Confession 418: The Consequences of Boldness

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

bold coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

light bulb

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

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Confession 417: Finding Boldness in the Face of Underwhelming Expectations

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

sneakers in grass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

desert road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confession 274: A Monday Meditation

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

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

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

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 415: On the Church, Relationships and Honoring Life

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

 

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

heart on wood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hands

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

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

Confession 414: Overwhelmed with Joy

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

clothesline

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

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

Here’s how it works.

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 413: Obedience Lessons–40 Days of Decrease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

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

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

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

Hebrews 13:5-6 (CEB)

cherry blossom 2

It’s not enough…

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

Lord, I said, It’s not enough.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cherry blossom 1

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

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

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

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

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

Thank God for being enough.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

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.

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