Confession 435: If You Need Some Inspiration

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Today, I am linking out to one of my favorite authors and motivational speakers–John O’Leary. My brother-in-law introduced me to O’Leary’s book, On Fire, a couple of years ago. It was amazing. O’Leary’s story is a remarkable tale of strength, endurance, and perseverance. He inspires us to work to become our best selves, and to always stay positive in the midst of challenging circumstance.

O’Leary has a weekly inspirational blog I love. The messages are always encouraging and convicting at the same time! Today, I’d like to share this week’s inspirational message: “Rediscover the Canvas”.

O’Leary writes:

“…the freedom, genius and vibrancy that was searing within us as children remains alive within us today.”

To read more, use the link here.

Consider becoming a part of John O’Leary’s “Live Inspired” movement.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

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Confession 434: When you Want to Break up With Winter, but it Just Won’t Take the Hint

My friends, be patient until the Lord returns. Think of farmers who wait patiently for the spring and summer rains to make their valuable crops grow.  Be patient like those farmers and don’t give up. The Lord will soon be here! James 5:7-8 (CEV)

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It snowed on Easter. Big, fat, wet flakes fell from the sky onto budding lilies, blooming daffodils, and just-greening grass. The birds squawked angrily in protest, flying from tree to tree and deck to deck in a vain attempt to find some warmth. A lone crane flew silently to the roof of a dock and stood glaring at the unwelcome precipitation for hours. As winter choked spring in it’s iron fist once more and we re-buried ourselves under downy blankets, my husband asked the question, “How do you break up with winter?”

I considered for a moment and began drafting a mental response. It went something like this:

Dear Winter,

We’ve had a lot of fun these past several months. I’ve greatly enjoyed the moments we’ve spent together, walking across the frozen lake, playing in the snow, and curling up with blankets and hot cocoa on long, dark nights. But, I’m just not in the same place I was when we first met. I need more than you can give right now. I want to see other seasons. It’s not you, it’s me. Hoping we can still be friends???

Needless to say, Winter did not oblige. As much as I am ready to move into the jubilation of Spring, to bask in the glow of the sun while cool breezes brush my cheeks, to dig my fingers deep into the moist, soft earth and plant small seedlings of hope and promise, Winter is not ready to move on. Apparently, there is work still to be done. And so, we wait…and wait…and wait…

Winter is not just something we experience in the climatological realm; we are seasonal in our souls, too. There are moments in our lives that are spring-like, full of joy, hope, and promise. But then, there are seasons of winter–weeks, months, or years when our hearts are wrapped in an iron fist of sorrow, anxiety, or fear. It could be an unexpected job loss that leads to financial turmoil. It could be a long-term illness that exhausts our spiritual and financial resources. It could be the demise of a relationship, or the death of a loved one that plunges us into a state of grief and change.

When winter comes to our souls, we want to break up with it as soon as possible. But, like the weather, we have no ability to make it move. James 5 reminds us that, when we are faced with the relentlessness of winter in our lives, we must “wait patiently for the spring and summer rains.” Because just as Spring will arrive in all its glory one fine and unsuspecting day, so God will arrive in all of his glory when we least expect him to come.

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“Don’t give up,” James reminds the early Christians who were persecuted and despised. “The Lord will come!” This, then, is the great promise of our faith–the Lord will come. Time and again, from the Old Testament to New, prophets and apostles have proclaimed this message: The Lord Will Come! This promise isn’t just about the final restoration of God’s kingdom on Earth, it is a promise for the here and now. It is a reminder that, no matter how tightly Winter holds our hearts in its cold, gray grip, God is with us. God is working in our lives to bring about his glory. Although we may not see his work, we trust that it is being done. And, when it is ready, God will reveal it to us.

I wish I could give you a sure-fire easy way to break up with Winter when it just won’t let go. I wish I could tell you that Spring is just around the corner, and everything will be fine. But, that’s not the way our broken world works. Winter hangs on. Storms wreak havoc. We suffer. We mourn. We are afraid. However…there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Winter cannot last forever. Spring is waiting on the wing. And though we might shed tears for a time, we will laugh again. In the meantime, we must be patient and wait through the Winter for God to come. Because we know that he always keeps his promises.

God will carry us through the pain and sorrow of an unimaginable loss. God will strengthen and walk with us through the course of a long-term illness. God will provide and open doors for us when employment and finances become unstable. God will give us wisdom and guidance when faced with a difficult decision. We might not see him right away. There might be some “dark nights of the soul” to face. But, even in those long, dark, nights, he is there working. And, he will come.

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I don’t know what season of life you’re facing right now, but if you’re in the midst of Winter–take heart! Remember that the Lord will come.

  • Genesis 18:10: “I will come back!”
  • Isaiah 29:6: I, the Lord All-Powerful, will come to your rescue with a thundering earthquake and a fiery whirlwind.
  • Isaiah 41:17: When the poor and needy are dying of thirst and cannot find water, I, the Lord God of Israel, will come to their rescue. I won’t forget them.
  • Isaiah 56:1 Soon I will come to save you; my saving power will be seen everywhere on earth.
  • Malachi 3:17: Then the Lord All-Powerful said: You people are precious to me, and when I come to bring justice, I will protect you, just as parents protect an obedient child.
  • Acts 3:20 Then that time will come when the Lord will give you fresh strength. He will send you Jesus, his chosen Messiah.
  • Romans 10: 13 All who call out to the Lord will be saved.
  • Romans 12:12: Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying.
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:16: God our Father loves us. He is kind and has given us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope. We pray that our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father.
  • Titus 2:13: We are filled with hope, as we wait for the glorious return of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
  • Hebrews 10:23: We must hold tightly to the hope that we say is ours. After all, we can trust the one who made the agreement with us.
  • 1 Peter 1:3: Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is so good, and by raising Jesus from death, he has given us new life and a hope that lives on.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 433: Love That Surpasses All Understanding

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge… Ephesians 3:18-19 (NIV)

Confession 274: A Monday Meditation

This morning, on the eve of Maundy Thursday, I was reading Charles Spurgeon’s “Morning Devotional” at biblegateway.com. As I was looking for some wisdom to pull me into the sacred that should be Holy Week, these words spoke to me.

Spurgeon writes of Christ’s journey to the cross:

“To be a man was something, to be a man of sorrows was far more; to bleed, and die, and suffer, these were much for him who was the Son of God; but to suffer such unparalleled agony–to endure a death of shame and desertion by his Father, this is a depth of condescending love which the most inspired mind must utterly fail to fathom. Herein is love! and truly it is love that “passeth knowledge.” O let this love fill our hearts with adoring gratitude, and lead us to practical manifestations of its power.”

When I consider God’s love that passes all understanding, I’m usually thinking of myself. God loves me, God sacrificed his son for me, God’s love will never leave me. The love that surpasses all understanding is like a warm, fuzzy blanket I can pull over myself when the world gets too cold, too big, too confusing, too frightening. When life goes wrong, I remember that God loves me anyway.

But Spurgeon’s words reveal a deeper truth to God’s love than my own selfish understanding. They remind us that the incomprehensible nature of this love isn’t about a feeling of warmth or security; rather, the incomprehensible nature of this love is that Jesus endured humiliation, torture, and an agonizing death so that we might be reconciled to God. And that incomprehensible truth should pull us out of our beds each morning and propel us first to our knees, and then forward into a world that is desperate for reconciliation carrying the banner of God’s truth and love.

God’s love isn’t a security blanket to soothe our wounded souls. God’s love is a powerful force in motion that is meant to save the world. God’s love brings peace. God’s love brings reconciliation. God’s love brings equity. God’s love brings justice.

Over the next few days, as you begin the journey toward Resurrection Sunday, I would invite you to spend some time with Jesus as he makes his way to Calvary. See him as he agonizes in the garden. Watch as his friends betray him. Listen as he is falsely accused of trumped up crimes. Cringe as he is beaten, stripped, flogged, and humiliated in the palace and in the streets of Jerusalem. Pause as his last breath leaves his broken body and he is unceremoniously left in a dark and cold tomb. And remember…this is God’s love. God sacrificed a part of himself to bring reconciliation to the world.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 432: Spring Cleaning

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)

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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”.

vacuumI 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,

Sara

Confession 431: Love is Inclusive

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)

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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.

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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.

diversityInclusivity 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,

Sara

 

 

Confession 430: Love is an Action that Displays God’s Truth

Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. 1 John 3:18

Bible GatewayLast 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.

images-32You 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,

Sara

 

 

 

Confession 429: Some Thoughts on Love

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,

Sara

 

heart headerThis 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:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Colossians 3:12-14
 
“Love Binds in Perfect Unity” is what I had engraved on my husband’s wedding band.  Love has always been one of my favorite words.  The “ouh” vowel is soft and round around the palette while the consonant L slips lightly off the tongue.  The harsher V is tempered by the “eh” on the end which provides a gentle expulsion of air.  Like the brush of fingertips on bare skin, it is tender.  And yet, it possesses the ability to grip you as tight as a mother’s hand on her child in a crowded place.  Love can be at once one of the most frivolous and one of the most powerful words in the English language, and while our society has mastered the art of frivolity, the love to which Paul writes is power incarnate. 
 
So, what is it about love that has so much power? First, as Paul states, love acts as a binding agent.  It pulls together virtues such as compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness.  It is the thing that makes all of these other virtues possible.  Can we show compassion and have not love for those to whom we show compassion?  Can we forgive if we have not known the great love that makes all forgiveness possible?
 
Yet, there is more… 
Perfect love drives out fear. 1 John 4:18
John writes that there is no fear in love because fear has to do with punishment, and love is not punishing.  Rather, love is freeing.  When we love, we are letting go of ourselves to focus on another.  We do not worry about our own wants, issues, hang-ups, mistakes.  Instead, we focus on the best we have to give to someone else.  We learn how to meet the needs of others, to care for others, to lift others up, to heal others.  For that is the ultimate goal of love.
 
Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for another. John 15:
And this is the penultimate power of love. We give–all that we have, all that we are–for the benefit of another.  Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way:
Power at its best is LOVE implementing the demands of justice.  Justice at its best is LOVE correcting everything that stands against LOVE.
 Can you imagine a world where the power of love was lived out every day?  I believe it is this, precisely, that God is calling us to as Christians–to bring forth his kingdom in love.  Jesus himself boiled the entire Gospel message down to these two things: 1) love God, 2) love others.  What a beautiful command!
 
Blessings and Peace,
Sara