If we say that we share in life with God and keep on living in the dark, we are lying and are not living by the truth. But if we live in the light, as God does, we share in life with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus washes all our sins away. If we say that we have not sinned, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth isn’t in our hearts. 1 John 1:6-8 (CEV)
This weekend, my husband and I worked together to do some much-needed spring cleaning. I tackled the upstairs while he worked on our boys’ basement lair. It’s amazing what a solid hour and a half of picking up, sorting, organizing and sweeping can do! If you know me at all, you know that cleaning is not one of my fortes. I joke that it’s not a “spiritual gift” I was given. That said, I do really enjoy vacuuming.
We got a new vacuum cleaner last year, a Shark DuoClean upright vacuum, and this baby does it all. It’s lightweight, works on both carpet and hardwood/linoleum, tackles pet hair and children, has bright LED lights on the front so you can see into dark corners, is flat enough to sneak under furniture, and easily detaches from the base so you can vacuum anything, anywhere. As my boys like to quip, the Shark vacuum really “sucks”.
I think the think I love most above vacuuming is that you see an immediate difference, especially when you have light carpets. What was dingy and flat moments before is suddenly bright and full-bodied once again. As I vacuumed this weekend, I started thinking about the fact that sometimes we need to do some spring cleaning in our souls. Like our carpets, our souls can gather dust and dirt that corrodes our spirit and draws us away from God. We hold onto things like anger, bitterness, disappointment, and despair. We focus on the acquisition and consumption of material things, building a desire for bigger, better, and more that turns our attention from the work God calls us to. We embed fears and anxieties, always nervously looking to the potential “what ifs” rather than the present “what is”. We also sprinkle onto our souls our own negative self-talk; those internal voices that scream we’re not good enough, pretty enough, popular enough, smart enough, skinny enough, kind enough, etc.
This is not the way God designed our souls to be. God doesn’t want us to live with souls that are dingy and flat with the weight of all the world’s negativity. Rather, God wants to infuse our souls with his light. God wants to use his grace and love to restore our souls to the bright and full-bodied condition they were in when he formed us. But to do that, we’ve got to do some spring cleaning ourselves. Note what John says in the Scripture above: If we live in the light, we share in life with each other. There’s a two-fold process here. First, we live in the light. This means that we follow God’s law, as revealed to us through Jesus Christ. We practice love, we worship God, we stand up for those who are oppressed, we speak in truth and kindness, we practice humility, we forgive. John says that if we do these things, then we share in life with each other. The Christian journey is not a solitary experience. God wants us to share it with others. But, to have that experience of a shared faith, we need to practice our faith. The Message puts it this way:
If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth—we’re not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin.
God has already redeemed us from our sin. Jesus’ death on the cross washed our souls, and his resurrection from the grave gave us new life. But, we have to choose to walk the path of light and life instead of continuing to stumble around in the dark.
This week, I challenge you to spend some time engaged in soul cleaning. Identify those things you’re holding onto that keep you from fully living in the light of God’s love and grace. Then, ask God to help you remove them from your life, so that you can experience spiritual renewal this Eastertide.
Blessings and Peace,
The body of Christ has many different parts, just as any other body does. Some of us are Jews, and others are Gentiles. Some of us are slaves, and others are free. But God’s Spirit baptized each of us and made us part of the body of Christ. Now we each drink from that same Spirit. Our bodies don’t have just one part. They have many parts. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (CEV)
Anyone who knows me well knows that I love movies. I was about 10 when I began really studying film, watching classic movies and reading movie star biographies. To me, film is art in motion. I love the stories that are developed using light and shadow, music, dialogue, and camera techniques. A good film always shares a theme that resonates beyond the screen and touches some facet of our lives.
Last night, as we watched the 90th presentation of the Academy Awards, I was really struck by the continuous reference to diversity. Time and again presenters and award winners spoke of the need for diversity and equality within the film industry, and society. As I watched the call for diversity be made over and over again, I thought to myself, “Why are we still talking about diversity in 2018?” Of course, I know why. It’s because in 2018, people are still treated differently based on their color, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and even political and religious beliefs.
It’s disheartening, really, to think about how far we’ve come in technological advancements, but how little we’ve progressed when it comes to inclusivity. But even as I type that statement, I can’t help thinking about my boys. My boys are 9 and 11 years old. Like many boys, they love superhero movies. When the Black Panther was first introduced as a primary character in the Marvel movie universe a few years ago, my boys were thrilled. They thought the Black Panther was everything a superhero should be–cool, wise, just, tough, and adept at witty repartee. They couldn’t wait for Black Panther to get his own movie, and my oldest gave it almost 5 stars after he saw it.
My boys had no real concept that Black Panther was the first black superhero given a full-length feature film. I’m not sure they even thought about the fact that the Black Panther featured a predominately black cast. They had the same reaction when Wonder Woman first hit screens this summer. Wonder Woman’s gender was a non-issue for them. They simply liked her character.
You see, somewhere along the line my boys have come to understand that people are people, no matter the labels the world so eagerly plasters on each of us, and that understanding gives me hope.
My husband is preaching a Lenten series titled “What Love Does”, and as I reflect on the actions of love this morning, it comes to me that Love is inclusive.
Before I go any further, I want to be clear that I’m not talking about the political dynamics of inclusivity. Inclusivity isn’t a political principle for Democrats and Republicans to square off on, although as humans we’ve probably turned it into that. Rather, inclusivity is an intentional practice of love that shows others a part of God’s nature and character.
As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians, we all drink from the same Spirit, no matter our background. God’s love is inclusive. Therefore, Love is inclusive.
Jesus modeled the practice of inclusivity in his earthly ministry. Jesus:
- called disciples from diverse backgrounds
- offered salvation to a Samaritan woman outcast in her own society
- touched both those who were ceremonially unclean and contagious
- healed the daughter of a Roman soldier
- dined with Zacchaeus, a tax collector, and other people considered to be highly sinful
- allowed an unidentified woman to anoint his feet with oil in the middle of a fancy dinner
- offered the gifts of salvation and forgiveness to a Pharisee
- allowed children to come into his presence and be blessed
- forgave the sins of anyone who came to him, regardless of their way of life
- redeemed a thief hanging beside him on a cross
Paul continued the practice of inclusivity in his work. He ministered to both Greeks and Romans, fought against traditional laws that inhibited faith development, allowed women to be in some sort of leadership position, lived with those considered unclean, and ministered to a diverse array of people.
Jesus spoke to Peter about inclusivity, as well. When Peter was confronted with the prospect of eating unclean food with a Gentile, Jesus showed Peter that nothing God makes is unclean. Rather, it is humanity that defiles the goodness of God.
Inclusivity is not easy; unfortunately, it seems to go against our human nature. I see this in myself, in those times when I want to shut out people who hold vastly different views, beliefs, or opinions than I have. Sometimes, when I engage in a conversation with someone who thinks or believes differently than I do, I find myself thinking, “So, we’re not ever going to be friends.” Then I feel a light push in the small of my back and hear the gentle, but firm whisper of God saying, “Don’t be a hypocrite.” Love is inclusive.
The world tells us that it’s easier to be in relationship with like-minded people. The world tells us that different is dangerous; different means less wealth, less power, less status, less room for us. But that’s a lie that comes straight from the enemy’s mouth.
The truth is, inclusivity is not hard. But to practice inclusivity, we have to be willing to understand the heart of people, not just the surface. And understanding the heart takes time and effort. I think it also takes grace.
This week, as you go through you day to day routines, I would challenge you to think about inclusivity. Where is God calling you to step out of your comfort zone and show his love to someone who is “other” than you? How is God calling you to confront your own prejudices and exclusivity? How can you work this week to show the world that Love is inclusive?
Blessings and Peace,
Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. 1 John 3:18
Last year, I installed the Bible Gateway app on my phone. I’ve been a big fan of Bible Gateway for years. It’s an amazing resource that includes numerous translations of the Bible, reading plans, study guides, and all sorts of other great Bible reading tools. Bible Gateway allows me to really dig into Scripture. I love being able to look at 3-4 translations of a single verse on one page.
One of the things I love about the app is the Verse of the Day. As a working mom, I don’t always have 30-40 minutes where I can sit down and read my Bible. However, with the Bible Gateway app, I’ve always got Scripture in the palm of my hand. The Verse of the Day feature allows me to quickly access a meaningful passage of Scripture that I can then carry with me and meditate on as I’m going through my daily routine. Let me give you an example.
Monday, I was rushing around getting my boys ready for school. I clicked on my Bible Gateway app and read the Verse of the Day: 1 John 3:18. I have my Verse of the Day set to the CEB version of the Bible, so this is what I read:
Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.
I thought about this Scripture a lot throughout the day. I thought about Jesus, and the ways that he interacted with others. In my mind, I watched as Jesus placed his hands on the blind beggar and gave the beggar sight. I saw Jesus holding children, their innocent faces smiling up at him, while the disciples looked on in disproval. I remembered Jesus breaking the bread at the Passover meal, passing it to each of his disciples, and declaring that this bread was his body which would be broken for us.
You see, Jesus’ actions displayed an important truth about the nature of God’s love. Love is touching the untouchables. Love is valuing those society tells us to dismiss as unimportant or inconsequential. Love is sacrificing so that others may live.
Do you see the correlation between action and truth? Our actions show the world what we believe to be true. And Jesus’ actions revealed the truth of God’s love.
As I continued to ponder this verse, I remembered a story someone shared with me several years ago. A group of college professors and administrators sat on an educational board of directors. One year, as new members were appointed to the board, people started noticing that all of the board members were men. This was troubling for some members of the college staff, who felt like the makeup of the board did not reflect the diversity the college proclaimed to hold so dear. As the board looked for a way to address this issue, one staff member made a bold suggestion. “Perhaps one of the board members should step down to open up a space for a woman.”
This suggestion was met with complete silence. Everyone looked at their feet, hoping for the awkward moment to pass. You see, for all of their talk about the importance of diversity, not one board member was willing to relinquish his power to put the college’s belief into practice. In that moment, power became a more important truth than diversity.
Our actions show the world what we truly believe.
Living out the truth of God’s love is hard. Honestly, I probably get it wrong more days that I get it right. God’s love is countercultural. God’s love chooses humility over power. It chooses poverty over wealth. It chooses the least of these over the most popular or successful. It chooses personal sacrifice over personal gain.
God calls us to live in truth. This week, I challenge each of us to spend some time thinking about our actions. What truths or beliefs do our actions reveal? How might we act in a way that truly embodies the truth of God’s love?
Blessings and Peace,
I have to admit, I have been a bit lazy with posting this month. I’ve had lots of writing projects come across my desk, and have been busy developing courses, writing assessment items, and reviewing media.
So today, I’m cheating a bit. I’m reposting a blog post from several years ago about love. Tis the season for it, right? The truth is, as Jesus followers, love should be a way of life for us. And yet, we often let our own feelings, judgmental natures, and pettiness get in the way of practicing love. Today, as I make something old new again, consider love. What is it? What does it look like? And how do you practice it in a way that reveals Christ to others?
Blessings and Peace,
This past weekend, we went to St. Genevive, Missouri for the wedding of my husband’s cousin to a lovely young woman. The ceremony was held under the domed ceiling of a beautiful, ornate cathedral–the oldest cathedral west of the Mississippi I believe. It was simple, yet elegant and the bride and groom both glowed with the warmth of love they held for one another. One of the scripture passages used in the service was the same one my husband and I chose to have read on our wedding day almost six years ago. It has become one of my favorites:
Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new. God has done it all! He sent Christ to make peace between himself and us, and he has given us the work of making peace between himself and others. 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 (CEV)
It’s New Year– that magical time of hope and possibility when we celebrate blank spaces on calendars, the return of fruits and veggies to our diets, and increased gym memberships. January is that glorious month when we resolve to be better versions of ourselves. February is when we finally succumb to wine and chocolate.
I’m not mocking New Year’s resolutions. I think they can be a very powerful tool for self-improvement. However, it’s important to understand why we’re resolving to eat healthier, exercise more, spend less, be kinder, forgive, etc…The fundamental question we should be considering in the New Year isn’t how we are going to change; rather, we should be considering whether or not we really want to change.
Change is hard work. It requires a shift in mindset, and because our brains are hardwired in patterns of behavior, shifting our mindset takes a lot of time and practice. Paul understood this. When Paul encountered Jesus on the Damascus road, his entire life changed. But, it didn’t happen overnight. When Paul was re-gifted his ability to see, it was just the beginning of a long and arduous process of change. Paul left behind his power, his wealth, his family, and even his name to follow Christ. While Paul became a new creation in Christ, his life became immensely more complicated and difficult than it had been before.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the process of change. He told them that in Christ, they were made new. However, there’s a caveat. Look at the passage again:
Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new. God has done it all! He sent Christ to make peace between himself and us, and he has given us the work of making peace between himself and others.
In order to become a new creation, you first have to let go of the past. And, once you’ve managed to set aside the dreams, hurts, ambitions, fears, disappointments, and even joys of the past, you still have work to do. Paul writes that God sent Christ to make peace between himself and us. Therefore, as God’s new creation, we are called to continue that work Jesus began–going into the world and making peace between God and others. The Message puts it this way:
God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.
As Christians, we’re Christ’s representatives in the world. Being a new creation in God means going about the work of reconciliation–reconciliation with ourselves, reconciliation with others, reconciliation with God. But again, in order to be God’s new creation, we have to want to change. We have to want the reconciliation, and then we have to work to help bring it about.
I’ve thought a lot about change in this New Year….about what it might look like to live as a new creation in God in 2018. I’ve decided to adopt John Wesley’s second rule of living as my motto for 2018: Do good. Wesley’s call to “Do good” goes beyond basic human decency to “doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men…” (John Wesley, “The Nature, Design, and General Rules of Our United Societies”, umc.org.) For me, this includes practicing goodness and mercy in actions, thoughts, and words–not always an easy task for an opinionated know-it-all! 🙂
So, whatever you resolve to do this New Year, I encourage you to first ask yourself if you really want to change. Then, pray about how and why you and God might work together as you become a new creation.
Blessings and Peace,
He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, human one! Say to the breath, The Lord God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live.” Ezekiel 37:9
I’ve seen a lot of posts in the blogosphere this Advent season about the importance of breathing. With the rush of holiday fever that sweeps our culture this time of year, it’s easy to get busy and stressed and forget to just breathe.
I love taking deep breaths. Did you know that three deep breaths are all it takes to shut off the stress mechanisms in your brain? Three deep breaths can clear your head and help you focus, calm down, and begin again. It feels good to breathe deeply–to fill your lungs full to bursting with oxygen. But for me, the real payoff of breathing deeply is the exhale. When you exhale, oxygen is propelled from the lungs through the veins until your entire body feels blissfully empty and light.
There’s release in the exhale. Where breathing in is about consumption, exhaling is about letting go. It’s a time to rid ourselves of the impurities in the world around us. When we exhale, we release the worry, anxiety, fear, anger, bitterness, sadness, and stress that can bind us. Exhaling allows us to empty out the negative so that we can breathe in afresh all of God’s love, mercy, and grace.
Advent is a season we should spend practicing the art of exhaling. Think of it as making room at the inn for the Christ child. Advent is a time when we can exhale our brokenness. Advent is a time when we can exhale our need for control. Advent is a time when we can exhale our desire for more stuff. Advent is a time when we can exhale the trappings of the world, so that we can then inhale the glorious gifts of God.
As you go about this hectic holiday season, I encourage you to practice the art of exhalation. Take some time to focus on your breathing. Push out all of those negative feelings and thoughts. Expel the stress and expectations of the season. Instead, focus on making room for the coming of the King.
Blessings and Peace,