Confession 410: Love Goes Where Passion Cannot

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

fire in jar

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

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

heart on wood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 (CEV)

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

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

heart on path

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

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

The list goes on and on…

Love leads us where passion cannot go.

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

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

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

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Confession 395: Some Thanksgiving Thoughts on Imperfection and Grace

We have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding. Ephesians 1:7-8 (CEB)

images-12

When my oldest was in first grade, I forgot to send his lunch to school not once–but twice.  Twice–in less than a month!  My son is on the Autism spectrum and is a very picky eater.  He has, since kindergarten, taken a crustless peanut butter sandwich and two Oreo cookies for lunch each day of school.

After the second no lunch day (my son wept in the cafeteria and the school resource officer made him a sandwich) his teacher emailed me with the concern that my son wasn’t getting enough to eat.

I was mortified.  What kind of parent forgets to send lunch with their kid?  Apparently, this one.

We live in a society obsessed with perfection, so much so that what we see presented as an ideal in a magazine, on T.V. or even in social media isn’t actually reality.  Photos get doctored, news gets distorted and social media posts are carefully orchestrated to show us at our best.

We tiptoe carefully around our imperfections to avoid the judgment and condemnation of others struggling with their imperfections.  The danger of striving for perfection by masking imperfection is that we  lose the very essence of who we are in the process.  Human beings are born into imperfection.  Although you probably can’t scientifically prove it, it’s part of the fabric of our DNA.  And being imperfect is actually a really good thing!

dandelion

Imperfection is the foundation of knowledge.  Most of us learn far more from our mistakes than we do our successes.  Imperfection can also be a great motivator for achievement.  A scientist finds a great way to treat cancer, but there are flaw.  Another scientist can use those flaws to build an even better treatment.

As Jesus people, our imperfections are a means of experiencing God’s grace.  Grace is, by definition, the “unedited favor of God”.  It is forgiveness, mercy, love and justice all rolled into one.  Grace is God’s gift to his children–his perfect love extended to us even though we are imperfect. God’s grace pours over us in our imperfection with wisdom and understanding. Grace is God saying, “I love you. I’m with you. Let’s keep going.

As you enter into Thanksgiving this week, take some time to give thanks for your imperfections.  Accept the fact that you’re human, and that it’s okay.  Ask God to help you experience his grace as it pours into your life.

Then, extend that grace to those gathered around your Thanksgiving table.  Let them know how much you love them, imperfections and all.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 358: Anticipation

He [John] will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the sprit and power of Elijah.  He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking.  He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.  Luke 1: 17 (CEB)

Several months ago, my boys had their first overnight with a friend.  They waited in eager anticipation for the arrival of their guest–standing at the door a full twenty minutes before the expected entrance to make sure he would get a warm welcome.  Games were laid out, toys carefully chosen, activities planned and sleeping arrangements determined well in advance.  In their excitement about this most special occasion, the boys weren’t just ready–they were completely and abundantly prepared.

Anticipation is a word that conveys an eager expectation of something.  Generally, it is positive.  There is something good that is coming up and we are excited about it.

Advent is a season of anticipation. We eagerly prepare our houses for the coming of Christmas–decorating trees, hanging stockings, stringing lights, baking sweets, and wrapping gifts.  Like my boys, we completely and abundantly prepare for the arrival of family and friends.  But I wonder, in our sometimes manic preparations for Christmas Day, do we miss what should be the most anticipated event of all?

Are we really waiting in eager anticipation of the coming of Christ?  Are we completely and abundantly preparing our hearts for a renewed encounter with the King?  For this is what the gift of Advent truly is–an opportunity for us to prepare for a visit with God our Creator.

Advent isn’t a season of passively waiting.  Like John the Baptist, we must be working to prepare the way for the coming of the King.  John lived in anticipation of the coming of Christ by making ready a people prepared for the Lord.  The people of Israel weren’t prepared for Christ.  They didn’t understand how far they had fallen from God.  Their hearts weren’t open to Christ’s message of love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace.  They needed time to prepare for Christ’s coming; time to repent, time to listen, time to grow.

When we truly practice Advent, we must actively make ready our hearts for the coming of the Lord.  We, too, must repent.  We must listen.  We must grow.  Our focus must be fixed firmly on God–reading his word, singing his praises, ministering to those in need.  We must approach this season with anticipation, fully expecting to have an encounter with the risen Lord.

Over the next few weeks, I would encourage you to spend some time in anticipation.  Make ready your heart for the Lord.  And watch for him.  He often shows up in the most unexpected places.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 258: Gratitude

This post was originally published on November 21, 2012.  I’m running a bit behind this week, and this is still true for me today.  Blessings and Peace–Sara

When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfill his vow,  Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always.”
“Do what seems best to you,” her husband Elkanah told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the Lord make good his word.”
So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.
After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh.   
When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him,
“Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.  I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.  So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”
1st Samuel 1:21-28

November is the month of gratitude.  It is the time we set aside before our season of self-indulgent excess to give thanks for all of the blessings we have.  And, for many of us in the United States, those blessings are abundant.  I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude lately.  I’ve been thinking about what it means to be truly grateful.  And I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a big difference between giving thanks and showing gratitude.  Thanks is easy.  It’s rote.  Someone opens a door for you and you say, “Thank you.”  You don’t even have to make eye contact.  My six year old son thanks me almost every morning for his apple juice in between large gulps.  He doesn’t even raise his head from the cup.  Don’t get me wrong—I appreciate that he says it.  But other than showing me he can be polite, it doesn’t mean much.

I think most of us can come up with a list of things we are thankful for.  I’m guessing if I asked you, yours would look a lot like mine.  I’m thankful for my husband, my children, my family, my friends.  I’m thankful for a job, for benefits, for a house, for food, for transportation.  I can say, “Thanks.”  The question I’ve been asking myself this year, however, is: Can I be grateful?  Can I look at my life and say to God, “You have given me more than enough.”  Can I let my gratitude fuel my actions?

The difference between giving thanks and showing gratitude, to me, is in the application of the sentiments.  While thanks is something we say, gratitude is something we do.  It is an action of appreciation we take when we are truly grateful for the blessings in our lives.  It is our cup running over and pouring out love to someone else.  

Gratitude is what Hannah showed when she took her most treasured gift, her long prayed for/longed for/agonized for son to the Tabernacle and gave him to God.  This child, Samuel, was the only thing Hannah had ever wanted.  Can you imagine the joy that filled her soul the day he was born?  Can you imagine how cherished he was?  How loved he was?  She could have said, “Thanks,” and moved on.  But instead, she chose to give something out of the fullness of her heart.  In gratitude, she handed Samuel over to Eli the priest, to be raised in service to the Lord.  She gave back to God what God had so graciously given to her.  And what amazing plans God had in store for Samuel!

The question I’m left with as I end this reflection is this: How can I show my gratitude for the blessings in my life?  For me, this means taking the time to literally show the people I love that I am grateful for them.  It means taking the resources God has given to me and using them to benefit others.  It means slowing down and enjoying what I already have.  It means taking my “more than enough” and giving it back to God for use in His service.

Gratitude is hard.  It puts others first.  It goes against the grain of our culture.  But I think, if I can get it—if I can show it—then my life is going to be a little more fulfilled.
Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Confession 355: Distractions

While Jesus and his disciples were traveling, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest.  She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his message. By contrast, Martha was preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.”

 The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:38-42

The other day, I needed to switch a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer.  As I was passing through the kitchen, I saw that the dishwasher was finished.  I opened the door of the dishwasher to let the condensation dry before putting dishes away.  I also noticed some clutter on the counters and decided to remove it.  After the clutter was gone, I thought it would be nice to wipe the counters clean.  That finished, my mind turned to dinner, and I went into the garage to grab some chicken to thaw.  As I was preparing to place the frozen chicken in the sink, I realized I needed to clear the sink out.  That meant emptying and refilling the dishwasher.  It wasn’t until that evening, after dinner was over, that I remembered there was still wet laundry waiting in the wash.

Distraction happens–especially to those of us not blessed with the gift of organization.  We go to the grocery store for milk and come home with three bags full of other items.  We sit down to quickly respond to an email and get up from the computer 45 minutes later, response still unsent.  You know how it goes….

I was thinking about distraction as I was re-reading the story of Mary and Martha.  You’re probably familiar with this Biblical tale.  Two sisters invite Jesus to supper.  One sister hangs out with Jesus in the living room while the other sister maniacally works behind the scenes preparing a Pinterest worthy table spread.  Frustrated by doing everything herself, OCD sister (Martha) stomps into the living room and demands that Jesus tell the couch potato (Mary) to come help.  Jesus’ response…”Let it go.”

I have always identified myself with Mary in this story–more couch potato than Pinterest maven.  I’m content to sit and read a book while something stews in the crock-pot.  As far as table arrangements go, we don’t even own a complete set of matching dishes.  And yet, a closer look at this story reveals that perhaps I am more like Martha than I thought.

Look at Jesus’ response to Martha’s complaint. He says, “Martha, you are distracted by many things.”  Jesus isn’t criticizing her for being organized.  He’s not berating her because she’s working.  He’s not reprimanding her because she wants to be an excellent hostess.  Jesus is pointing out to her that her problem is her priority in this particular moment.  Martha, in her desire to be a gracious hostess, has become distracted from the purpose of the visit.  She and her family have been given the opportunity to sit in the presence of the Lord, to listen to him, to learn from him, and to be blessed by him.  Instead of taking advantage of that opportunity, she’s distracted by a to-do list.  Martha is missing the blessing.

How often in the course of our days do we find ourselves distracted from the purpose of the moment?  How often do we lose sight of what’s really important?  Mary chose to sit at the feet of Jesus because she knew that was what really mattered in that moment.  Mary was blessed because she put her focus on Jesus.

This world is a distracting place.  Noise comes at us from all different directions.  There is an abundance of busyness.  Yet, busyness is not always productive.  Like Martha, we can become so distracted by the tasks of this world that we lose sight of what is most important.  What blessings are we missing because we don’t take time to sit at the feet of Jesus?  Focusing even a small part of our day on spending time with Jesus helps us to prioritize our time.  It gives us a greater sense of purpose and direction.  Focusing on Jesus helps us to avoid distractions.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and place for preparing elaborate feasts and creating intricate centerpieces. It just means that we need to make sure the time spent creating those feasts and centerpieces doesn’t come at the cost of time spent with Jesus.

As we begin to enter into that most Martha-ish time of year, my challenge to you is to make sure you are choosing “the better part”.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 350: Back to School–Jesus Style

These commandments that I give to you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Deuteronomy 6:6-7

It’s mid-August, and for many Americans, that means it’s time to head back to school.  Back to school time means a return to “regular” schedules.  And while we get school supplies organized and labeled, pick out our first day of school clothes, meet the teacher and study the bus route–it’s also a great opportunity to begin cultivating regular faith practices.  So, here are some tips to heading back to school–Jesus style.

  1. Pray with your children before they leave the house in the morning.  Ask for God’s presence to be with them during the school day, and let them voice any particular prayer requests they might have.
  2. Begin a family devotional time, either in the morning or before bed.  Find a children’s Bible or a children’s devotional.  Take some time to discuss the readings together.
  3. Write down Bible verses and place them in your child’s backpack or lunch box.
  4. Encourage your children to say a quick prayer of thanks before they eat their lunch at school.  Praying in your head is okay!
  5. Commit to attending worship on a regular basis.  Get the kids to Sunday school, and consider attending a Sunday school class yourself.
  6. Join an adult Bible study group.  Look around your church and community to find a regular study group you can participate in.
  7. Make personal Bible study a part of your daily routine.  Find a small devotional book to help you along.
  8. Write down Bible verses on post-it notes and place them around your house or work area to keep them fresh in your mind.
  9. Find some small spaces within your day to pray–before you get out of bed in the morning, as you’re getting dressed for the day, while making lunches, during lunch, or even as you lay down to sleep.
  10. Commit to eating dinner as a family three or four evenings a week.  During dinner, encourage each member of your family to share where they saw God working that day.

Blessings and Peace for a great school year!

Sara

Confession 347: Do What You’re Supposed To Do

Therefore, my loved ones, just as you always obey me, not just when I am present but now even more while I am away, carry out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes.  Philippians 2:12-13 (CEB)

This past week, I started working through Reuben Job’s book on prayer entitled Listen: Praying in a Noisy World.  I love it, because it sets out a daily pattern and rhythm of prayer that helps my scattered and unorganized mind focus in on God’s voice.  My times of meditation and prayer this week have reiterated something I have heard God saying to me for quite a while now: “Focus only on the work I have placed in front of you.  Do what you’re supposed to do.”

The trouble is, I want to do everyone’s else’s stuff, too.  Let me explain. . .

This weekend, my four year old niece was playing soccer.  Well, she was supposed to be playing soccer.  What she actually did was spend most of the game following her coach up and down the field commentating on what everyone else was doing wrong.  At one point, as a girl from the other team ran the ball toward a goal, I heard my niece’s little voice say, “She’s not supposed to do that!  She’s supposed to share!!”  And while that might have been true, it was not my niece’s job to tell her that.  At the end of the game my niece came over to us, her face downcast.  “I only scored three goals,” she said.  In focusing on what everyone else was or wasn’t doing, my niece didn’t play to her full potential.

The truth is, we adults rarely play to our full potential either.  We’re so focused on what everyone else is doing, or not doing, that we completely ignore the work God has put in front of us to do.  We get so caught up in neighborhood gossip, workplace drama, and Facebook posts that we sometimes miss out on living our own lives.  Moreover, we miss out on the opportunities God is giving us to do his work, which is the entire purpose of our being.

In the book of Philippians, God is encouraging the Philippian church to continue in their work.  “Press on,” Paul tells them.  “Run the race God has set out for you.”  In order to run that race, we need to focus our eyes, our energy, our resources, and our time on those things God has asked us to do.  If you’re unsure as to what those things are, then ask God to remind you.

This weekend, as my niece struggled to stay focused on what she was supposed to do, our family called out words of encouragement from the sidelines.  “Follow the ball!  Get in there!  You’ve got this!  Keep going!”  This week, know that God is telling you the same thing.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 178: The Sacrifice of Love

It’s been quite the week–and it’s only Wednesday!  God and I have covered a lot of ground in the past few days, and I’m excited to share it all for you.  But this week, I need the Easter journey.  So, I’m re-posting a blog from 2011.  It’s just a few simple thoughts on the importance of Holy Week.

Easter is coming!!  Share the good news!

Sara

This past Sunday marked the beginning of what we in the Methodist church simply refer to as “Holy Week”.  For us, it is the most sacred time of year, the week in which we walk with Jesus from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, through the valley of the shadow of death, to emerge once again victorious in resurrection.  We mark the week with services on Thursday, Friday and Sunday in order to remember and commemorate the Last Supper, the Crucifixtion and the Resurrection.  It is so tempting to run from the celebration on Palm Sunday to the pure joy Easter morning brings.  However, when we do that, when we don’t walk with Jesus through the valley, we miss the whole point of Easter.  Easter doesn’t begin with the empty tomb (it doesn’t end there either, for that matter).  Easter begins with Jesus’ willing walk to the cross, through torture, humiliation and agonizing pain.  We need to bear witness to that part of the story, painful though it may be, to understand the full meaning of the sacrifice of love God made.  And, we need to understand that we, like those who lived two thousand years ago, are culprits in the crime.  We, like the soldiers, have mocked Jesus.  We, like Peter, have denied him.  We, like Judas, have betrayed him.  We, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, have failed to recognize him. (See Rev. Adam Hamilton’s book, 24 Hours That Changed the World)

I would challenge you, as you continue through this most Holy of weeks, to spend some time in the valley with Jesus.  Walk through the darkness of Thursday and Friday.  See Jesus’ anguish in Gethsemane.  Watch as he is beaten, humiliated and mocked.  And finally, bear witness to his death on the cross, realizing that it was because of us, and for us, that this sacrifice was made.  Then, and only then, can we rise on Sunday morning and sing with joy, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow….”

Blessings and Peace,
Sara