the fact that it would be dark again on my daily walk to the bus stop at 6:40 A.M with our eldest. And, as I groaned to my eleven-year-old who was sitting in the backseat and would be completely unaffected by this change in sunlight circumstances, I realized that I was setting a truly terrible example. My son did not hesitate to point that out, by the way. It seems that no one in our house is afraid of sharing opinions…

Complaining is a habit it is all too easy to acquire. When you look around at the world, there’s a lot about which we might complain. But, what if our complaining actually cheapens the gospel message?

This past week, my women’s Bible study group began a video study by Beth Moore entitled Taking Happy Back. It’s a free study on her YouTube channel, and you can find it here. The essential takeaway from this study is that we’re called to be a people of Good News. And yet, as a people, we seem devoted to living in a state of misery. How can we share good news from a place of misery? How can we make new disciples of Christ if our lives do not mirror the words of hope and peace that we proclaim? We can’t…and there’s the problem. We cannot share the good news of Christ with others from a place of misery. 

Sit on that statement for a minute, because this really convicted me on a lot of different levels.

We cannot share the good news of Christ with others from a place of misery.

In Isaiah 52, the prophet notes that the feet of the one brining good news are beautiful. This is because the one bringing the good news isn’t just telling people about the good news, he or she is showing, by example, what that good news looks like. The beautiful-footed messenger is physically carrying the good news of God’s salvation to those who desperately need to hear it.

In the New Testament, Jesus becomes the embodiment of this good news carrier. Jesus doesn’t just tell people about God’s love and salvation, he shows them. He walks throughout the countryside healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and even raising the dead. He is questioned. He is challenged. He is threatened. And yet, his message remains one of hope…a message of good news in both word and deed. Jesus doesn’t sit down with the disciples and complain about how challenging ministry is. He doesn’t gossip over dinner about which disciples are not pulling their weight. He doesn’t brood over the wrongs others have inflicted on him. He just keeps teaching and loving.

Jesus’s message of good news thrived because he lived it out. And my friends, I’m not sure we’re doing the same. I’m not sure we, as Jesus followers, are intentionally seeking to live an a way that is counter to what we see in our culture. We’re mean to each other, often using social media as a tool to divide rather than unite. We live in a state of entitlement, thinking that life owes us something because we work hard or push through. We judge others because it makes us feel better about ourselves, because it’s so much easier to find fault in someone else rather than ourselves. And, we are taught from an early age that any problem can be solved if you just consume more.

If we live according to the rules and mores of our culture, then we cannot effectively share the good news as Jesus taught us to do. It’s not believable. How can we talk about the great hope of Christ in one breath, then complain about the state of our world in the next? How can we speak a message of forgiveness while we hold grudges toward those who have hurt us? How can we teach others about God’s love while we tear others down for thinking differently than we do?

We cannot share the good news of Christ with others from a state of misery.

So, how do we engage the good news in a culture that seems to grow more miserable by the minute? The gospel of Mark offers us this piece of advice:

“Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!

If we truly want to live into our calling as disciples of Christ, then we must commit to change. We must willingly undergo a change of heart that then is evidenced through our actions. This means choosing joy over discouragement. It means choosing forgiveness over anger. It means choosing to see someone through the eyes of love rather than a seat of judgement. It means choosing to turn our focus from the negative to the positive.

This doesn’t mean we need to be stupidly happy. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for all circumstances, including a time to mourn, a time to be angry, and a time There’s also a time to genuinely worry and be concerned about situations. However, in the midst of our challenging circumstances, we must also be committed to trust. We must acknowledge our fears, our grief, our anger and give them to God, trusting his good news!

In this second week of Lent, I would challenge each of us to consider whether or not our lives truly reflect the good news of Christ. If not, what changes can we make to be a better witness? The world is in desperate need of a savior…and we have one in Jesus Christ.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 457: Set Your Mind

many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

Admittedly, this Scripture is an odd lead for a Monday morning. And yet, as I sip on my decadently creamy pour-over coffee made with freshly ground beans, I can’t help but think it might just be a little appropriate. The season of Lent is upon us, and for many, this involves rethinking some everyday practices and lifestyle choices. The goal of Lent, of course, is to engage in disciplines that will help us grow closer to Christ. It is a period of intentional diminishment, where we seek to identify and change those behaviors and attitudes that keep us from fully living into the person God created us to be. Lent is about demoing the house, assessing the foundation, and renovating from the inside out.

However, as with New Year’s resolutions, many of us struggle to fully commit to the process of Lenten renewal. We have great intentions, but the intentional practice of faith development gets superseded by life’s demands, our own personal issues, and a lack of desire to truly change. Like the believers Paul writes to, our minds get set on earthly things.

This weekend, after obsessively following coverage of the coronavirus all week, I felt an intense need to go to the grocery store to “stock up” on items. I elbowed my way through the melee that is suburban grocery shopping on a weekend then stopped in the near-empty condiments aisle to consider what I needed to stock up on. Do you know what came to mind? NOTHING! Truth be told, we always have a supply of beans in our pantry, our medicine cabinet has a plethora of cold and flu supplies, and a previous bout of the stomach but meant we still had plenty of disinfectant on hand. I needed nothing…and yet, because I had allowed my anxiety to take control, I was trapped in the midst of grocery store chaos instead of enjoying the beautiful sunny weather outside. I missed an opportunity to spend some time relishing the glory of our Creator God because I set my mind on my anxiety, and not God’s goodness. I’m not diminishing situations in our world about which we should truly be concerned. I am, however, suggesting that setting our mind on these issues without first giving them over to God can cause us to dwell in fear and worry instead of in the peace God provides.

Paul goes on to write to the Philippians that, instead of setting their minds on earthly things, they should set their minds on what is:

  • pure
  • just
  • holy
  • true
  • praiseworthy
  • lovely
  • excellent
  • admirable

And do you know who embodies all of these characteristics? Jesus, of course! Therefore, our minds should not be set on earthly things, but on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. When we set our minds on Jesus, we have a different focus and perspective with which we can engage the world. Peter puts it best when he writes:

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When we set our minds on Jesus, we are ready for action. We can think clearly about the situations and circumstances life throws our way. And, we can hope…completely hope….in Jesus’s grace.

As you begin your journey of diminishment this Lenten season, I want to ask you this question…

Where is your mind set?

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 456: Taking Out the Trash

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The other day, I threw a fit. I’m talking feet stomping, doors slamming, voice shouting fit. What would cause a fairly reasonable forty-something woman to engage in such childish behavior? Trash. More specifically, a trash bag ripped in half.

You see, my husband and I have a game we like to play. It’s loosely called, “Who Can Shove The Most Trash Into the Trash Bag Without Emptying the Can?” For two days, the trash bag inserted into the kitchen trash can had been at max capacity. And yet, each morning, I shoved day-old coffee grounds and paper towels deeper into the bag. My husband and our two boys did the same, until things came to a head late one afternoon.  The bag was ready to burst. Try as I might, I just could not shove one more piece of garbage into the can. Sighing, I began the arduous process of removing the bag from the can–pulling and pushing to get the overstuffed bag past the bars that are designed to hold it in place. However, the bag was literally full to bursting, and burst it did.

Prior to the burst, I had called my 11-year old into the kitchen to help. Instead of getting to help, as the bag tore apart in my clenched fists, my son was treated to the rip-roaring raging wrath of a mother who had let anger get the better of her. In the midst of his mama’s stomps, shouts, and kicks to the trash can, he humbly apologized for the bag catastrophe.

“Oh, no!” I yelled, slinging coffee grounds around the kitchen. “It’s not YOUR fault. It’s your father’s!” I grabbed my cell phone to call my husband and let him have it. Never mind that he was on a pastoral visit. This was all his fault, and he needed to know.

Fortunately, the Holy Spirit intervened as my thumb swiped across my screen to unlock the phone.

What are you doing? it gently asked. You’re making a fool of yourself in front of your son over a trash bag. You’re being dumb.

In that moment, I considered my anger. I dug deep to see if it was righteously placed. And guess what? It wasn’t. The full to bursting trash bag was as much my fault as anyone else’s. And I was setting a terrible example for my son. The truth is, I have a great husband. Is he perfect? Of course not, he’s human. But, he is perfect for me. He cooks. He cleans the kitchen. He talks to me about decisions. He talks to me–period. He lets me do whatever I want with generally very little fuss. He encourages my work, is my number one fan, and doesn’t get too upset when I make a mess of things and he has to fix it. He’s also a loving father and helps the kids with their math homework. Really, what more could you ask for in a partner?

There’s a reason that Scripture cautions us about anger. As Jame says, an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. Anger is an all-consuming fire. It burns through our souls and spreads to those around us. Anger destroys. It destroys our spirits. It destroys our relationships. It destroys our ability to problem-solve. It destroys our peace. Read what what the psalmist says about anger:

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Anger only leads to evil. Think about that for minute. Anger is a powerful emotion rooted in self-centeredness. It is a dam of self-entitlement that breaks open and drowns us in bitterness, envy, and hate. Anger consumes our reason and suffocates our ability to love, thus leading us into careless words and actions that seek to harm others. We justify our anger by placing the blame for situations that cause anger on others–making ourselves victims in the process. It’s easier to blame someone else than to take responsibility for our own culpability. However, this need for justification and descent into anger is contrary to Jesus’s teachings. Jesus cautioned against anger, focusing instead on the power of love. Where anger destroys, love builds. Where anger suffocates, love gives breath. Where anger burns, love quenches. Love is the ultimate power for good in a world that seems bent on hate.

That is not to say that there is no room for righteous anger. Jesus, himself, showed a righteous anger when he cleared the money changers from the Temple. However, righteous anger is outwardly focused. It is not based on the self, but a response to the oppression and injustice worldly powers inflict on others. Righteous anger is based in love, and an understanding that God designed the world to operate in a different way than what it currently does. Righteous anger leads to positive change. Selfish anger leads only to destruction.

This week, consider the things that make you angry. What is fueling your anger? Give your anger to God, and ask him to replace it with his love.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara