Confession 420: Do All the Good You Can

Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good. Romans 12:21 (CEB)

cherry blossom 1

I’ve started this post several times now…carefully thinking about how to effectively engage and introduce a topic that’s weighing heavily on my heart. I’m thinking about John Wesley’s mandate to Do Good, which my husband preached on this Sunday, and considering how my words might seek to uplift instead of tear down.

The truth is, I’m very angry at what happened in Virginia this week. I’m very concerned about the war mongering rhetoric that’s been passing between our nation and North Korea. I’m very sad that so many innocent victims cross paths with people intent on doing harm.

There is great evil in this world. Maybe it’s no more than there’s always been. Maybe it’s just amplified with our 24 hour news cycle and social media use. But I can’t help but feel that we’re standing on the precipice of a tipping point for humanity. If we take another step toward anger and hate; greed and self-centeredness, then we’ve let the worst of ourselves triumph. However, if we take a step back, away from anger, self-righteousness, instant gratification and the need for power, then maybe, just maybe, we can pull back from the brink of self-destruction. Maybe, just maybe, we can harness our passionate nature into works that create and sustain life rather than endeavors that destroy and diminish both the earth and other people.

heart on path

Doing good is a conscious choice–a difficult one in the face of increasing hate and violence. Doing good requires us to stop putting ourselves first. Doing good means we have to take our time, effort, resources, talents, and even thoughts and use them to help make the world something better than it currently is. Doing good means that instead of complaining or criticizing, we do something to counter the negative we see around us. When everyone else says, “The world’s a terrible place!”, doing good means that we say, “Let’s make it better!”

I know that sounds trite. I know it’s an oversimplification of the needs in our world. I know that part of being a Jesus follower means speaking with a prophetic voice against injustice and oppression. But if we only speak out, and never act, then we just become more noise.

Jesus understood this need to do good. Jesus was born into a society that was violent and unjust. He spent his early years as a political refugee, and came home to a country that was occupied by a foreign power. Jesus witnessed acts of violence and hate. And yes, Jesus spoke out about the evil in the world. However, he also acted. He chose to feed, to heal, to teach, to encourage, to mend relationships. In short, Jesus chose to actively love others, especially those most victimized by society’s injustice.

Jesus told his disciples, “Be a light for the world. Do good, so that God will be glorified.” (Matthew 5:16) Do good…don’t just talk about it…do good.

Paul echoes this mandate in Galatians 6 when he writes:

Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. 

Paul exhorts the Galatians to continue to do good, even though it doesn’t seem like it matters much. He reminds them that the world will not change overnight; however, in time (God’s time) the harvest will come.

heart on wood

No matter how eloquent or well-spoken we are, the world is not listening to our words. However, they may notice our actions. This is what Jesus reminded his disciples after Judas ran from the Passover meal, intent on handing Jesus over to the authorities to be arrested. Immediately after being betrayed by one of his closest friends, Jesus says,

 But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples. John 13:34-35 (CEB)

Jesus’ message and example could not be more clear. In the face of evil, we are called to love. And, how do we love? We give ourselves to others.

This week, I would challenge you to intentionally do good each day this week. Seek out one opportunity every day to show love in a way that brings honor and glory to God.

When the world speaks with hate and acts in violence, choose to speak in love and do good.

Blessings and Peace

Sara

 

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Confession 419: Sacred Space

It is the Lord of heavenly forces whom you should hold sacred, whom you should fear, and whom you should hold in awe.

 God will become a sanctuary— Isaiah 8:13-14a (CEB)

serve

Sacred…I love that word. To me, it connotes something beautiful and holy–treasured–a connection with the divine. We each have our own definition of sacred; those special objects, places and rituals that connect us to something bigger than ourselves and our own little lives. Sacred is about connection.

20170710_150158The other day, I sat with my parents in an almost-empty parking lot and watched a giant mechanical claw carefully pull down and apart the sanctuary of my childhood church. It was fascinating, really, almost hypnotic. The mechanical claw was big and bulky, and yet, when it engaged in demolition, it seemed to do so with great gentleness and care. It’s like the machine somehow knew that, for many in the community, this was sacred ground.

This was the place where I first encountered the presence of God. This was the place where the foundations of my own spiritual relationships were laid. This was the place where people showed me what it looked like to live out the Gospel message. This was the place where family and friends connected, where lives were shared, where the souls of the faithful who had lived and worshipped before could still be felt joining in the great celebration of worship. This was sacred ground.

And yet…

And yet…

how easy it is to turn the sacred into an idol.fbc

How easy it is to worship the places where divine encounters occurred rather than the living God who is present in our sacred moments.

How easy it is to bow down before our sacred mementos, trinkets, inheritances and forget that the spirit of those who built those objects, who erected those structures, are not held within them.

For the ancient Israelites, God was contained in the Tabernacle and Temple. But when Jesus died on the cross, the curtain was ripped apart. The Spirit was unbound, unleashed, unharnessed. God moved out from the Temple (not that he was really bound there anyway) and redefined sacred.

Sacred was a field where shepherds heard the songs of the angels.

Sacred was a common water well where an outcast felt the grace, love and mercy of Jesus.

Sacred was a prison cell, where disciples shared the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Sacred was a cross–the most shameful symbol of death–that became a beacon of hope for the world.

Sacred is about divine connection, and that connection is not tied to a specific place or object. God, himself, is our sanctuary. When we give our hearts over to worship, he is our sacred space.

My childhood church is thriving. A new state of the art sanctuary has been built across town. There’s room for continued growth, and no fear that the entire structure might collapse at any given moment. The new building is sacred, because the people who worship within it have made God their sanctuary.

We carry the sacred moments of our past within us. They are part of who we are, as much as our bones, tendons and muscles. We grow from those moments and move forward with God to do his work.

This week, I challenge you to reflect on the sacred moments of your life. What places or objects are tied to those sacred moments? Give thanks for those moments. Give thanks for the people and situations that made those sacred moments possible. Then, consider ways in which God might be asking you to create a sacred moment for others.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

A Quick Hello and a Small Request

Hello Friends!

My husband and I are pretending to be empty nesters this week as our boys are at Camp Grandma and Grandpa. This is something we’ve been doing each year since our youngest was about 2. It’s good for them to spend quality time with their grandparents and create lasting memories. And, it’s good for my husband and I to be able to focus solely on each other for a bit.

kids at grandparents

I’m trying to use the quiet this week to do some discerning and get the ball rolling on some new projects for the fall and winter. I also need to clean the boys’ room and get rid of all their “treasures” that are littering the entire basement. (Seriously, I’m walking on top of stuffed animals, blankets and pillows.)  I have to do this while they’re away, otherwise, they resist. My youngest goes for a preemptive strike and hides all of the items he thinks I’m going to throw away–like the smelly beanbag chair the dog used to sleep on. My oldest isn’t as subtle. He just follows me around the room pulling things out of the trash bag exclaiming, “Don’t throw this away!”

Some of you might be condemning the throw-away vs. give-away aspect of my purging. But, honestly, there comes a point where I just need the junk GONE. However, if you really want me to ship a beanbag chair covered in dog hair, dog drool and who knows what else your way, I’d be happy to do it! 🙂 (Actually, I wouldn’t. I totally procrastinate when it comes to going to the post office.)

If we’re being honest with ourselves, a lot of us have quite a bit of internal junk cluttering our souls that needs to be trashed. God has an entire “Lake of Iniquity” where that can go–if we let him have it. What “treasures” are you holding onto that clutter your life? Regret? Anger? Disappointment? Grief? Cynicism? A grudge? Worry? Take some time to consider those items and ask God for the strength and ability to toss them out.

CAN I ASK A FAVOR?heart star

I hate asking favors. It reeks of dependence, something this independent woman tends to hold onto, even though she knows God is calling her to let it go.

So, in the spirit of boldness, I’m asking a favor. If you’ve read Confessions of the Pastor’s Wife, would you post a review on Amazon? I appreciate all of those who have already done this. Amazon uses a logarithm when it comes to promoting books. This logarithm is based, in large part, on book reviews. Essentially, the more reviews of a book, the more the more visibility the book gets on Amazon.

As a writer, reviews help me to better engage with readers. It’s good to know what’s speaking to you (and, what isn’t). It also allows me to see how God is working through this book to lead others closer to him. And really, that was the entire point of the book.

I’m providing the link to leave a review here. If you’re new to posting reviews on Amazon, here’s what you need to know.

  1. You don’t have to publicize your name. Also, I don’t get any personal information about you from Amazon.
  2. You don’t have to say a lot. Just jot down a couple of words or sentences that come to mind when you think about the book.
  3. Build on other reviews. If someone else said what you wanted to say, say it again. That helps me see what areas of the book really spoke to the majority of readers.
  4. If you absolutely hated the book (it happens), simply mark “DNF” for Did Not Finish and move on. Books and readers are like a relationship. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

If you haven’t read the book and want to check it out, click go to Amazon here or Barnes and Noble here. And then, tell me what you think. 😉

Thank you for sharing this journey with me!

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 418: The Consequences of Boldness

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

bold coffee

My nine year old thinks he knows everything. He’s been like this since his personality first showed signs of emerging years ago, so I think it’s just who he is rather than a phase. Whenever there’s a problem, he boldly proclaims the answer. Whenever you tell him no, he boldly recites a list of reasons why the answer should be yes. Whenever you tell him he’s wrong, he boldly asserts how and why he’s right. My husband and I usually just roll our eyes and move on. But, I must say, I do admire his boldness.

Boldness is an integral part of success. It’s also an integral part of our faith development. God is bold. He can do more than we imagine or even conceive possible. Therefore, we need to be bold in our expectations of him. We need to come to God with a spirit of boldness, asking God to move in ways that we know we are incapable of moving. We need to ask God for big things in our lives (and the lives of others), those things that make us stand back upon completion and say, “Wow! God is amazing!”

In Exodus 33, Moses makes a bold request of God: “Now, show me your presence.” Note the use of the imperative structure in opening clause: show me.  Moses isn’t asking God to show himself, he’s demanding it. And that is a supreme act of boldness. Remember that Moses first stood in the Lord’s presence in the wilderness of Midian. God revealed himself in a burning bush, and Moses was terrified. He couldn’t even look at the bush and gave God a whole litany of reasons as to why God should choose someone else to free the Israelites. In his first encounter, Moses was a total coward.

So, what changed? How did Moses go from trembling coward to fearless demander? To put it simply, Moses engaged in a long-term relationship with God. Moses saw God’s power and might over and over again in Egypt. He witnessed God’s saving acts in the sea and the desert. He saw God come through on behalf of his people time and time again. Moses knows God, and this knowledge makes him bold. Moreover, God rewards Moses’ boldness in verse 19:

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

God is willing to honor Moses’ demand. The Creator of the universe is going to reveal his glory to a man who didn’t even say please. But…there are consequences to boldness.

light bulb

Have you ever asked for something you never thought you’d get, and then you get it and it’s nothing like you expected? For me, it’s my children. Parenting is nothing like I expected: it’s beautiful, frustrating, meaningful and terrifying–sometimes all in the same day. I love my children, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, it’s changed my life.

Similarly, we need to understand that boldness in our walk with God will change our lives. God honors Moses’ boldness. He allows Moses to experience his presence. However, God offers Moses this word of caution.

But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

God has to protect Moses from the full power of his presence. This should be a clue to Moses that his life is about to fundamentally change. No one encounters the presence of God and comes away unchanged. And so, when Moses descends from the mountain, he is altered. Scripture says that his face is “radiant”, so much so that the Israelites are terrified to come near him. Because of his bold request to God, Moses must veil his face the rest of his life because he has literally been marked by God.

In Moses’ story, we see that the consequence of boldness in our faith is a changed life. We don’t get to make bold requests of God and not experience change ourselves. A bold encounter with God leaves a mark. Sometimes that mark is easily noticeable. It involves a move, a career change, a relationship change or some other change in life’s circumstances. Other times, the change is internal. We become kinder, gentler, more loving, more courageous, more content. The point is, boldness leads to change, and that change is often not the change we expect or anticipate.

This week, as you pray for boldness, I would encourage you to pray also about the change that will take place in your life due to your bold requests. Ask God to help you accept and then embrace the change. Pray for courage to boldly go where God is calling you to go. And then, tell me about it! I’d love to hear the stories about God acting boldly in your life.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 417: Finding Boldness in the Face of Underwhelming Expectations

When you accomplished wonders beyond all our expectations;
    when you came down, mountains quaked before you.
  From ancient times,
    no one has heard,
    no ear has perceived,
    no eye has seen any god but you
    who acts on behalf of those who wait for him! Isaiah 64:3-4 (CEB)

sneakers in grass

This is a stupid predicament, I thought to myself as I sat on the edge of a step balancing a 100+ pound lawn mower below me. I was attempting to maneuver our push mower up a series of steep steps from the lower to upper yard. My nine year old helped me up the first few stairs, but stomped off in frustration at the final big push. As he left, I called out in desperation, “Tell your brother to come help!”

If you’ve ever met my eleven year old, you’d understand what a desperate cry this is. G weighs about 60 pounds soaking wet. His arms and legs look like skinny twigs that could snap with the slightest breeze. He also doesn’t like getting his hands dirty…literally.  I had zero expectation of deliverance.

I started scanning the horizon for neighboring lawn care workers. Just as I was thinking I’d have to sit here balancing this mower for the next six hours (admitting defeat and going back down the stairs was not an option), I heard the slow flop, flop, flop of my eldest’s sandaled feet coming down the sidewalk.

“What do you want me to do?” he asked. As I explained the situation, he narrowed his eyes and slowly walked around the mower, sizing it all up. He stopped at the front of the mower. “You want me to pick this thing up and walk backward?” he asked, like it was the most ridiculous suggestion in the world.

“No,” I clarified. “I’m walking backward. Just pick it up and push.”

He looked doubtful, and so was I. G thought for a moment, then slipped his ultra-clean hands under the mower and lifted. The task was finished in thirty seconds. Help came from the most unexpected place–a skinny little boy who’s obsessed with clean hands.

Afterward, as I marveled to him about his extraordinary feat of strength, he admitted that he only lifted the mower because he hadn’t just washed his hands. I didn’t care. It was a triumph. I learned that my son is capable of much more than I ever expected. Don’t get me wrong, I know he’s intelligent, a super reader, creative, kind and compassionate. But I never really think of him as helpful, per se. He didn’t just exceed my expectations, he set new ones.

waiting for sunriseI think a lot of us go through life with limited expectations, either of ourselves or others. We organize ourselves and others in boxes with careful labels attached as to what they can and cannot do. The thing is, we aren’t static beings. We grow and change, evolve if you will, based on circumstance and experience. Our attempt to organize and categorize our abilities and the ability of others is based on a limited perception, and that limited perception leads to inadequate expectation.

We limit ourselves, we limit others and we limit God because we aren’t bold enough to look beyond our limited understanding of the possible.

I’ve been thinking a lot about boldness and possibility the past several months. I’ve come to the realization that, while I believe in God’s power and might, I don’t really expect to see it manifested in my life. My faith has become complacent, tepid. I have underwhelming expectations of God.

And yet, in the deep recesses of my soul, God has been working. A flame has been carefully tended, and God is waiting for me to remove the damper. God has been calling me to give his Spirit free reign in my life, to let go of my underwhelming expectations and look for the great possible that is God.

And so, I’m praying for boldness. I’m praying for an infusion of the Holy Spirit in my life, that great fire that flows through our veins and spills out to others, igniting acts of love, justice and peace. I’m praying for God to accomplish things in my life that can only be done by him and which can only point back to his great work. I’m also praying for God to ignite a fire of expectation and possibility in our congregation, community, nation and world so that others might see his glory revealed.

My challenge for you is to join me in praying for boldness. Ask God for something in your life, in your congregation or in your community that only he can accomplish. And then, be ready. Because God will call you to do things you least expect.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 416: When You Find Yourself in a Desert…3 Takeaways from the Exodus Journey

I won’t drive them out before you in a single year so the land won’t be abandoned and the wild animals won’t multiply around you. I’ll drive them out before you little by little, until your numbers grow and you eventually possess the land. Exodus 23:29-30 (CEB)

arrow

Last month, I decided to re-read the Exodus story. I’ve been feeling for awhile like I’m in a desert place, and I thought God would reveal the way out if I went back to the original source material.

God has revealed a lot to me through Exodus, but it’s not the great epiphanous understanding I was seeking. God did what God always does in my life…he gave me clarity and fortitude to continue down the desert road.

I’ve shared before my desire have God communicate with me through a blazing neon sign. I want that bright fluorescent blinking arrow ahead of me every step of the way. But, that’s not how God works in my life. And that’s a good thing, really, because if God made the way clear and easy, I wouldn’t grow in him. I wouldn’t grow at all.

You see, this is the point of the desert journey–to become one with God–to become the person God created us to be–to become the servant God wants us to be.

God fashioned a people in the desert. God spoke to the prophets in the desert. God revealed himself to John the Baptist in the desert. God prepared Jesus for ministry in the desert. God reclaimed Saul in the desert. (Okay, Damascus wasn’t in the desert. However, it probably felt like a desert experience to Paul.)

desert road

Exodus Takeaway #1: Our desert experiences are carefully orchestrated by God to help us grow into the person he has called us to be.

This growth can be both practical and spiritual. Case in point: the Israelites had no understanding of God. They had been on their own for 400 years in Egypt. Spiritually, they were infants. The desert journey allowed them an opportunity to come to know, trust and rely on God.

But, as Exodus 23:29-30 shows us, the Israelites were not physically ready to possess the land God had called them to. They were too small in number. And, God knew that if he gave the land over to them too soon, they wouldn’t be able to care for and use it.

Exodus Takeaway #2: God has a plan, and has arranged even the most minute details.

Details matter. Because we can’t always see the big picture, it’s easy to get impatient with God. We forget that he’s thinking way beyond the farthest reaches of our understanding and imagination. We want results now, but God knows all of the steps it takes to achieve those results. And, he’s not willing to let us miss a step in order to achieve those results faster.

So, sometimes we wait…and wait…and wait. But the waiting’s not inactive. Rather, God is teaching and leading and strengthening through the entire waiting process.

Exodus Takeaway #3: We’re really good at mucking up God’s plan.

As human beings, we’re not good at waiting. It probably goes back to some innate survival instinct–the need to be the first one to the meat. Regardless, our impatience often acts to sever our trust in God. We, like the Israelites, begin grumbling about our circumstances. We doubt God’s good intentions. And then, we rebel. Like Moses and the rock, we strike where we shouldn’t and lose the blessings God has been working through infinity to give us. We miss out on opportunities to serve, to minister, to love, to grow, to understand, to experience God because we just can’t wait anymore.

Our impatience denies us the opportunity to participate with God as he works to build his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”.

Confession 274: A Monday Meditation

I wish I could give you some sort of profound revelatory statement regarding God’s plans and purposes. I wish I could tell you which bush, shrub or flower patch God might speak to you from today. The truth is, I don’t know where God is leading you today. I don’t know if you’re resting beside still waters, or wandering through a hot, dry desert. I don’t know what God’s big plans are for you (or me, really). But I do know this:

God loves you and cares about you. God wants what is best for you and your family. God is actively working in your life to set things in place for generations to come. God longs to be in a relationship with you.

Today, I would encourage you to open your heart to God. Engage in an honest conversation with him. Tell him where you are, how you’re feeling, what you’re afraid of. Then, ask him where he wants you to be today. Ask him who he wants you to talk to, where he wants you to go, what work he has for you to do. Then, my friend–go to it. Place another brick on the building of God’s kingdom.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 415: On the Church, Relationships and Honoring Life

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

 

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

heart on wood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hands

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

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

Confession 414: Overwhelmed with Joy

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

clothesline

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

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

Here’s how it works.

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 413: Obedience Lessons–40 Days of Decrease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

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

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

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

Hebrews 13:5-6 (CEB)

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It’s not enough…

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

Lord, I said, It’s not enough.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank God for being enough.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara