All Shall Be Well

One of my favorite Christmas hymns is Michael W. Smith’s “All is Well”. If you haven’t heard it, here’s a link to a lovely version on YouTube. While I know there are those who might feel it’s a little early to think about Christmas, I find myself drawn right now to the simple assurance this song brings…simply that because God is, then all is well.

This idea that all is well because God is present comes from a quote by English mystic theologian Julian of Norwich, who lived in the mid-to-late 1300s and early 1400s. She spent much of her life in seclusion, living in a small room within a church where she prayed and contemplated God. Throughout the course of her life, Julian documented many spiritual visions, one of which came as she was pondering the nature of sin, and grieving the idea that all sin might have been prevented if God had so chosen. In today’s terms, we might paraphrase that Julian was asking the eternal question of faith: Why do people have to suffer?

The answer which came to her is one that has provided much comfort to believers for nearly a thousand years. Julian heard Jesus say, quite clearly, that it was necessary for there to be sin, but that all shall be well…

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This refrain was repeated three times: all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. What a powerful mantra! And what an extraordinary exclamation of faith, to stand before a world that seemed to be falling apart (the plague, civil unrest, economic crisis) and proclaim that all shall be well because Jesus said so.

I think we, in this present moment, can draw a lot from Julian of Norwich’s brazen declaration of God’s goodness. We look out on a world where all does not seem to be well–far from it, in fact. Personally, I have found the crisis in Afghanistan, the devastation from natural disasters, and the continuing pandemic to be heartbreaking. Time and again, throughout the course of each day, I find myself turning to God and asking, “What can I do?” I feel powerless in the wake of so much tragedy.

But then I think about Julian of Norwich. I consider her vision. And this reminds me that we serve a God of vision. God takes a long view of history–he sees past the present to a future I cannot even mathematically fathom. From the dawn of creation God has had a plan, it’s a journey that both begins and ends in a garden, a path of reconciliation and redemption that culminates in a new heaven and a new earth where there is only light and love. And we are a part of this plan, a small brush stroke in the greater masterpiece that God is painting throughout time and space. We are invited into the vision, even though at times, it might seem like the vision is obscured, to stand at the precipice of calamity and say, with conviction, that all shall be well.

Consider Abraham, that pillar of faith. In his letter to the Romans, Paul lifts Abraham as the model of visionary leadership. When all was not well, Abraham believed that God would fulfill his promise and make Abraham the father of many nations, and it was credited to Abraham as righteousness. Paul says that:

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Abraham believed the vision, and he acted on it. He left his home, he traveled to an unknown land, he took Isaac up that mountain and prepared him for sacrifice. (I know, that one’s a struggle for me, too!) Time and again, when he should have thrown his hands up and said, “I give up!”, Abraham acted on the vision God had given him, even though he never saw the full manifestation of it.

Like Abraham, we are called to go into a world where everything is hopeless and to believe anyway. And, like Abraham, we must decide to act not on what we can do, but on what God said he would do. For some of us, that might be making monetary donations to organizations that provide relief to refugees and victims of natural disaster. For others, God might be calling us to pack up and go volunteer our hands and feet in an area where help is sorely needed to rebuild or heal or provide meals or shelter. Still others of us might be inclined to volunteer within our communities to help new neighbors settle in or be present with neighbors in need. There’s a lot we can do to further God’s vision, and no act is too small–look at what happened when the Israelites walked around a block!

I’ve been researching some ways to help Afghan refugees and victims of natural disasters. In fact, when I was writing this post, that was going to be the focus. I was going to give you concrete ways you could provide aid in these two areas. But God’s vision isn’t about how I think you might help or who I think you should help…it’s about how God is actually calling you to help those he has placed on your heart. I would encourage each of us to prayerfully consider how God might be calling us to act in our communities, and our world, to further his vision. And then to take the first step–whatever that looks like for you. Pray. Act. Repeat.

God invites us to plant the seeds of his vision, so that one day, who knows how far ahead, future generations might benefit from it. In that way, we help ensure that all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

The Garden of Salvation

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Haphazard. Functional. Low-Maintenance. These are all terms that describe my philosophy toward gardening. I know, as a life-long Midwesterner I’m supposed to have soil running through my veins. But the truth is, I just don’t really care for it. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in gardening as a theory. I’m always hopeful when spring arrives and I scour the farmer’s market looking for little green tomato shoots and florals bursting in vibrant colors. Like all diligent townfolk, my husband and I plunk down the obligatory chunk of change to fill our trunk with flowers and produce and return home with the best of intentions for off-setting our carbon footprint.

But then we look around the yard..and the flower beds need to be cleared of last year’s detritus, and it really is unusually hot for a spring afternoon, and maybe that side of the house gets too much sun for these hydrangeas, and the topsoil in the garage is too hard to work with, and wouldn’t it be lovely to just go take a walk or read a book or watch a ballgame?

In the end, as my tomato saplings begin to wilt in the spring heat, I make a mad dash to the vegetable bed, shove them into the ground, sprinkle them with some tap water and wish them well. Three months later, this is what you’d see on a visit to our backyard.

This is not the “garden of salvation” James was referring to in the opening Scripture. This is doing the least amount of work required to get a harvest. Although I prefer to look at is as encouraging plants to be self-sufficient, I wonder sometimes if the garden of salvation being cultivated in my life looks a little more like this instead of the beautiful topiary of love, joy, hope, grace, and mercy God intends it to be. Sometimes I do the bare minimum when it comes to my faith development–a haphazard prayer while I’m firing up my computer for work, a random Scripture reading as I’m waiting for the coffee to brew, a few minutes of focused worship on Sunday morning before my mind drifts off to grocery lists, schedules, or wondering why on Earth my son would wear long songs with shorts. Sometimes, my spiritual practices lack the discipline necessary to cultivate a garden of salvation. And this is exactly what James is warning his readers about in his apostolic letter.

James tells his readers not to get thrown off course.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!  James 1:22-24 (MSG)

James exhorts his readers to submit to God with humility, and to let this Master Gardener cultivate a garden of salvation with his Word. But we can’t produce a harvest in our salvation garden by doing the bare minimum. As James says, we can’t just talk a good game, sharing Jesus-y hashtags and posting Scripture pics. We have to act. We have to dig our hands deep into the gardens of our souls and pull out by the root all of those things that take us away from God. We have to take the time to water, to sit with God’s Word and meditate on it. We need to give our souls the breath of God by spending time meaningfully communicating with him, both in prayer, study, and worship. And if we do these things, then we create an environment in which God’s garden of salvation can grow. We will be, as Isaiah says, a well-watered garden.

And what will be harvested in our garden? Only the best God has to offer! There’s love, of course. And peace. Forgiveness for sure. Gallons of grace and mounds of mercy. Justice like a rolling river. Righteousness like a never-failing stream. And the abundance! We will have such a cornucopia of God’s goodness that we can’t help but share it with others, which is James’ final command in chapter 1.

Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. James 1:27 (MSG)

James does not mince words–the apostles believed that the end of days were imminently approaching, and they didn’t have time to mess around with conversational niceties. But it’s important to note that the actions James called his readers to engage in were not about making others feel ashamed or judged. Rather, James commanded his readers to reach out in service to the least of these, and to offer them the fruits from the garden of salvation, recognizing, of course, that the world is corrupt, and encouraging them to continue to practice good gardening habits so they could minister in a world that does not always follow God.

I think the same advice holds true for us. We are not to take up our pitchforks and go tearing around our communities lambasting people for perceived ungodliness. Rather, we are to fill our carts to the brim with the harvest of our salvation garden and freely pass out the produce to those who most need it. And, we need to go to the gardener over and over again, letting him tend to our souls so that once our cart is emptied, we have enough to fill it again.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

God as Cheerleader

I’ve always thought of myself as something of a cheerleader. Not the pom-pom waving, pyramid building, performance artists kind you’d find on the sidelines at football games–that would require going to a football game and jumping around– two things I’m not known for. My cheerleading is more in the form of casual encouragement. You know…a short uplifting text or note of support. An open smile and genuine compliment in conversation. My goal is to try and believe in people, to see their potential and encourage them to go for it. But while I like cheering others on, I never really thought about God doing that with us. Sometimes I think I picture God as the Queen of England. Not a well-coiffed nonagenarian who’s prone to wearing bright hats, sensible shoes, and carrying a matching handbag, but as a very reserved and rigid being who is uninterested in overt displays of emotion, especially the kind of overenthusiastic outbursts one might witness at a sporting event.

But then I read the following passage from Romans 12:

Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!  Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. Romans 12:11-12

Paul’s exuberance in serving God, and his commendation that all God’s followers adopt a like attitude made me wonder. What if God is a cheerleader? As God’s people, Scripture tells us that we can embody some of his characteristics. (Gen. 1:26) We can cultivate good fruit (Matt. 7:17), like the fruits of the Spirit. (Gal. 5:22) And if we are to serve God with great gusto and cheer, perhaps those qualities come to us from God himself. Look at how The Message puts it:

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I love the dichotomy here between being burned out and keeping ourselves fueled and aflame. Sometimes, in our quest to keep busy, we douse the flames of our faith. We get so run down, even in service to God, that our flame goes out. But Paul tells the early church members to be alert–to be on guard for burnout and to do those things that add fuel to our spiritual fire. And with this we are to remain cheerfully expectant. It’s interesting that the word which comes before expectant is cheerfully. What does that even look like?

Ten years ago, we went on our first extended family trip to Disney World. Our boys were about 2 and 4 years old, and while they understood in theory that they were going to be doing something really cool, they didn’t quite get it. To help them understand how special this trip was, we put up a Countdown to Disney calendar in their bedroom. Each night, before they went to bed, we pulled off one more page from the calendar. Even if the boys couldn’t understand exactly what the “happiest place on Earth” was, they were pumped that they were going in only 10 more sleeps! By the time we finally got to “1 more sleep “, they were downright giddy. When I think about their enthusiasm over a trip to central Florida, it helps me to understand the phrase cheerfully expectant more fully.

Paul is essentially telling us that to be cheerfully expectant is to be downright giddy about what God is going to do in our lives. More than that, I think God acts as a cheerleader pumping us up for it. When I read this passage not too long ago, it was as if I heard God clapping and calling, “You go, girl! You’ve got this!! Come on! You can do it!!!”

Hearing that voice, that enthusiasm, that cheer–it empowered me. It helped me to be cheerfully expectant about the work God had done, is doing, and will do in my life. And it made me want to share this encouragement with others, which I promptly did through the power of texting.

The gospel of Matthew tells a story about the healing of a blind man. When Jesus saw the man, he told his disciples to call the man forward. The disciples respond by saying this to the man:

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I love this! Tall about cheerful expectation!! The disciples called to the blind man–they didn’t whisper, they didn’t lean down and murmur, they called (i.e. spoke loudly) to him. The disciples were excited! They knew something amazing was about to happen. It was kind of like an awards show, in that a name was called for a big prize and lots of people cheered. But this awards show was much better produced than any awards show we might watch. Jesus called the man’s name and the disciples acted as God’s cheerleaders, leading the man to the one who could give both healing and restoration. Doesn’t it make you want to clap, too?

This is the cheerful expectation that we are supposed to live into, as well. Like the disciples, we are to go into the world seeking out those whom Jesus is calling. We’re supposed to be cheerleaders, encouraging them and assuring them that Jesus is calling. But we are not doing this alone. God is there, right in the middle of the action with us, cheering us onward as we seek to share his message of love and hope and grace with others. So wherever you go this week, whatever life puts in your path, however God is asking you to serve him, listen. Can you hear God cheering you on? He’s calling to you, encouraging…”You go, my Beloved one! You’ve got this!!”

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Dad Lessons

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A few years ago, a character in one of our favorite sitcoms was bemoaning the fact that the celebration of Father’s Day had been denigrated to one of the least important holidays of the year. Despite his best efforts, his perfect celebration of himself and his role in the family had gone wildly awry and he was left questioning the concept of fatherhood.

Father’s Day is a time to celebrate all of the men who have stepped up to make an impact on the lives of others, whether they be biological fathers, grandfathers, uncles, stepfathers, adopted fathers, teachers, mentors, brothers…and the list goes on and on. In this month’s edition of Good Housekeeping, the magazine’s team members were asked to share some reflections on their dads. Specifically, they were asked these three questions:

How am I most like my dad?

What is a favorite memory of my dad?

What have I learned from my dad?

I enjoyed reading through the responses of many of GH’s team members. It reminded me of the powerful bond that exists between parents and children–whether they be biologically related or not. So, I thought we could have an interactive celebration of Father’s Day right here. I’m going to share my answers to these three questions below, along with a picture of me and my dad. But I also want to hear from you. I’d love for you to send me your responses to these questions, too…along with a picture of you and your dad/stepdad/grandpa/uncle/brother/teacher/mentor or any other father-type figure who’s made an impact in your life. I will publish each response I get right here the week of Father’s Day. Just send me your responses and your pic in a private message on FB. You can leave your full name, first name, or even just initial. You can also click the email link on this webpage to send your response and pic. Please have all responses to me by Saturday, June 12 to ensure publication. I’m looking forward to seeing all of the ways you’ve been inspired by someone special in your life!

How am I most like my Dad?

I have my dad’s love of learning, for sure. I like digging in and getting the full why and how of any situation. I especially love history, which came from being raised by a history teacher. We did something educational on every family vacation…usually it involved touring a Civil War battlefield. I also have my Dad’s quirky and silly sense of humor. I love to laugh, and don’t take too much too seriously, which sometimes come across as irreverent.

What is a favorite memory of my dad?

This is so hard! I had the great fortune of having a wonderful dad, so there are lots of fun memories. Here’s one that encapsulates the entirety of who he was. When our oldest was about 2, Dad was “babysitting”. Our son wanted something or started climbing on something, and my dad told him very sternly, “No!” Our son immediately burst into tears, and my dad quickly followed suit. Before I knew it, the two were wiping their eyes and sharing a box of cookies. Dad never told another grandchild “No!” again.

What have I learned from my Dad?

Laugh at everything, especially yourself. Work hard, but play harder. Stay in love with God. Serve others. Never stop learning.

Before I close, I know that there are many people out there who did not have fathers who emulated God’s love for them. There are father’s who are extremely broken inside. Fathers who suffer addiction. Fathers who are emotionally closed off. Fathers who demand too much. Fathers who demand too little. Fathers who lash out in anger. Fathers who abuse their children. That’s why it’s important that we view Father’s Day as a time to also remember and celebrate the fact that we have a heavenly Father who loves us, as well. He sacrificed himself so that we might be reunited with him, and he longs to give us all of his good and perfect gifts. Where earthy father’s fall short, our heavenly Father is always there. His eyes scan the horizon for his children, much like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son. And he waits for us, with arms wide open.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Can I Get A Witness?

Mornings. You know what they’re like. There’s the mad rush to make lunches, pull clean clothes out of the dryer, round up masks, fuss over messy hair, and get the kids safely ensconced on the school bus. I pray them off as I watch them walk to the bus stop, and after they’ve boarded I retreat to the sanctity of a now quiet house. As the coffee brews, I sit on my trusty little step stool and open my Bible to spend a few minutes in Scripture before logging into work. It’s blissful…the eye of the hurricane in some ways. This morning, however, my quiet contemplation was interrupted by the sound of our Newfie frantically barking outside. Worried that he was barreling after some poor unsuspecting neighbor, I dashed out only to find him exactly where he was supposed to be. The commotion was coming from the fact that our Bassett hound was not. He was standing on point a yard over trying to engage a yellow lab further down the street. I called for him to come home, but if you’ve ever seen a Bassett on point, you know it’s a completely useless endeavor. That dog was not coming home until I went and got him. So off I went jogging down the street in the early morning light calling for my stupid dog.

A short while later, he came bounding back to me like it was a happy coincidence we both happened to find ourselves strolling down the same street on such a fine morning. I waved in a “What can you do?” sort of way to the yellow lab’s mom. Then, I looked down at myself. I should mention that, as writer, I have the privilege of working from home. And most days, it looks like it. Today I was in a bright blue t-shirt over lavender gym shorts with ruby red house slippers to round it all out. And there, in the crook of my elbow, was my Bible. Apparently in my rush to chase down my dog I had carried it with me. Anyone looking out their window at that moment would see a fashion backward crazy lady running after a dog in slippers and carrying a Bible. Yikes, I thought. What kind of a witness am I making?

The idea of witnessing has always been a difficult one for me. As Jesus people, I recognize that we are commissioned along with the disciples to be Christ’s witnesses to the world. But what does that look like? Do we have to walk up to complete strangers and ask them if they know Jesus? Do we march into people’s communities and demand that they follow our beliefs? Do we insist to those who follow a different faith that they are wrong and we are right? If so, I’ve failed miserably.

My faith isn’t something I want to force on someone. It’s not a weapon, although it has been weaponized over the centuries in some pretty awful ways. Rather, being a witness means telling someone else how you, personally, have seen God working and moving in your life. Look at how the Psalmist puts it:

Text from Bible Gateway; image from Canva

This description of witnessing is intimate. It’s a conversation about how you’ve seen God moving through your life. In this way, the act of witnessing becomes an invitation and not a demand. We speak of what we know of God, and the listener can choose what to believe.

But being a witness isn’t simply about words. It is all-encompassing. It’s about how we act, too. In Matthew, Jesus gives this wonderful definition of witness to a man he has just healed.

Text from Bible Gateway; Image from Canva

What a beautiful verse! This makes witnessing so much more approachable to me. Your cleansed and grateful life will bear witness to what I have done. Imagine that for a moment. What does a cleansed and grateful life look like? I think it is one that manifests the fruits of the Spirit. It is a life where love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control flow from us to all of those we encounter. And people can’t help but wonder at the source of it. There is so much power in the witness of a cleansed and grateful life. It is a flame that radiates the warmth of God’s love and draws all those who come near it ever closer.

I’m probably not going to lead many people to Christ running down the street early in the morning carrying a Bible. But I might be able to share something of my walk with Jesus by how I choose to interact with others. If I can get beyond myself enough to let God have more room, then I can live that cleansed and grateful life that bears witness to Jesus. What about you? How are you being a witness for Jesus?

Blessings and Peace

Sara

Acts of Love

When I was a kid, my grandparents decided to downsize from their lake home to a double-wide trailer in a semi-senior citizen trailer park. The park was nice. Quiet streets, a clubhouse, trees. But best of all, there was a community pool. I loved spending my days in the sun, splashing around in the chlorinated cornflower blue water. Sometimes my grandpa would come down to the pool with us. Never being one to bother with formality, he’d drag a poolside chair into the shallow end of the pool and sit partially covered in water while the grandkids played. But sometimes, it would be my Uncle Charlie’s job to chaperone the kids. My Uncle Charlie was special, in many ways. He loved bottle rockets, his police scanner, family get-togethers, being outside, and cursing. Just the little curse words, though, not the big ones. Due to a severe brain injury as a child, he had special needs, and he lived with and was cared for by my grandparents his entire life.

Uncle Charlie didn’t get into the pool. In fact, I’m pretty sure he couldn’t swim. If there had been an emergency, his response would have been to hop around the pool area letting loose a stream of curse words–little ones, not big. As our designated chaperone, he would pull a chair up to the side of the pool and sit, ever watchful. The second one of us went underwater he was up, leaning over the water and mouthing words we couldn’t understand. We’d emerge, spluttering and giggling, as Uncle Charlie would shake his finger and say, “Don’t do that.” Being the bratty children we were, we’d submerge ourselves again, and again Uncle Charlie would be looking anxiously down from above, waiting for us to resurface so he could tell us not to go underwater. He took his responsibility for our care seriously, even if he wasn’t going to jump in the water after us.

This past year has dampened my spirit a bit. As I look around the world, I see so much sadness. So much hurt. So much despair. It’s hard to write words of encouragement when the world seems to be on fire. God and I have had lots of conversations about this. I feel completely unequipped to share the good news of Jesus Christ in a world that seems to reject all of his teachings on a regular basis. I can’t solve racial inequality. I can’t end poverty. I can’t cure disease. I can’t make people be kind to one another. And do you know what God keeps speaking to me over and over and over again? One word. Love.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 (MSG)

Just love one another! I love this passage from The Message. Paul is giving the Thessalonians a reminder. They don’t need Paul to give them any more theology. They already know what to do. It’s what Jesus told his disciples in John 13. It’s the same thing Jesus told the crowds in Matthew 22. We know what we need to do…and Paul reminds us that we’re already good at it! If we have the love of Jesus in our hearts (way down in our hearts…remember the song?) we can’t help but love other people.

I find great comfort in Paul’s words. Sometimes I get stuck in the grand gestures. I think that if I’m not out starting a non-profit organization, devoting every second of my free time to some noble endeavor, or giving every penny I earn to a charitable organization that I’m not doing enough. I often worry that I’m not doing anything, really. Like my Uncle Charlie, I’m standing at the edge of a pool that I have no intention or ability to dive into. But that kind of thinking misses the point. Because here’s the thing…even though my Uncle Charlie wasn’t going to dive into the pool, he was there. His presence was an act of love, and his insistence that we not go underwater was him doing what he could to keep those he loved safe. He was loving us in the best way he could.

That’s how we’re supposed to love others–in the best way we can. We love others when we are present with them. We love others when we take the time to send a quick text or note. We love others when we pray for them. We love others when we treat them with dignity, regardless of their past or present circumstances. We love others when we see them, when we look them in the eye and offer a simple greeting or thank you. We love others when we forgo reposting hate filled messages to social media. We love others when we choose words that uplift instead of words that tear down. We love others when we commit to seeing each person as a child of God, regardless of race, gender, income level, educational level, religious practices, etc.

As Paul said, we know what to do. We just have to choose to do it. At the end of the day, it’s not the size of our love that matters, but the fact that we intentionally loved throughout the day that counts. If we can focus our time and energy into loving others all day long, then change is going to come. Change in our homes. Change in our communities. Change in our nation. And change in our world.

I love this verse from Romans. It’s such a great reminder of the debt that we owe one another.

Romans 13:8 (CEB)

So how do we heal the world? One act of love at a time.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

The Other Pandemic

As I sit here this morning, a day after a gunman walked into a supermarket and killed 10 people…a week after another gunman walked into three business and killed eight people…and probably just hours after countless others in our nation have been killed by gun violence, I find myself wondering, yet again, why human beings have such a capacity for destruction. Why are we so prone to inflicting harm, both on ourselves and others? I recall Jesus’ words, as he stood above Jerusalem and wept for the errant city of God.

photo: Canva, verse: BibleGateway Online

We don’t seem to want Jesus. We don’t want his grace, his forgiveness, his mercy. We don’t want his peace. We reject him again and again and again and again in an endless loop of self-ruination. Several weeks ago, I was doing my weekly grocery shopping at our local Wal-Mart. My boys had come with me and, at ages 12 and 14, were off perusing LEGO and electronics on their own. As I was walking across the store toward the LEGO section, I heard a loud bang. Instantly, my body tensed. I lifted my hands from my full cart and prepared to flee in the direction of my children. My number one thought was to get them to safety. Literally, this all took place in a second. Thank God, it wasn’t a gun. Someone had dropped something or a worker had tossed a pallet. Who knows…the point is, my automatic instinct when I heard the bang was to think there was someone shooting. We left quickly after that, checking out and piling our groceries in the back of the van. But I was shaken. I’m not prone to overreaction. I think. I reason. I generally choose to look on the bright side of things. But the truth is, I have come to expect violence in public places. Whenever we enter an enclosed public space, I always have an exit plan. I’ve been trained, literally, in how to respond in an active shooter situation. Did you know that all schoolteachers in America are trained for such a thing? I don’t know about you, but this is not the way I want to live. And I’m almost positive it’s not what Jesus wants for us, either.

Jesus told us time and again why he came. It was to give life. To give light. To save. To restore.

All of Jesus’s plans for us can essentially be summed up in John 10:10.

The dichotomy here is clear. There is one who brings destruction. And there is one who brings life. The enemy destroys. Jesus saves. But for what kind of life are we saved? It’s not one of drudgery, of going through the motions, of getting through one day so you can get up and do it all over again the next. Jesus wants us to have an abundant life…a full life rich in the fruits of the Spirit. Jesus wants to bring us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in such a way that the table of our soul groans under their weight. This is abundant living. But how do we get there? What kind of offering is love in the face of horror? How do we reconcile the way the world is to the glorious kingdom God intends it to be? What are we supposed to do?

As Jesus people, I think we have to be able to answer these questions. I think we have to wrestle with the hardness of life to have an understanding of who God is and who he calls us to be. This Lenten season, I’ve been undertaking a study of the book of Job. Job and his friends wrestle with these questions, and in the wake of Job’s horrific suffering they examine their theologies to find them utterly useless. The prevailing theology of the time was that God rewarded the righteous and punished the wicked. Therefore, Job was wicked. But Job was a righteous man. He didn’t deserve the tragedy that befell him. He knows he is innocent. And like Job, many victims of tragedy in our world today are innocent. We cannot stand on a theology of retribution because it falls apart in the face of suffering. The predestination-driven theology of “God’s plan” is equally problematic. Anyone who has stood beside a person experiencing tragedy can tell you that is not something God ever intended anyone to carry. While he can turn our grief into a fragrant offering, I reject the idea that he purposely causes it.

So where does that leave us? Do we just accept the fact that the world is a mess and go on about our business? I don’t think so. To accept violence, injustice, racism, poverty, cancer, addiction, etc. is to ignore God’s mission for our lives. God calls us, like the disciples, to share the gospel–the “good news” of Jesus Christ. Instead of throwing our hands up in the air, we need to use them to reach out. We need to acknowledge the hurt in the world and then look to the Gospels to do something about it. In the wake of continued violence, we do need to bring love. But it’s love that needs to be rooted in action.

For me, it goes back to John Wesley’s 3 rules for living:

I think if we can internalize these three practices, we will be well on our way to embodying the fruits of the Spirit and cultivating that abundant life Jesus promised. We should be about building up, not tearing down. We should be about creating, not destroying. In the face of unspeakable violence, we should be taking action for peace, not surrendering to destruction. I believe the world can be a better place, because I know the one who created it. I believe that we, as human beings, can be people of life and not destruction because God breathed his own breath into our lungs. But we have to act. We have to take a stand. We have to lead into a brighter future by following the path of Jesus.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

NIV Beautiful Word Coloring Bible for Girls AND NIV Beautiful Word Bible Journal-Mark: A Review

As most of you know, I love Bibles. I have an entire shelf of them at home–different translations and editions for different purposes. Several years ago, I applied to be part of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid. I didn’t expect much of it, just thought it would be another avenue to get my blog out into the world. But, one of the coolest things about being a member of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid is that I get to review Bibles. I love getting new Bibles the same way other bloggers love getting to review new clothes. It’s so much fun!!

This month, I got to review TWO new products from Zondervan: The NIV Beautiful Word Coloring Bible for Girls AND the NIV Beautiful Word Bible Journal–Mark. As always, these were provided free of cost by the publisher for the purpose of review. The opinions are mine alone (kind of–keep reading).

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The NIV Beautiful Word Coloring Bible for Girls is exactly what it sounds like. Actually, it’s a lot more, because not only does it come with lovely pictures to color, it includes stickers and a set of colored pencils. According to the publisher:

Created especially for girls ages 8 to 12, this beautiful Bible, sticker sheets and coloring pencil set provides the tools for young artists to express themselves.Girls will get creative through coloring and journaling in the NIV Beautiful Word™ Coloring Bible for Girls. Included are pencils to color, blend and shade the detailed line art surrounding hundreds of inspiring verses. This Bible gift set is perfect for the special young girl in your life and will become a cherished keepsake full of personalized creative expressions of faith.

Because I am the lone woman in a house of men, I decided to get some help with this review from a young friend from church. She used this Bible and gave me her notes. As she is the target audience, I wanted to include her notes here. Consider this an expert opinion:

~The Bible is super pretty! (Almost too pretty to color in.)

~I like the color of the Bible.

~I like the size of the Bible.

~I like how the table of contents is organized.

~I like how they put pictures and places where you can take notes on the sides.

~I like that it has scriptures on the sides and they stretch out the letters.

~Love the texture of the pages.

~The pencils are kind of thick, so maybe use my own.

She closes with the following:

If you read this Bible, go to page 924 and read this…”This very night before the rooster crows you will disown me three times.” Matthew 26:34. This is my favorite Scripture. Read all the things on the sides.

If you know of a girl who might be interested in this Bible, you can find it on sale now at the Bible Gateway Faith store. Here’s the link: NIV Beautiful Word Coloring Bible for Girls. Shipping is free!

NIV Beautiful Word Bible Journal-Mark

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This small book would make a great gift for anyone who is interested in doing some Bible journaling, but maybe isn’t sure how to get started. The book of Mark is the shortest of all the Gospels. Mark doesn’t waste time in details, but gets straight to the point. The Bible itself has lots of space for journaling, and some beautiful artistic drawings of Scriptures. Here’s the information from the publisher:

The NIV Beautiful Word Bible Journal, Mark, includes the full text of the book of Mark, along with verse art and wide margins for journaling. As fans of Beautiful Word have come to expect, the colorful, illustrated art and uplifting imagery encourage a deeper and more inspired quiet time. The single-book format and slim paperback size make it easy to carry this Bible journal anywhere. 

The NIV Beautiful Word Bible Journals are set in Zondervan’s exclusive NIV Comfort Print® typeface for smooth reading. Expertly designed to be used for the New International Version (NIV) text, Comfort Print offers an easier reading experience that complements the most widely read modern-English Bible translation. The art inside is from the NIV Beautiful Word Bible, Updated Edition, along with new illustrated verses created specifically for this Bible journal. 

Zondervan has several of these individual books from the New Testament, Pauline letters, and the Psalms. If you need a nice gift for someone, or want to encourage the reading of Scripture, these would be perfect. And, they, too, are on sale at the Bible Gateway Faith Store. 😉

Whatever version of the Bible you read, keep digging into the Word of God.

#saramsnyder.com

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Doorknob Dilemmas

Our front doorknob wasn’t turning. Some mechanism within was stuck, and no matter how much force we exerted on it, the knob simply wouldn’t turn. It happened on a week when my husband was really busy. So, in an effort to solve a more hands-on problem without his help (not something I am particularly adept at), I bought a new doorknob. I sat down in front of the front door with my new knob and some screwdrivers. The box said “easy installation”. But then I opened the instructions.

“What the heck?” I thought, as I looked at the myriad pictures and letters and all sorts of verbiage that made absolutely no sense to me. I called my 12-year old from the couch to help me decipher the strange code in front of me. He couldn’t do it. Undeterred, I pulled out my phone and went to that fount of all knowledge–Google. Finding a set of instructions that made sense, I began the task of removing the doorknob. Fast forward about 45 minutes. The knob, which was supposed to have a click mechanism for easy removal, was not removed. I had removed every other part of the lock except the knob. Frustrated and tired of my home improvement project, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I grabbed a pair of my husband’s pliers and pulled and twisted and cut through metal until the rosette part of the knob was removed. Pulling up a video on YouTube made by a very comforting grandma-type figure who explained things clearly and precisely, I was finally able to spot the little hole with click mechanism to release the knob from the door. Success!

Replacing the knob was pretty simple, and although it doesn’t quite shut the way it’s supposed to (sigh) it at least turns and allows us both entry into and exit out of our house.

Needless to say, I am not a very patient person. If something doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, my default mechanism is to throw/beat/push/pull the object until it finally does what I think it ought to do. My impatience leads to anger, and instead of solving the problem in a quick and effective manner, I only end up making it worse. This is why we’ve had to buy new remotes, garage door openers, and an occasional lawn mower. I don’t want to patiently figure things out, I just want them to work.

Here’s the rub with impatience…it always leads to a bigger mess than what you started with.

This is why patience is a fruit of the Spirit. It has to be cultivated, over time, in relationship with God. God is infinitely patient. It’s the reason we, as humans, still exist. If God was not patient, he would have wiped us all out millennia ago. Fortunately for us, God is patient. His plans unfold with slow precision…each step carefully calculated to reveal itself at the appropriate time. God is in the long-game. And if we want to participate with him in building his kingdom, we need to cultivate the art of patience. So, how do we learn patience? The same way we learn to exhibit any fruit of the Spirit…we spend time with the Gardener. When we spend time with God, he imbues his Spirit within us. Patiently he works in our hearts, so that eventually there is more of him and less of us. In time, we bear fruit, including the fruit of patience.

Proverbs 14:29 states:

Patience leads to abundant understanding,
    but impatience leads to stupid mistakes.

I had a cool graphic ready for this verse. However, the computer I’m working on didn’t want to download it. In an effort to cultivate patience, I’m choosing to be okay with that. I’m letting it go, secure in the knowledge that the meaning is more important than the design.

This week, choose patience. See what God might start to cultivate in you.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

It’s the Little Things…

A couple of weeks ago, an email was sent to our team of writers at work about the importance of space. I mean literally, the space on a document. Writers were inadvertently adding an extra space between two different portions of text, and this extra space was adding lots of extra steps for our loaders who take our curriculum from Word documents to online content. Just adding one extra space to the text made tons of extra work for the loaders. Something I didn’t even think about was adding time, effort, and frustration to someone else. Space matters. Who knew?

As I considered the idea that inadvertently hitting the “return” key one extra time would add so much work for someone else, it dawned on me that the converse is true, too. Little things can make a big difference, for good or for ill. Jesus talked about this in the parable of the mustard seed in Matthew 13.

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Notice how Jesus says that the seed of the mustard plant will grow taller than any garden plant. That’s because it’s a weed. Mustard is an invasive plant, like dandelions or clover. Once it takes root, it just keeps on spreading until the entire field or yard is covered. Most gardeners want to cut out invasive weeds before they get started, but Jesus compares the entire kingdom of heaven to a weed. Jesus tells his followers that the kingdom of heaven is something that, once it takes root, will spread like wildfire throughout the land. Unlike weeds, God’s kingdom isn’t coming to choke the life from the garden, but to give new life. See how the mustard plant becomes a place where other creatures can come and nest. In this way, the kingdom of God nurtures. It replaces what is with something that is bigger and brighter and more inviting.

Jesus continued his discourse on mustard in Matthew 17. The disciples had just failed in their attempt to force a demon out of a boy and they asked Jesus what they had done wrong. Jesus replied, you didn’t have enough faith. But he doesn’t leave it at that. He goes on to further rebuke their lack of faith by telling them that if they had had the faith of even a mustard seed, they would have been successful. What Jesus was really saying to his disciples was, “Guys…you’re not even trying.” Had they utilized any of the power that Jesus made available to them, they would have been able to do far more than they could ever imagine. A little faith can go a long way…but we have to utilize it.

Just like the mustard seed, a little faith can turn into a full-grown plant that, once rooted, spreads rapidly throughout our communities. Jesus calls us, like his followers, to be like weeds. We are to spread the kingdom of God wherever we are, and we often do this by small acts of faith. Something as simple as taking a loaf of fresh baked bread to a neighbor can open the door to spreading the love of God to those around us. That’s because once we start acting, others start acting, too. You take a loaf of bread to your neighbor. Your neighbor sends an encouraging note to a co-worker. Your neighbor’s co-worker makes some extra time for his son. And that son helps another student who is struggling at school. You get the idea. Mustard plants spread. Small acts make a big difference. And, if we do it all as an act of faith, God moves mountains.

This week, ask God what small acts you can do to make a big difference for his kingdom. Remember….

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Blessings and Peace,

Sara