The Simple Faith Bible: A Review

Full disclosure…I love Bibles. I have half a dozen that I alternate between in my daily Bible study, as well as in my writings. Some have life applications. Others provide historical context. Still others provide key study notes from renowned Bible scholars. But the new NRSV Simple Faith Bible from Zondervan is different from all of these. That’s because it is a collection of teaching from former President, humanitarian, and Bible teacher Jimmy Carter.

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I received a copy of the NRSV Simple Faith Bible to review from Bible Gateway, as part of my participation in the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid (BG2) . This was a FREE review copy, and honestly, I jumped at the chance to review it.

Jimmy Carter has long been a hero of mine. For one, he showed me that you don’t have to be a Republican to be a Jesus follower. 😉 (I love you my Republican brothers and sisters in Christ!) But the other much more important witness he has provided is his lifelong commitment to serving others in the name of Jesus Christ. From Habitat for Humanity to working toward eradicating the guinea worm disease, Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center work to build God’s kingdom here on earth by “advancing human rights and alleviating human suffering”. For years, Jimmy has led a Sunday School class at the Marantha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. The NRSV Simple Faith Bible includes some of those teachings, as well as notes, articles, prayers, and articles gathered from Jimmy Carter’s life of service.

There are key takeaways.

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There are life applications.

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There are prayers.

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There are devotionals.

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All of this comes in a comfort print that is easy to read, and Art Deco designs that enhance the simple beauty of the text. For more about the text features, please read the publisher notes below.

All in all, I LOVE this Bible! The NRSV has long been considered a highly accurate and scholarly translation. It was the preferred translation when I attended seminary, as it is vetted by an ecumenical group of Christian scholars and sticks very closely to the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts in which the Bible was first written. Jimmy Carter’s teachings and prayers reflect a deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ and years of personal study and scholarship. His words, while simple and relatable, lead the reader into a deeper walk with God.

Publisher Notes

Former United States President Jimmy Carter’s contagious desire for peace, compassion, and wholeness permeate the notes of this Bible. His decades-long Sunday School teaching ministry, his public service, and his humanitarian engagement form the basis of the book introductions, thoughtful essays, pithy quotes, and honest prayers, calling you to a warmhearted, justice-filled life of faith.

Features

  • The text of the New Revised Standard Version (66-book Protestant canon), vetted by an ecumenical pool of Christian academics and renowned for its beautiful balance of scholarship and readability
  • Foreword by Jonathan Reckford, International CEO of Habitat for Humanity
  • Over 600 application-oriented notes, articles, reflections, and prayers gleaned from Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s extensive teaching ministry and public life of service

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 459: What You Will

It’s Friday…the end of the week… and also the last Friday before the metaphoric end to the summer. I’ve already told my family that next week, I’m getting my full fall on. I’m pulling my three Fall decorations out of the closet and spreading them around the house. I might even get a pumpkin–who knows? It’s Fall, and I love it!

The end of one season, be it literal or metaphoric, is always a time to reflect. It’s a time to remember and consider before stepping into something new. This morning, my daily devotional helped me to do just that. The focus of the devotion was on how God’s best enables our best. It closed with this prayer from Saint Augustine:

When I vacillated about my decision to serve my God, it was I who willed and willed not, and nobody else. I was fighting against myself…All You asked was that I ceased to want what I willed and begin to want what YOU willed.

I have always been a rather strong-willed person. My parents jokingly referred to me as their bulldog. When I got hold of something, I bit down and refused to let go. So, I can relate to Augustine’s dilemma. I want what I will, not because I’m selfish (although we could unpack that word and likely find that I am), but because I know what’s best. I’m a mom, right? Everyone knows that mom’s know best. My will is good. It puts me in control, and I like to be in control–of situations, of relationships, of decisions. When I get stressed out, it’s usually because I’m facing a situation that is outside of my control. Nothing terrifies me more than someone saying, “You have no control over this situation!”

Because it’s Friday and we’re all ready for the weekend (see how I exerted my control, there?), I’m going to cut right to the point. My will stinks. Really…it’s terrible. My will is going to point me in the wrong direction every single time. My will is about control, but my understanding of anything is so limited that I cannot effectively be in control. Control is not my deck to stand on. I’m not the captain of anyone’s ship, nor should I be. What Augustine realized, and the lesson I want to take with me as summer eases into fall, is the understanding that living is not about accomplishing my will, but about accomplishing the will of God. Like Augustine, I need to commit myself to the practice of letting go of my will and taking up God’s.

It’s the prayer Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, “Lord, not my will, but Thine.” (Sorry, I was exposed to a lot of King James as a kid!) As the CEB puts it:

…not what I want, but what you want. Matt. 26:39

For the next several months, this is going to be my prayer each morning: to leave my will at the feet of God’s throne and to pick up his instead. I invite you to join with me as we shift our focus in the coming days, weeks, and months from our own will so that we might fully embrace God’s will for our lives. I believe that if we can successfully put God’s will first, amazing transformations will happen. How might the world look if we fully committed to God’s will? God’s will is justice. God’s will is peace. God’s will is hope. God’s will is love. God’s will is salvation. God’s will is redemption. Think about that. Think about what a world according to God’s will would be. While our world will always be flawed, it can be better. And we, the Jesus people, can make it so. Will you pray this prayer with me as we enter into a new season? Will you take up this mantra and seek to live it anew each day? Will you work to relinquish your will for the ultimately better will of God? I’m going to try. I’m going to fail. But I’m going to remember that God’s mercies are new each morning….so great is his faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 458: Hope

I have to be honest…my soul has been heavy lately. The divisive political cycle, the continued inequity, the screaming of Earth in frustration of what humanity has done and is doing to the sacred majesty of God’s own creation…not to mention a global pandemic that makes every decision fraught with anxiety and uncertainty. Sometimes, it’s too much and my souls sinks under the weight of it.

I’ve been praying over and over the past several days…seeking some sort of wisdom from above, and what God keeps quietly speaking to my heart is this:

To be honest, when this verse kept popping into my head, I essentially said “Thanks, but no thanks” to God. This verse did not seem useful in a time when everything seems to be spiraling into the abyss of emotional chaos. What is there to praise, I thought. What is God doing to save us from the mess we’ve created? Standing with feet planted, fists firmly placed on hips, I said to God, You’re not fixing this. How can I put my hope in you when you’re not changing anything?

Just writing that makes me nervous because I feel that God would be well within his right to zap me right now. There’s a part of me that’s very hesitant to question God, as I know that God truly is all-power and all-knowing combined. But God is also all-love–love incarnate, and so there is a gentleness and patience that he brings to every conversation. While I stamp my foot in indignation, he quietly listens and waits. For what? For the inevitable conclusion that he knows I will get to as I continue to process the state of my disconsolation with him. God reminded me, yet again, that he knows what is going on. He knows what a mess we’ve made, and it breaks his heart. God wants so much more for us, but he’s not going to force us into it. We have a role to play, too. We have to be better at living as he’s taught us. We have to be better at loving as he loves us. We have to be better at fighting for the things he fights for–justice, peace, mercy, and salvation. We have to be better.

That is not at all the direction I intended this post to take. Honestly, I was getting ready to tell you all about the stories God has shared with me of how he has worked in the lives of others to effect change. I was going to remind you that we serve a mighty God, one in whom we can hope with confidence to bring us his victory. And that’s all true, my friends. But as I write about God and his power, he seems to be reminding me that I have a responsibility, too. I can’t just throw my hands up in the air and say, “Well, God’s obviously not interested.” The truth is that God is very much interested and has given me (and you) the tools to get to work. God’s not jumping in like an overbearing helicopter parent and fixing it all for us. He’s empowering us to do the work with him. His promise is to be there with us…leading, teaching, strengthening….and when we get to a mountain we cannot seem to move….when we’ve exhausted all of the resources he’s given us…then, my friends….then we see his mighty hand.

Paul reminds us in the book of Ephesians that God can do more than we ask–more than we imagine. I don’t know about you, but I can imagine a lot! There is a promise here that if we continue to follow where God leads, if we continue to engage in the work that he gives us, if we continue to place our hope in him, he’s going to move those mountains. He’s going to transform this world into something we cannot even fathom….something so good we didn’t even know to ask for it! But, we have to work.

So, where is God calling you to go this week? Who is God calling you to reach out to? What encouragement is God calling you to offer? What battle is God asking you to fight? The tools are there, in God’s Word, in our time spent with other believers, in our worship, in our prayer. So pick them up. And in doing so, our souls will be lifted, too.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 457: The Indwelling of Christ

One of the hardest things about losing my dad was that in his passing, I lost a trusted guide and spiritual mentor. My dad was the one we all went to when we needed some direction. He didn’t really offer practical advice–that’s more my mom’s forte–but what he did offer was an empathetic ear, guided discernment, and spiritual encouragement. Dad let us talk through our problems. He asked questions to lead us into a better understanding of the situation and helped us get a 360 degree view of things. He shared experiences from his own life, and offered a few suggestions of what we might do. He also threw in relevant Scripture teachings to aid us as we worked through whatever the issue was. So when I found myself staring into the face of a situation that left me in a state of unease recently, I really really wanted the opportunity to discuss the situation with him.

As I lay in bed, mulling the situation over one night, I called Dad to mind. I pictured him, sitting across from me in our living room, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his fingers clasped together, listening closely as I shared the situation with him. I heard his voice as he asked me questions…questions I knew he would ask from 40 + years of the parent-child relationship. The dialogue continued, in my mind, as Dad said, “You know, here’s what I think…” And what my dad would have thought was right there, coming up from inside of me, from years of his counsel and encouragement, from time spent together. It was a true conversation with my dad, albeit one I was totally constructing in my head. And after I had played through everything I knew we would have discussed, including a relevant Scripture passage, I felt more at peace. I knew what was right–the direction in which I needed to go. Although the conversation was a total figment of my too-active imagination, it was also completely real because of the relationship that I had with my dad while he was on this earth. My dad is a part of me, and he always will be.

God, the Creator, Redeemer, Deliverer, Sustainer, Beginning, End, Mighty One, Light, Salvation, Rock, Defender, Hope for the Hopeless, Bringer of Justice, Teacher, Lover of Mercy takes up permanent residence within us.

Just as those we’ve loved and lost continue to exist in some form within us, so, too, Christ’s Spirit lives within our souls. The difference, of course, is that the Spirit of Christ is alive and active rather than an essence of memory. Indwell is a verb that means to be permanently present within one’s soul or mind. It comes from the root dwell, which means to permanently reside in one location. So, when Scripture tells us that God dwells within us…that the Spirit of Christ is indwelling within our souls…this means that God, the Creator, Redeemer, Deliverer, Sustainer, Beginning, End, Mighty One, Light, Salvation, Rock, Defender, Hope for the Hopeless, Bringer of Justice, Teacher, Lover of Mercy takes up permanent residence within us. Think about that. God, the one from whom all things come and who holds all things in his hands, willingly takes up a permanent residence within us. This means that whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, however ugly and awful life might get, God is right there with us in the midst of it because he is in the midst of us.

And yet, too often we are unaware of this great presence within us, and so we do not access God’s wisdom and counsel because we have not fully prepared ourselves for his indwelling. We have not maintained the relationship. I can call my dad to mind because we had an active relationship. We communicated on a regular basis. We spent time in each other’s presence. I listened to him, watched him, learned from him, and in doing so I knew him.

The same is true for our relationship with God.

If we want to experience God’s indwelling within us, we must have an active relationship with him. And what are the hallmarks of an active relationship with God?

Time in his Word–In Scripture, we learn who God is and come to an understanding of his nature. Scripture is the inspired word of God, which means that it is God-breathed. When we read his Word, we do so with his Spirit, and that Spirit opens our mind to understanding God more fully.

Communicating with God in Prayer–When we pray, we place ourselves before God’s throne. It is an opportunity to be in God’s presence, to commune with him and to receive from him all that he would offer. Prayer changes us from the inside out.

Experiencing God with Others–We all need others to walk with us on our journey, which is why we have the opportunity to worship and grow together through the Body of Christ. Church is important, not because it’s a pretty building or going is what we’ve always done, but because it is the Body of Christ gathered together to learn, grow, and work.

When we do these things, we can fully experience the indwelling of God through his Spirit. And when we have that indwelling, we are never alone. God is there, at any moment, in any situation, to give us his strength, his wisdom, his comfort, his grace, his forgiveness, his love.

Are you preparing yourself for God’s indwelling today?

Blessings and Peace

Sara

Confession 456: Breaking the Barrier of Hatred

For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing and rewriting a post about white privilege. Fun ,right? But, it’s a topic that’s been discussed in our home, among our family, among our friends, and among our co-workers a great deal since the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests for racial justice. I even had a catchy title to go with it: “White Privilege: What it Is, What it Isn’t, and Why Christians Should Care”. Snazzy, huh?

I think white privilege is a completely misunderstood subject that all White Americans need to start talking about. To be honest with you, I didn’t understand it until I was in my mid-twenties…and I’m still learning. White privilege isn’t just about money…it’s about opportunity. It’s about the fact that by and large, White Americans have been given more opportunities than Black Americans. Take my grandfather, for instance. My grandfather grew up in Southern Missouri, the lone son in a family of six. His folks were nothing more than dirt farmers, really, but my grandfather had opportunity. He enlisted in the Army during WWII, and upon his discharge he was given the opportunity to get a home loan. Black American veterans could not. He also had the opportunity to go to college, if he wanted to, but Black American veterans could not. He started a couple of businesses with my grandmother, probably getting a small business loan from the bank. Something Black American veterans could not do. My grandparents were working class people. It took a lot to put food on the table and build a future for their children. But, even so, they had more financial opportunities than Black Americans.

As a Christ follower and a student of Scripture, I know that our God puts a high premium on justice. Seriously…do a keyword search of the word justice on Bible Gateway an you’ll find 130 entries in the NIV, 220 in the CEB, and 173 in the NRSV. Justice matters…and differing access to opportunity based on the color of one’s skin is a blatant form of injustice. So, as a Christian, I have to care about white privilege. I have to seek to understand it; moreover, I have to work to change it, because God commands his followers to love justice.

But, then I read this verse in Ephesians, and I realized that the message God has for us about racial justice is so. much. more.

Paul’s words to the Ephesians came at a time when people were deeply divided by race. Diversity was not encouraged, and while people of different backgrounds might occupy the same piece of land, they certainly didn’t live together. The Jewish Christians (yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron) had a massive superiority complex when it came to the early church. They prided themselves on their birthright as God’s chosen people. Jesus was a Jew. He came as the promised Messiah to the Jews to deliver Israel once and for all. Who were these Greeks who wanted to be part of Jesus’s salvation? They hadn’t been enslaved in Egypt. They hadn’t followed some crazy man around the desert for 40 years. They hadn’t built the Temple of the Lord, been exiled into Babylon, and overcome oppression time and time again to establish the kingdom of Israel. The Greeks made statues and ran around in togas for crying out loud! The Jews considered them to be highly immoral and unclean. They didn’t practice the Jewish Law, they weren’t circumcised, and… they ate pork. The Jewish Christians started trying to impose all sorts of restrictions on the Greek Christians. They had to adhere to the Law, they needed to be circumcised, they had to change their diets, their clothing, on and on and on. The Jewish Christians were attempting to deny the Greek Christians their opportunity to receive Christ’s salvation…a fact that did not sit well with Paul.

In the above verse, Paul calls all of the early Christians out for their prejudicial practices. Paul reminds them that in Christ there is one body…and entry into that body depends not on race (or gender, or nationality, or political party, or economic status, or age, or previous misdeeds). Rather, entry into the body of Christ depends on one’s acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives. You see, Christ sacrificed his body on the cross so that ALL who seek him may dwell in unity with him. When the Roman soldiers broke Jesus’s body, they also broke down the barrier of hatred that so often divides people from one another. There can be no hate in the body of Christ because Jesus’s death was an act of love. And love is the perfect bond of unity (Colossians 3:14).

As Christians, there should be no barrier of hate that can divide us from others. This is why I believe that as Christians…moreover, as American Christians…we are compelled to stand up for racial justice. The brutal legacy of slavery has left indelible scars on this country that are still oozing infection. We can’t erase them, nor should we. But I do believe that, with the power of God’s love and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we can HEAL them once and for all.

Jesus broke down the barrier of hatred that divides us. So, how do we begin to break down the barrier of hatred that is racial injustice? As White Americans, we have to first stop and listen. I’m not talking the kind of listening we too often do, sitting around coffee shops, barber shops, beauty salons, and dinner tables with people who look and think just like us and sharing the same opinion over and over. I’m talking about listening to those who have had vastly different experiences than us. White Americans need to listen with open minds to the stories of our Black American brothers and sisters because it is only by listening that we have any hope of understanding. And I do believe, with every fiber of my being, that we as Christians are called to seek an end to injustice…including racial injustice. We have to allow Jesus’s work on the cross to break down the barriers of prejudicial thinking we may have grown up with or accepted as the norm. We have to love with Christ’s heart, and carry that love with Christ’s hands and feet in an effort to heal the brokenness all around us. We have to have the courage of Jesus as he preached the Good News to put our own preconceived notions, opinions, understandings, and teachings about race aside so that we can become the true body of Christ…a body that sees color and says that all of it is a beautiful creation of God.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 455: The Light of a Dynamic Life

June 20 is one of my favorite days of the year. It is the summer solstice–the day in the Northern Hemisphere when the sun’s light is visible for the longest amount of time. For a few glorious months, the light overcomes the darkness. Time itself seems to slow as we drop our frantic rush to complete the tasks of the day and revel in the knowledge that there is enough time, enough light, to accomplish all we need to accomplish. In early summer, my soul takes a breath and stills, for a bit, basking in the glow of a pink and peach sunset at almost nine o’clock in the evening. The light brings peace, contentment, and hope.

I recognize that I am writing these words in the midst of a raging pandemic and civil unrest. I understand that for many, the extra light this year is not an invitation for peace, contentment, and hope to enter in and sit a spell. Rather, it is a time for anxiety, frustration, and disillusionment to continue their long march across our souls…across our nation…across the fabric of our lives. Somehow, in 2020, the darkness seems endless. Despite the prevalence of light, the world seems to be falling apart, and many people are tired and scared and don’t know what to do. Every decision is fraught with peril…there seem to be no right answers. In our house, we can’t even decide whether or not to send our son to Scout camp in mid-July. It’s maddening, especially if you’re like me and appreciate routine and structure.

This year, I’ve been starting each day with a devotional from Lloyd John Ogilvie’s book, God’s Best for My Life. Today’s message focused on the light of Christ, and how that light lived out in our lives can impact the world. Ogilivie writes that:

The purpose of [a Christian’s] life is to be a commanding witness for Jesus Christ in a dark world. What we believe, what Christ means to us, and what He has done in our character cannot be hidden.

God’s Best for My Life

God is light, and we, his followers, are his light-bearers. We are the ones who bring the message of hope and good news to a world drowning in the chaos of darkness. It is we, the Jesus People, who are to tend to God’s light within us so that we can be a beacon for others. As Ogilivie writes, we shine God’s light by living a “dynamic life in the light.” But, what does that “dynamic life” look like?

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Paul tells the Ephesians that a “dynamic life” is one that produces goodness, justice, and truth. It is a stark contrast to the corruption, injustice, and false idols we have adopted in our society. Living a “dynamic life” means that we must reject hate and hate-mongering, wherever or from whomever it comes from. We must embrace goodness, not the Pollyanna-esque naivety that is often associated with the word, but goodness that comes from a life centered on doing God’s will–of embracing and expressing love, peace, grace, mercy, and forgiveness to all who we engage with on a daily basis. Our words and actions, when driven by God’s light within us, cannot tear down others. Rather, they seek to build and strengthen goodness in our families, our friendships, our communities, our country, and our world.

A “dynamic life” lived in God’s light also produces justice. We forget that one of the most important characteristics of God is that he is just. Not only is he just, but he demands that his people practice justice. From Old Testament to New, justice is a key fruit of a God-filled life. Therefore, as Jesus followers, we must also seek justice. We must call out injustice when we see it, and work to better understand the prejudices ingrained within us and in our culture in order to seek a more just society. Living justly means listening to others whose experiences have been different from ours, and seeking to understand rather than to be understood. We cannot fight injustice if we do not recognize it, and we cannot recognize it if we do not listen to those who have experienced it.

Finally, Paul tells us that a “dynamic life” lived in God’s light produces truth. This is the truth of God which is summed up in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ came to earth and lived among us, he sacrificed himself for our sins, and he conquered death by rising from the grave. God’s truth is that love, life, and light win… always, forever…. God’s truth is that we were created in love, we live in love, and we are destined to spend eternity in love.

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God has given us his light. It is in Scripture, in the Spirit which dwells among us, in our relationships bound together by God’s presence. The world is desperate for God’s light. Today, consider how you might live a “dynamic life” that produces goodness, justice, and truth that others may follow into a world of light.

Blessings and Peace

Sara

Facing Your Giants: A FREE Bible Gateway Study from MAX LUCADO

As part of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid, I get to share some really cool materials from Bible Gateway with readers. Today, Bible Gateway’s FREE study of Max Lucado’s Facing Your Giants begins! I don’t know about you…but life seems to be one big giant right now. We’re facing a pandemic, trying to address nearly 400 years of racial inequality, and each of us is facing personal giants that require energy, effort, and attention. Right now seems like a great time to join together and learn more about how God can help us face our communal, personal, and spiritual giants. Will you join me?

Registration can be found here, through Bible Gateway. Below is an introductory video from Max Lucado I would encourage you to watch.

Each week, I will post some thoughts about the study. I encourage you to share with me your new understandings, insights, and thoughts as well.

Are you ready to face some giants?

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

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Confession 454: Ending Racism with Micah 6:8

Racism. What an ugly word. And yet, one that is still so prevalent in our American society. As a white person, growing up in a predominately white town, it took me awhile to understand that my realities of equality, justice, and fairness were very different from the realities of my black and brown brothers and sisters. And yet, the evidence of the inequity that still exists in our nation is all around. It’s in the disproportionate numbers of black men who sit behind locked bars. It’s in the disproportionate numbers of black and brown men and women dying of Covid-19. It’s in the disproportionate numbers of black citizens killed by the police.

While I am as close to a pacifist as you can get without marking the “conscientious objector” box, I understand the outrage fueling the protests over the killing of George Floyd. Moreover, I support those who are making a stand and demanding change. That’s why I am, once again, lending my voice to the call for change.

For too long, the burden of ending racism in our country has been relentlessly pressed onto the shoulders of black and brown Americans. White Americans, so afraid to confront our racist past, bury our heads in the sand instead of tackling the issues head-on. But…change will never come if we don’t pull our heads up and engage in the hard conversations of inequity and systemic racism that not only built this nation, but keeps it moving today. It doesn’t make you, as a white American, a bad person for acknowledging the fact that racism exists. It doesn’t make you, a white American, a bad person for understanding that being white in America comes with certain privileges that are not offered to people with black or brown skin. It doesn’t make you a bad person (or unpatriotic) for admitting that our law enforcement systems (not people) are inherently biased against black Americans. Acknowledging, understanding, and admitting the problem is the first step to solving it. And, I believe we CAN solve it! Moreover, I think that we, as Jesus followers, MUST work to solve it. God calls us to engage in the hard work of rooting out racism…of bringing his kingdom, in which there is no division based on race, ethnicity or class, to fruition. But how do we start?

As I’ve been praying over what to do this past week, God brought Micah 6:8 to mind. As I prayed over this verse, it came to me that following Micah 6:8 is a great start for seeking an end to the legacy of racism.

Look closely at what Micah tells us:

  1. Micah makes it clear that God has already given us the tools needed to do what is right. God gives us his Word…that Spirit-breathed knowledge passed down from generation to generation in which we see God’s character manifested in black and white. In Scripture, we receive God’s instruction on how to live, how to treat others, and how to follow God’s path. We KNOW what God calls us to do because he tells us over and over through Scripture.
  2. God requires justice to be done. As followers of God, therefore, we are called to fight injustice. Our call to fight injustice supersedes any political view we might have. If there is an injustice, God compels us to speak up. One of the most damning things Christians have done in this country is to politicize our faith. God and the American government are not the same. God is above our politics. Whether we lean left or right should have absolutely no bearing on our understanding of justice. God fights for the oppressed, for those who do not have equal opportunities, for those who are unfairly treated and cast down by society….and so should we. As a white American, it is my job to speak up when I see racial injustice, not because I live in a red state, not because I took a Democratic primary ticket, but because God compels me to do so.
  3. God compels us to show mercy. What is mercy? Mercy is compassion OR forgiveness shown by someone who has the power to punish or harm. In a hierarchical relationship, mercy is the compassion shown by someone in power to those who have less power. Compassion opens the door to justice because we feel empathy for those who are being treated unjustly. Compassion leads us to fight for justice for those who are oppressed. White Americans, myself included, should seek to look at the struggles of many of our black and brown brothers and sisters with compassion, not judgement. How different might our nation, our world, be if we could look at others through the lens of compassion?
  4. Finally, God tells us to humbly walk with him. I want to key-in on the word humbly for a moment, because I believe it is this word that opens the floodgates of compassion/mercy and enables us to fight for justice. It took me many years to be able to admit that I was prejudiced. My prejudice wasn’t intentional, but it was borne from being a white American living in white America. Society taught me preconceived notions about black Americans…from television shows where the perpetrator of any crime was always black or brown, to conversations with adults about the dangers of “the city”. My grandparents used racist language because that’s what they were taught (one of my grandfather’s points of pride was when he started using the phrase African-American). I have ancestors who owned slaves…imagine that. In my family tree, people owned other people. That is an uncomfortable understanding to sit with. But, it’s important to sit there…because it’s in the uncomfortable soul-searching and tending that true changes takes place. I believe that it is time for white Americans (myself included) to humble ourselves in regard to racial equality. We need to do some digging, and allow God to uncover our own preconceived notions about race. We need to have the humility to stand up and say, “You know, we got it wrong in the past, but now we want to make it right.” THEN, we need to continue to walk in humility and LISTEN to the experiences of our black and brown brothers and sisters. It is when we are humble enough to listen to the experiences of injustice and prejudice that we grow our compassion for others and are enabled to fight for justice.

So, what is the Lord requiring of you today? Is he asking you to humble yourself and to listen to the voices of those whose experiences are different from yours? Is he asking you to show compassion to those who are hurting? Is he compelling you to speak up and lend your voice to the fight for justice?

My friends, there is so much work to do! Change takes time, it takes effort, it takes unwavering commitment to a vision of a better world. But change can happen. Will you lend your voice to the change?

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 452: Stacking Stones in the Midst of a Pandemic

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Sometimes God speaks softly, his voice so quiet that you have to strain to hear it. Other times, he speaks in a resounding gong that echoes over every aspect of your life. In the past few weeks, I have heard God resounding. I began a Bible study with my women’s small group based on Barb Roose’s Surrendered: Letting Go and Living Like Jesus. Roose discusses the Israelites as they journey through the wilderness and stop, poised at the edge of the Promised Land. Three days later, my husband preached a sermon using some of the same Scripture passages. I have walked with God long enough to know that when the same Scripture passages appear in your life within days of each other, it is not a coincidence and you need to pay attention. I abandoned my reading of the book of Romans (great book…but not where God is leading right now) and turned, instead, to the book that God kept calling out over me….Joshua.

There is a word in Joshua that God wants me to hear. And, perhaps, he wants you to hear it, too. You see, Joshua opens with the people of Israel in a time of transition. They are standing at the very edge of the Promised Land. After 40 years of wandering the Judean wilderness, they are there. The problem is, other people are there, too. And these people have been there for a long time. They’ve built cities. They’ve built armies. They have kings. The Israelites were lacking in all of these things. Moses was gone. He died while the people were in Moab, still wandering the desert, and was buried in a valley in an unmarked grave. (Deuteronomy 34:6) Joshua was the heir-apparent…a gifted soldier and faithful follower of God who had been by Moses’ side throughout the wilderness journey. Joshua had been told by God that he would lead the people into the Promised Land. But he wondered, standing before the Jordan River, would the people who rebelled against Moses actually have the faith to take what the Lord had promised would be theirs?

The Israelites face a crisis of faith. Who should they follow? Who should they believe? What is the right thing to do? Do forge their way across the Jordan River and charge a fortified city? Or, do they hang back and make a home in the wilderness ? In the first chapter of Joshua, God gives Joshua a pep talk. He reassures Joshua that Joshua is, indeed, the man for this job, and that all of the promises God made to the Israelites are about to be fulfilled. God also provides encouragement.  4 times in this chapter of only 18 verses God says to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous!” 4 times!

The first real test for Joshua comes shortly after this divine pep talk. The people are at the Jordan River, which is running at flood stage. Being a Missouri girl, with the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, I know rivers at flood stage. The number one rule when facing a river at flood stage is to turn around and go the other way! But that is not what God tells Joshua to do. With the echoes of “Be strong and courageous” ringing still ringing in his mind, Joshua commands the priests to carry the Ark of the Covenant into the river. And lo and behold, at the very second when the first priests’ toes hit the water, God acts. Just as with the Red Sea, the waters of the Jordan part, the ground dries, and the people walk through.

There was no mistaking that this was indeed a miraculous supernatural event. God proved to the Israelites once again that He is their leader, that He loves them, and that He has a plan for their future.

After the people cross the Jordan, but before the Ark is carried to shore, Joshua issues one more instruction. He tells the 12 tribal leaders to go back to the river and gather one stone each from the dry riverbed. He then instructs each of these men to carry their stone on their shoulders, high enough for all of the people to see. “These stones,” Joshua calls out, “are a symbol…an enduring memorial for the Israelites.” These stones, ordinary river stones, are a sign for future generations of the faithfulness and power of God.

My friends, as we continue to forge a new path through the wilderness of this pandemic, I think we need to start stacking some stones. I think we need to remember God’s mighty acts in both Scripture, and in our lives. I think we need to remind ourselves that God is always faithful, that he loves us, and that he has a beautiful future in store for us.

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The Israelites stacked their stones at Gilgal, so that “so that all the earth’s peoples might know that the Lord’s power is great and that you may always revere the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4: 24) I don’t think it’s an accident that these stones were placed in a location where the Israelites would have to pass through if they were retreating. Those stones were stacked before the Israelites began the fight for the Promised Land as a reminder, in the thick of battle, that God would always provide. Life can be brutal. It can be unfair and unjust. It can be tragic and painful. We fight battles: relational battles, health battles, financial battles, addiction battles. Yet, along the way, we pick up stones. Each time God provides, each time God heals, each time God sends a friend for support, each time God opens a door or a window, each time God brings us just what we need we pick up a stone. It is a stone of hope, of faith, of reassurance that all will be well. Yet, often, we let our stones fall. We let them become scattered across our soul, more of a hindrance than a help. The message in Joshua is clear: we need to hoist those stones and stack them in a place of prominence. We need to make sure that we have placed a reminder for ourselves of God’s goodness and providence in our place of retreat. But, our place of retreat is the path forward for those who follow us. In that way, our sacred memorial is a call of encouragement, a marker that clearly says “This way forward!” to those seekers who come behind us.

This week, I want to encourage you to gather some stones. Hoist them on your shoulders and pile them up until you have a tower of promises fulfilled by God. If you’re a visual person, go out and get some rocks. Paint or write the promise fulfilled on each rock. Or, if you’re a task master, consider writing a list of all of the promises God has fulfilled in your life. Don’t hesitate to share these stones with others…sharing the Good News of God’s love and faithfulness to someone else who needs to see those promises fulfilled.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Zondervan Artisan Collection Bible Review

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Last month, I had the opportunity from Bible Gateway to receive a FREE copy of the Zondervan Artisan Collection Bible for Girls to review. These new Bibles are pretty special, and here’s why:

“Artisan Collection Bibles are beautiful inside and out. They’re the only NIV Bibles with printed hand-painted cover designs and beautiful art hidden in the page edges, paired with the exclusive Comfort Print typesetting and wide margins, inviting you to journal, reflect, take notes, and create art.” https://biblegateway.christianbook.com/page/tcg/biblegateway/bg-bibles/bg-artisan-bibles

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I requested a copy of the Girl’s Bible, and promptly delivered it to my 10-year-old niece to review. To be honest, upon initial review, I was not blown away by this Bible. The cover is gorgeous, but inside there’s are no commentary, notes, or asides for younger kids to read. Therefore, there’s no real guidance for them as they read the Scriptures. I prefer Bibles for kids that have age-appropriate explanations of Scripture, because I think it helps them engage.

However, there is ample room for kids to draw, doodle, or journal. And, although I was not blown away, my niece LOVED it!! She read the Easter story and the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. She doodled in the Bible after reading, and it really helped her to process what she had read. The ability to draw and doodle in the Bible made reading it a less formal experience for her. She was truly able to engage with the text and to express her interpretation of it through drawing. Here’s a sample of her work.

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Honestly, as a former teacher, I’m blown away by her interaction with the text. She really engaged with the reading and came to her own understanding of it. As a parent, it’s so important to me that children come to their own conclusions and understandings of faith. This Bible is a perfect way for kids who enjoy expressing themselves through drawing or doodling to do just that. They can read the text, grapple with it, and work out their understandings of it right there on the page!

For more information about this Bible, I would encourage you to read through the interview with mixed-media artist Olivia Joy, one of the artists who worked on these Bibles.

https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2020/03/new-artisan-collection-bibles-an-interview-with-olivia-joy/

Finally, here’s a note from the publisher:

“Our Artisan Bibles have inspired thousands of readers to see the beauty in God’s Word. These new editions in our second iteration will do the same, and in a unique way because of the one-of-a-kind art technique that Michigan artist Olivia Joy uses,” says Melinda Bouma, vice president and publisher of Zondervan Bibles. “And we’re thrilled to expand this beautiful line of Bibles into the NRSV translation, providing NRSV readers with beautiful Bibles in their translation of choice.”

If you’d like to purchase a Zondervan Artisan Collection Bible from Zondervan, use the links below. This is a great addition for both kids and adults to deepen their understanding of God’s Word.

Bible Gateway

Amazon

Blessings and Peace,

Sara