Confession 411:Let Your Love Grow in the Wilderness

Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I’ll give up my life for you.”

Jesus replied, “Will you give up your life for me? I assure you that you will deny me three times before the rooster crows.

Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too.  John 13:37-14:3 (CEB)

Last week, I wrote about love.  Love is a controlled burn.  Love helps us to go where we cannot go on our own.  However, as I was reminded in Alicia Britt Chole’s 40 Days of Decrease, love needs time to grow.  Jesus walked the path to the cross out of love, but is our love strong enough to make that same journey?

Confession 243: Fan or Follower

Peter wasn’t ready.  Peter had spent the better part of three years living and working with Jesus.  Yet when the time came, his love wasn’t ready to follow Jesus to the cross.  Peter needed the wilderness of denial.  And Jesus knew it.  Look at this exchange between the Teacher and his disciple.

Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I go with you now? I would die for you!”

“Would you really die for me?” Jesus asked. “I tell you for certain that before a rooster crows, you will say three times that you don’t even know me.”

Peter asked Jesus why he couldn’t go with him now.  And what was Jesus’ response?  You’re not ready.  

My boys, at almost nine and eleven, often think they’re ready for more grown-up things.  They really want to stay home alone sometime.  My response is always the same–you’re not ready.  There’s too much I still have to teach them about being self-sufficient.  And, they can’t even reach the microwave to make food.  They need more time.

Confession 254: Why Wait?

Peter needed more time.  In the church, we look at Peter’s denial of Christ as a cautionary tale.  We tell believers to be strong in their faith, not fickle like Peter.  But here’s the thing: Jesus knew Peter wasn’t ready.  He told Peter that Peter wasn’t ready.  And then, do you know what he said–in the very next breath?  Don’t worry about it.

Don’t be troubled.  Trust me.  I’ve got it covered.  And there will come a time when you will be ready, and you will be with me. 

Jesus didn’t condemn Peter for his coming lack of faith.  Instead, he comforted him.  He encouraged him.  He loved him.

Peter wasn’t ready to go to the cross.  His love needed more time to grow.  He needed to sit in the darkness of that long night of Jesus’ arrest and to wrestle with what he believed.  He needed to see the empty tomb, to see Jesus appear once more.

Jesus understood this.  And he waited.  He waited until Peter’s love was ready.  And when Peter was ready, Jesus asked him: Peter, do you love me?

Peter’s response was a resounding yes.  Peter, who had denied Jesus out of his grief and fear, now proclaimed Jesus as Christ.  Peter, who stood in the shadows as Jesus was arrested, tortured and nailed to the cross now willingly walked that very same path Jesus had trod.  Peter’s love was ready to go where Jesus called him to go.

Confession 271: Making Meaning

This week, ask yourself if your love is ready, really ready, to go where Jesus is going.  Is your love ready for the cross?  If the answer is no, be at peace with that response.  Allow your love for God the time it needs to grow.  Live a bit in the wilderness, trusting and depending on God.  Let God reveal his steadfastness to you, so that when the time comes, you will be ready to follow wherever Jesus might lead.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

*Note: This post originally published March 21, 2016.

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Confession 410: Love Goes Where Passion Cannot

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

fire in jar

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

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

heart on wood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 (CEV)

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

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

heart on path

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

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

The list goes on and on…

Love leads us where passion cannot go.

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

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

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

Confession 409: Can I Be Honest? 40 Days of Decrease

Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32 (CEB)

I love taking my boys clothes shopping with me.  That sounds crazy, I know.  But, at eight and ten, my boys are very honest (and free) with their opinions.  If I try something on and it looks awful, they tell me.  And trust me, I need that feedback!

Dandelion

As we get older, we tend to struggle with honesty.  We don’t want to say something that might hurt someone’s feelings, cause us to lose face or be painful to acknowledge.  I’m not saying that we should be brutally honest with one another in the dressing room at Kohl’s or Dress Barn–my mother tells me there is something called tact.  However, I am saying that perhaps we need to be a bit more honest with ourselves about why we think, feel and act in a certain way.

We need to be honest with ourselves about the state of our relationships with others.  We need to be honest with ourselves about our own gifts and abilities.  We need to be honest with ourselves about our own biases, prejudices and contributions to discord and disharmony.

Why is honesty so very important in our lives and relationships?  Because honesty, my friends, enables us to grow.  Putting a good spin on a difficult situation is not going to solve the problem.  Placing all of the blame for a falling out on someone else is not going to pave the way for forgiveness and reconciliation.  Hiding pain behind a false smile is not going to make us feel better.

Society tells us to “fake it until you make it”.  Fortunately, as Jesus followers, we don’t need to fake anything.  You see, Jesus valued honesty.  In fact, he criticized the religious leaders for being dishonest; with the people, with themselves and with God.  In the book of Matthew, Jesus calls the religious leaders hypocrites twelve times–six times in one chapter alone!

“How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You shut people out of the kingdom of heaven. You don’t enter yourselves, and you won’t allow those who want to enter to do so.”  Matthew 23:13 (CEB)

“How terrible it will be for you, legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You travel over sea and land to make one convert. But when they’ve been converted, they become twice the child of hell you are.” Matthew 23:15 (CEB)

“How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You give to God a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, but you forget about the more important matters of the Law: justice, peace, and faith.” Matthew 23:23 (CEB)

Jesus detested the dishonesty of the religious leaders.  Their dishonesty poisoned their faith.  These leaders were consumed by self-interest.  They were self-righteous, judgmental, unjust and ungodly.  They put a spin on faith that prevented others from coming to know God, and the consequences of those untruths were going to be eternal.

dandelion

In 40 Days of Decrease, Alicia Britt Chole challenges readers to avoid the dishonesty of the religious leaders and to fast revisionism.  Chole writes:

…valuing something more than truth limits our interaction with Jesus.  Taken seriously, this is rather sobering.  Do we value something more than truth?  Have control and position become more precious to us than sincerity?  Are we committed tot he pursuit of emotional and intellectual honesty in God’s presence? (pg. 93)

Jesus states in the Gospel of John that truth will set us free. Being honest before God allows us to release all of our fear, insecurity, pain, ambition, need for control and anything else we try to spin our way.

And what do we receive for our honesty?  Peace.  Forgiveness.  Redemption.  Grace.  Strength.  Healing.  Wisdom.  Mercy.  Freedom. Compassion.  Love.  Restoration.

Notice that God’s blessings don’t include things like: happiness, ease, prosperity, universal appeal, promotions, privilege.  Those promises are dishonest.  As humans, we will grieve, face challenges and sometimes suffer.  Adam and Eve’s dishonesty marred God’s perfect creation and closed Eden’s door.  However, our ability to be honest with God deepens our relationship with him, the effects of which will flow out from us and into the lives of others.

Today, I would challenge you to spend some time honestly talking to God.  Tell him your fears, your desires, your frustrations and your hopes.  Then, ask him to fill you with his presence so that you can go forth and share his great love with others.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 408: Ask Away–40 Days of Decrease

I am the LORD!  There is nothing too difficult for me. Genesis 18:14 (CEB)

girl on swing

When I was a kid, I asked a lot of questions.  My mom recalls a memorable experience seeing Disney’s Sleeping Beauty in a theater where, at the age of two, I very loudly demanded to know a plethora of things.  Important things like, “Why is the dragon purple?  Why is her dress pink?  Why is the prince riding a horse?”

My parents were professional educators, so they didn’t discourage my questioning–even when it drove them crazy.  Now, I have two children of my own who question everything.  I find I have a new appreciation for the amount of self-discipline and control my parents must have had not to ban me from speaking until I was eighteen.

And, although it’s incredibly annoying to have your ten year old constantly ask you if you’re driving the speed limit whenever you hit the highway, questions are (by and large) good things.  Questions lead to knowledge, to new understandings and perspectives, to a greater appreciation for the world and the people within it.  Questions also lead us into a deeper relationship with God.

girl on swing 2

There’s a fallacy among some religious people that questioning God is sinful.  I think this idea is born out of the great fear we humans have with uncertainty.  Many of us struggle with the concept of holy mystery. We can’t handle the complexity of God’s great all-encompassing love coupled with the reality of the ramifications of free will and human suffering.   When tragedy strikes, it’s more comfortable to say “Well, it’s God’s will” rather than “What the —-?”

The truth is, our desperate cry of “Why would you let this happen?” draws us much closer to the heart of God than an apathetic response of, “Okay…whatever…”  Accepting without question doesn’t engage in a conversation.  It doesn’t open the door for a relationship; instead, it shuts the door in God’s face.  Ignoring the questions in our hearts only serves to weaken our faith because we deny ourselves an opportunity to speak to God openly and honestly.

choleIn 40 Days of Decrease, Alicia Britt Chole refers to our process of trying to rationalize God’s ways as a means of fixing faith.  She writes:

The church in general panics when miracles miscarry.  We scurry clumsily to prop up God’s sagging reputation.  There must have been a problem, we offer.  God must have something even better around the corner, we propose.  Must He?  (pg. 34)

In her challenge to fast “fixing it”, Chole acknowledges the need for questions in our faith.        When we fast “fixing it” we allow ourselves to become children once again, running to the great Parent with questions, fears, disappointments, anger and broken hearts.  And God, the great Parent, welcomes us with open arms.  He listens to our questions.  He understands our fears and disappointments.  He accepts our anger and he grieves our broken hearts.  God is our safe place–our refuge in times of trouble. (Psalm 18:2)

That is not to say God will provide an answer to all our questions.  How could he when there is so much at work in this world that is way beyond our understanding.  But God wants us to ask the questions, because he wants to be in a relationship with us.

As a parent, it’s important to me that my children know they can always come to me with any questions.  I don’t answer all of them, sometimes because I don’t know the answer and sometimes because they’re not ready to hear it.  However, in listening to their questions and responding in love, I’m teaching my children (I hope!) that Mama is a safe place for them to come and lay their burdens down.  And, as their questions get bigger and harder, I’m hopeful that my willingness to engage in their questions will teach my boys that they don’t have to hide anything from me–that when they are with me they are free to be themselves,even if it’s not always pretty, because I love them.

If you’re like me, you have a lot of questions for God.  Some days those questions are born out of mere curiosity.  Other days the questions come from a deep place of hurt or anger.  Whatever questions of faith you have today, I would encourage you to bring them before God.  Lay them down at his feet and let him be your safe place.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession407: Are You For Real? 40 Days of Decrease

Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking,  “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Matthew 11:2-3 (CEB)

In 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole, we are asked to fast artificial light.  This fast comes to us out of the depths of a dark and lonely prison cell.  John the Baptist, who once commanded great crowds in the wilderness and carried the light for God, now sits broken and chained in a dark, dirty, dank dungeon far below Herod’s great palace.  John, who first recognized Jesus as Messiah from his mother’s womb is now asking the question, “Are you for real?”

caged bird

This question brings me to my knees each time I study it.  It brings me to my knees because, my friends, I’ve been there.  There are moments in each of our lives where our surety of faith born in the light of God’s goodness and grace gives way to uncertainty in the darkness of disappointment and disillusionment.  God’s promises of health, protection, love, and stability haven’t materialized as we expected.  Life threw a curveball and we grounded out in the dirt.

A couple of years ago, I took a “leap of faith”.  God and I had been discussing a career change for a few years, and I was finally taking the plunge.  I gave up full-time employment to become a freelance writer.  I gave up a salary package, benefits, vacation time and tax refunds to pursue this calling.  I knew that if I jumped, God would provide.  For over a year and a half the floodgates were opened.  Work poured in and I basked in the glow and wonder of God’s ability to make this new life happen.

But then, the streams began drying up.  The floodgates of opportunity closed.  The famine that I knew was part of this journey began, and I felt betrayed.  Where once was sureness, now was doubt.  Did I follow the wrong path?  Did I misunderstand?  Did I neglect part of a bargain I didn’t know I’d signed?  Did I miss the fine print?

Over the past several months, I’ve found myself asking God, “Are you for real?”  

One of the things I love about Chole’s book is that she gives me permission to ask God tough questions.  Her reminder of John the Baptist’s question to Jesus brought peace to my troubled soul.  Because John was one of the few people in Jesus’ sphere who got it.

From the beginning, John knew who Jesus was and what his own role was to be in spreading the good news.  John’s job was to prepare the way for Jesus–to be the supporting actor, so to speak.  And John was totally okay with this.  In fact, when his disciples attempted to start a turf war with Jesus, John cut them off.  John clearly says, “I’m not the Christ, but the one sent before him.” (John 3:28)

So if John, whose entire life was devoted to preparing the way for Jesus, asked Jesus if he was for real, then I think my own questions of doubt are okay.

So the question remains, “Are you for real?”

Look at the response John gets from  Jesus.

“Go, report to John what you hear and see. Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them. Happy are those who don’t stumble and fall because of me.” Matthew 11:4-6 (CEB)

I feel a great love in Jesus’ response.  Notice he doesn’t rebuke John’s doubt.  He doesn’t dismiss John’s question.  He doesn’t say to John, “Well, if you really knew me you wouldn’t ever question.”  No…Jesus responds with kindness, compassion and love.  He says to John, “Look at what I’m doing.  The work you started is coming to fruition.  I never want you to doubt because of me.”

Do you see the great beauty in Jesus’ response?  Do you see the depth of love?  I feel like if Jesus were sitting before John in his prison cell he would have taken John’s face in his hands and looked at him with eyes brimming over with compassion.  As Chole writes so eloquently in her book:

Jesus’ calm response to John echoes to us today: “Recall what I have done in the past.  Accept me as the Great I Am of your future.” (pg. 16)

free bird

I don’t know what crises of faith you might be experiencing today–what promises you have yet to see fulfilled in your life.  But know this, your disappointment, your doubt, you disillusionment is okay.  God can handle it.  But first, you have to bring it to him.

Today, tell God what you’re feeling.  Ask him if he’s for real.  And then, listen to the loving way he speaks to your fears.  As Chole writes, “accept [God] as the Great I Am of your future.”

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 406: 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole

Growing up in the Southern Baptist church, Lent was not something I was familiar with.  My understanding of Lent went something like this: people give up sweets or soda for a couple of months and then pig out on Easter.

I didn’t get it.  After I joined the United Methodist church and went to a United Methodist seminary where I earned a master’s degree in Christian Education…I still didn’t get it.  I think my precise thoughts on the matter were: This is dumb.  Aren’t we always supposed to be engaging in penitence and confession to prepare ourselves for Christ?  (Deep down, I’m still a bit of a Baptist girl).

And so, I just ignored Lent for several years.  I avoided Ash Wednesday service, didn’t give anything up and used the time known as Lent to memorize Scripture, pray more and practice stillness.  These are all good things, and my faith grew stronger with them.  But really, there was no deep Spiritual journey for me in engaging in these practices.  I just did them because I thought I was supposed to do something for Lent, even though Lent really meant very little to me.

And then, last February, my husband bought me a book.  My husband rarely buys me books.  He’s not against book buying or book giving, he just understands that the selection of books is a somewhat sacred process for me and doesn’t want to assume or impose by giving me something of his choosing rather than mine.  I say all of that to tell you that when Chris gives me a book, I pay attention to it because I know it’s not something he does lightly.

chole

40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger, A Different Kind of Fast by Alicia Britt Chole forever changed my “journey” of Lent.  For the first time ever, I got it.  More than that, Alicia’s thoughtful devotions and deeply spiritual reflections on fasting things like regret, keeping faith tidy, “fixing” things, religious profiling, spectatorship, comparison, discontentment and escapism took me on a spiritual journey that left me breathless and hungering for God in a whole new way.

Finally, Lent made sense.  Finally, Lent was a spiritual journey.  Finally, I felt myself walking with Jesus through the wilderness these 40 days.

40 Days of Decrease goes beyond the traditional Lenten fasts.  Like the contemplative sages of old who lived in the desert and guided pilgrims into a transformative encounter with the HOLY, Chole’s book guides those of us seeking a deeper and more meaningful faith into the desert places of our souls and leads us into a transformative encounter with the great I AM.

Are you hungering for God?  Are you thirsting to be filled with his Spirit?  Are you craving an experience with the risen Christ?  I would invite you to take this 40 Days of Decrease journey with me.  Every Tuesday and Thursday from now until Easter, I will be posting about 40 Days of Decrease here.  I’ll discuss the ways that God is speaking and changing me though this journey, and pose some questions for reflection.  You can always share your own experiences with me by emailing me or leaving me a comment.

I’ve placed links to Amazon all over this post so that you can purchase your own copy of the book.

This year, let’s do a different type of fast.  Let’s take a walk in the wilderness and allow God to feed our souls so that we can emerge transformed, rejuvenated and on fire to bring God’s love into the world.

As Chole writes:

Faith, in general, is less about the sacrifice of stuff and more about the surrender of our souls.  Lent, in kind, is less about well-mannered denials and more about thinning our lives in order to thicken our communion with God. Decrease is holy only when its destination is love.(pg. 2)

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 405: Eternal Wonder

Job, consider carefully
the many wonders of God. Job 37:14 (CEV)

grand-canyon

The other day, I took my boys to see a documentary on the National Parks.  The film was shown in an IMAX theater, so the images were spectacular.  As I marveled at the vibrant colors of nature on display in Yellowstone, awed over the heights and depths of the Grand Canyon and feasted on the beautiful rock formations at Bryce Canyon, I couldn’t help but sit in wonder at God’s artistry and majesty.

Think about it for a minute.  The Grand Canyon was carved by a river roiling over rocks for billions of years.  In Yellowstone, water bursts forth from the earth in a display that spans back millenniums–a contemporary peek into the prehistoric age.  When we look at nature, we’re seeing more than God’s magnificent handiwork.  We’re getting a small peek into the eternal depths of God’s being.  And that small peek into God’s eternal depths is enough to still our wandering thoughts and wondering souls.

In nature, we see God’s infinite patience, wisdom, craftsmanship and love.  Works of art millions and billions of years in the making are on display.  They are carefully designed and meticulously crafted; most are a mixture of both form and function.

yellowstone

Like most people, I question God’s ways.  I think it’s human to wonder why things happen the way they do.  All of us, if we’re honest, have asked “Why me?”

  • Why did my relationship fall apart?
  • Why did I get this disease?
  • Why didn’t I get that job/promotion/scholarship/award?
  • Why didn’t this risk pay off?
  • Why did I fail?

If we’re not careful, our “whys” can take over our lives; robbing us of joy and ensnaring us in chains of doubt and despair.  It’s not the asking that’s the problem, it’s the constant focus on the self that the “why” brings.

In the book of Job, the character of Job asks the question, “Why me?”  His life has been torn apart.  He’s lost his family, his home, his wealth, his position in society and his health.  Job is angry at God.  He doesn’t understand why the God he has served so faithfully would betray him in such a devastating way.  Time and again Job calls out to God to come to him and provide some sort of explanation and justification for God’s actions.  Before God finally speaks, there is a small interlude.  One of Job’s friends begins to talk about the wonder of God as evidenced in nature.  He tells Job to carefully consider the wonders of God.

In essence, Job’s friends is asking Job to look beyond his own pain and despair.  He’s telling Job to focus on the bigger picture, in spite of how he feels at the moment.  You see, when we still ourselves before the great majesty of God, we see something bigger than ourselves.  We see God the Creator working in our world and universe to make something much bigger and longer-lasting than our small space of time on earth.

When we gaze up at the stars, we see infinity.  When we stand on the mountaintop, we see God’s majesty.  When we stand on the shore and feel the waves wash over our feet, we see God’s constant movement.  And when we stand in the middle of the forest regenerating itself over and over, we see God’s gift of life.

bryce-canyon

For me, nature provides a means of silencing the “whys” in my life.  When I sit on our dock and watch the turtles build their nests in the shallows of the lake, I’m transported beyond my own struggles.  Instead of asking “why”, my mind is full of wonder and appreciation for God’s work.

I love the writing of naturalist and National Parks advocate John Muir.  Muir understood, fundamentally, nature’s ability to move us beyond ourselves closer to the divine.  This week, if you are feeling overwhelmed by the “why”, try looking for the wonder outside.

Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad, whatever is done and suffered by her creatures. All scars she heals, whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts.
– John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), p. 337.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 404: Book Talk-Katharina and Martin Luther

img_2037

When writer Michelle DeRusha announced last year that she was working on a biography about Martin Luther’s wife, my first thought was–“Martin Luther had a wife?”  I am a self-professed history nerd (it was my minor in college) and although I racked my brain, I couldn’t remember any history book ever mentioning the fact that the father of Protestantism had a wife.  History, as we know, is often written by those who hold the most power over it.  And, in the Middle Ages, women were not the primary stakeholders of history.

That, however, is changing.  DeRusha’s work paints a fascinating portrait of a couple drawn together in a wave of political, theological and cultural change who, hand in hand, helped to shape the Modern era.  The Luther’s story is a compelling and thought-provoking peek into the heart of Christian marriage.

Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk isn’t a dry historical tome, but rather a rich and vivid exploration of life during the Reformation that pulls the reader in and doesn’t let go.  DeRusha’s prose brings these historical figures to life, so much so that when reading the book you feel as if you’re there with the Luther’s, listening and participating in one of Martin Luther’s  famous Table Talks.

katharina-and-martin

So, what makes this such a fascinating read?  Well, let me give you a sneak peek.

Katharina von Bora’s story begins when, as a young girl, she is essentially sold to the church by her family.  Paying for a daughter to become a nun was cheaper than marrying her off, so many girls like Katharina found their life preordained behind cloister walls.  Katharina became a nun at the age of sixteen.  During this time, renegade monk Martin Luther was making waves across the country with his talk of church reformation.  Luther wrote and spoke passionately against the practices of the Catholic Church.  He urged the church to turn back to the practices of Jesus as laid out in Scripture.

Inspired by these ideas, Katharina (along with 12 other nuns) planned a daring escape from the confines of their convent.  Once free of the convent, Katharina had little choice but to marry.  Martin Luther attempted to play match-maker for her, but his choices didn’t work.  Instead, much to his initial bewilderment, Luther found himself compelled to take Katharina as his wife.  In his eyes, this marriage was an act of Christian charity.

At the time, Luther hardly knew the tsunami like force he had brought into his quiet life.  Katharina quickly proved herself to be an indispensable “helpmate” to Luther.  She took over the family finances, became his literary agent, challenged his thinking, was doctor, nurse and pharmacist, gave birth to six children and adopted several others, took part in theological discussions around the table and became Luther’s closest friend, ally and confidant.

One could argue that Martin Luther would not have had such a lasting impact on the world had it not been for Katharina.

And yet, DeRusha’s book is more than just a history lesson.  It is also an intimate and poignant (albeit nontraditional) love story that demonstrates the depth and power of Christian marriage.  In Katharina and Martin Luther, we see Christian marriage as it should be; God-centered, selfless, equitable and full of grace.

To order Katharina and Martin Luther, click here.  And, spread the word.  It’s time this story was told.

Blessings and Peace, Sara

Confession 403: Sing a New Song

and you gave me a new song,
a song of praise to you.
Many will see this,
and they will honor
and trust
you, the Lord God. Psalm 40:3 (CEV)

new-song

As a Christian writer, I try to be very transparent about my life and my journey in following Jesus.  After all, you can’t work toward an authentic faith without being honest with yourself and God.  With that said, I have to confess that I’m really struggling on this Inauguration Day.  Don’t stop reading yet, however, because this isn’t a political post.

The heaviness in my heart right now goes way beyond politics.  I’m disappointed in the fact that our national discourse, our expression of ideas and ideals, our actions and reactions displayed a total lack of regard for the sanctity of all life.  Maybe it’s always been there, an unfortunate consequence of being human.  We don’t like change, uncertainty or anything else that might be considered “other” to what we identify with and understand.  But our struggle with change should never lead us to disregard and degrade other human beings.  And even if we are not, as individuals, engaging in the process of degrading and diminishing others, our silence while it occurs makes us accomplices to the process.

I’ve been praying a lot about what I see going on in our public political sphere.  And my friends, here are the words God is whispering to me.

Sing a new song…

music-notes-and-heart

Political affiliation aside, we Jesus people have a duty that is higher than any political mandate.  God is calling us share his message of love and goodness to the world.  And if we’re sharing God’s love and goodness to the world, we cannot be engaging in conversations and debates where we tear others down to build ourselves up.  We need to counter the discord in our society by being Christ’s hands and feet in our homes, in our workplaces, in our communities and even in the world.

Sing a new song…

Instead of criticizing someone who believes differently than we do, we need to listen and learn why they believe the way they do.

Instead of pushing away those we see as “other”, we need to invite them in.  We need to understand what their experiences in life have been like.  Then, we need to find ways to bridge the gap between “us and them” so that we can place the label “God’s” on everyone we meet.

When people we engage with at work, around the barbecue grill, in the restaurant, at the ballgame start speaking in ways that disparage others, we need to change the conversation.  We also need to be secure enough in our own beliefs and opinions that someone expressing a different opinion or idea doesn’t threaten us.

Finally, we need to keep our focus on Jesus.  If we are truly following Jesus’ command to love God and love others, then there is no room for hate, for animosity, for the belittling of life.

In the days, weeks and months to come, I would encourage each of us to sing a new song–a song of love, a song of hope, a song of peace, a song of grace.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 402:

Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 (CEV)

frozen-pond

Standing on the frozen surface of the lake, I peered down into the depths of the water below the surface of the ice.  My eye was searching for some sign of life–a small ripple of current, the slight swish of an underwater plant.  I crouched on the ice and squinted.  All was still.  The lake was, indeed, frozen solid.

And yet, although I couldn’t see it, I knew that life was still going on within this small ecosystem.  In the deeper waters of the lake, down in the murky depths beyond the penetration of sunlight, a current was still moving.  The underground stream which feeds the lake was still flowing.  The thousands of fish which call these waters home were there, hunkered down in the mud, waiting for the waters above to thaw once more.  Zebra mussels, algae, microbes and bacteria were all still engaged in the process of living.  Beyond the apparent stillness, work continued to be done.

Sometimes in our spiritual lives, we find ourselves in a place of frozen stillness.  The reality of our life circumstances doesn’t match up with our theological beliefs.  We can’t see God’s goodness, we’re unsure of God’s justice, we don’t have peace.  It is in these moments, when God’s work seems frozen and still, that faith seems like a ridiculous concept.

We live in a society that thrives on the quantifiable.  We like the security of data-driven information.  We want certainty. Faith, however, is not quantifiable.  Faith is not data-driven.  You can’t input faith into a spreadsheet, create a line graph or formulate a faith forecast.  Faith is not about certainty.  Faith is about believing when your eyes tell you that something cannot be.  Faith is looking down into the frozen expanses of water and trusting that life-giving and sustaining work is still being done, regardless of whether or not you can see it.

Jesus put a high premium on faith during his earthly ministry.  He often chastised the disciples for their lack of faith, and rewarded the faith of those who came to him for healing.  In fact, Matthew, Mark and Luke record Jesus commending the faith of those who believed in him fourteen times.  Over and over again Jesus says to those who come to him believing when there is no definitive reason for belief: “Go, your faith has healed you.  Go, your faith has saved you.”

In the book of John, the apostle records an encounter one of the disciples has with the risen Christ.  Thomas is told of Christ’s resurrection, but refuses to believe until he has seen and touched Jesus for himself.  Jesus responds to Thomas (and to us), “Do you believe because you see me?  Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” John 20:20 (CEB) 

God’s work in our lives is sometimes like the frozen lake in the middle of winter.  We can’t see it on the surface, but we know life-growing and sustaining is being done deep beneath the waters of our souls.  And when that work finally reaches the surface, our faith will be stronger, deeper and fuller than before.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara