Confession 458: If You’re Happy and You Know It…

What a beautiful sight! On the mountains a messenger announces to Jerusalem, “Good news! You’re saved. There will be peace.

“You’re going to complain tomorrow about it being dark again in the morning.” This was my husband yesterday at church, just after he told me about the beautiful moonscape he had seen driving to church after Daylight Savings Time began.

“No, I’m not, “I countered. “I’ve already committed to having a positive attitude tomorrow morning.” Truth be told, I’d already complained about the fact that it would be dark again on my daily walk to the bus stop at 6:40 A.M with our eldest. And, as I groaned to my eleven-year-old who was sitting in the backseat and would be completely unaffected by this change in sunlight circumstances, I realized that I was setting a truly terrible example. My son did not hesitate to point that out, by the way. It seems that no one in our house is afraid of sharing opinions…

Complaining is a habit it is all too easy to acquire. When you look around at the world, there’s a lot about which we might complain. But, what if our complaining actually cheapens the gospel message?

This past week, my women’s Bible study group began a video study by Beth Moore entitled Taking Happy Back. It’s a free study on her YouTube channel, and you can find it here. The essential takeaway from this study is that we’re called to be a people of Good News. And yet, as a people, we seem devoted to living in a state of misery. How can we share good news from a place of misery? How can we make new disciples of Christ if our lives do not mirror the words of hope and peace that we proclaim? We can’t…and there’s the problem. We cannot share the good news of Christ with others from a place of misery. 

Sit on that statement for a minute, because this really convicted me on a lot of different levels.

We cannot share the good news of Christ with others from a place of misery.

In Isaiah 52, the prophet notes that the feet of the one brining good news are beautiful. This is because the one bringing the good news isn’t just telling people about the good news, he or she is showing, by example, what that good news looks like. The beautiful-footed messenger is physically carrying the good news of God’s salvation to those who desperately need to hear it.

In the New Testament, Jesus becomes the embodiment of this good news carrier. Jesus doesn’t just tell people about God’s love and salvation, he shows them. He walks throughout the countryside healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and even raising the dead. He is questioned. He is challenged. He is threatened. And yet, his message remains one of hope…a message of good news in both word and deed. Jesus doesn’t sit down with the disciples and complain about how challenging ministry is. He doesn’t gossip over dinner about which disciples are not pulling their weight. He doesn’t brood over the wrongs others have inflicted on him. He just keeps teaching and loving.

Jesus’s message of good news thrived because he lived it out. And my friends, I’m not sure we’re doing the same. I’m not sure we, as Jesus followers, are intentionally seeking to live an a way that is counter to what we see in our culture. We’re mean to each other, often using social media as a tool to divide rather than unite. We live in a state of entitlement, thinking that life owes us something because we work hard or push through. We judge others because it makes us feel better about ourselves, because it’s so much easier to find fault in someone else rather than ourselves. And, we are taught from an early age that any problem can be solved if you just consume more.

If we live according to the rules and mores of our culture, then we cannot effectively share the good news as Jesus taught us to do. It’s not believable. How can we talk about the great hope of Christ in one breath, then complain about the state of our world in the next? How can we speak a message of forgiveness while we hold grudges toward those who have hurt us? How can we teach others about God’s love while we tear others down for thinking differently than we do?

We cannot share the good news of Christ with others from a state of misery.

So, how do we engage the good news in a culture that seems to grow more miserable by the minute? The gospel of Mark offers us this piece of advice:

“Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!

If we truly want to live into our calling as disciples of Christ, then we must commit to change. We must willingly undergo a change of heart that then is evidenced through our actions. This means choosing joy over discouragement. It means choosing forgiveness over anger. It means choosing to see someone through the eyes of love rather than a seat of judgement. It means choosing to turn our focus from the negative to the positive.

This doesn’t mean we need to be stupidly happy. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for all circumstances, including a time to mourn, a time to be angry, and a time There’s also a time to genuinely worry and be concerned about situations. However, in the midst of our challenging circumstances, we must also be committed to trust. We must acknowledge our fears, our grief, our anger and give them to God, trusting his good news!

In this second week of Lent, I would challenge each of us to consider whether or not our lives truly reflect the good news of Christ. If not, what changes can we make to be a better witness? The world is in desperate need of a savior…and we have one in Jesus Christ.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 457: Set Your Mind

many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

Admittedly, this Scripture is an odd lead for a Monday morning. And yet, as I sip on my decadently creamy pour-over coffee made with freshly ground beans, I can’t help but think it might just be a little appropriate. The season of Lent is upon us, and for many, this involves rethinking some everyday practices and lifestyle choices. The goal of Lent, of course, is to engage in disciplines that will help us grow closer to Christ. It is a period of intentional diminishment, where we seek to identify and change those behaviors and attitudes that keep us from fully living into the person God created us to be. Lent is about demoing the house, assessing the foundation, and renovating from the inside out.

However, as with New Year’s resolutions, many of us struggle to fully commit to the process of Lenten renewal. We have great intentions, but the intentional practice of faith development gets superseded by life’s demands, our own personal issues, and a lack of desire to truly change. Like the believers Paul writes to, our minds get set on earthly things.

This weekend, after obsessively following coverage of the coronavirus all week, I felt an intense need to go to the grocery store to “stock up” on items. I elbowed my way through the melee that is suburban grocery shopping on a weekend then stopped in the near-empty condiments aisle to consider what I needed to stock up on. Do you know what came to mind? NOTHING! Truth be told, we always have a supply of beans in our pantry, our medicine cabinet has a plethora of cold and flu supplies, and a previous bout of the stomach but meant we still had plenty of disinfectant on hand. I needed nothing…and yet, because I had allowed my anxiety to take control, I was trapped in the midst of grocery store chaos instead of enjoying the beautiful sunny weather outside. I missed an opportunity to spend some time relishing the glory of our Creator God because I set my mind on my anxiety, and not God’s goodness. I’m not diminishing situations in our world about which we should truly be concerned. I am, however, suggesting that setting our mind on these issues without first giving them over to God can cause us to dwell in fear and worry instead of in the peace God provides.

Paul goes on to write to the Philippians that, instead of setting their minds on earthly things, they should set their minds on what is:

  • pure
  • just
  • holy
  • true
  • praiseworthy
  • lovely
  • excellent
  • admirable

And do you know who embodies all of these characteristics? Jesus, of course! Therefore, our minds should not be set on earthly things, but on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. When we set our minds on Jesus, we have a different focus and perspective with which we can engage the world. Peter puts it best when he writes:

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When we set our minds on Jesus, we are ready for action. We can think clearly about the situations and circumstances life throws our way. And, we can hope…completely hope….in Jesus’s grace.

As you begin your journey of diminishment this Lenten season, I want to ask you this question…

Where is your mind set?

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 456: Taking Out the Trash

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The other day, I threw a fit. I’m talking feet stomping, doors slamming, voice shouting fit. What would cause a fairly reasonable forty-something woman to engage in such childish behavior? Trash. More specifically, a trash bag ripped in half.

You see, my husband and I have a game we like to play. It’s loosely called, “Who Can Shove The Most Trash Into the Trash Bag Without Emptying the Can?” For two days, the trash bag inserted into the kitchen trash can had been at max capacity. And yet, each morning, I shoved day-old coffee grounds and paper towels deeper into the bag. My husband and our two boys did the same, until things came to a head late one afternoon.  The bag was ready to burst. Try as I might, I just could not shove one more piece of garbage into the can. Sighing, I began the arduous process of removing the bag from the can–pulling and pushing to get the overstuffed bag past the bars that are designed to hold it in place. However, the bag was literally full to bursting, and burst it did.

Prior to the burst, I had called my 11-year old into the kitchen to help. Instead of getting to help, as the bag tore apart in my clenched fists, my son was treated to the rip-roaring raging wrath of a mother who had let anger get the better of her. In the midst of his mama’s stomps, shouts, and kicks to the trash can, he humbly apologized for the bag catastrophe.

“Oh, no!” I yelled, slinging coffee grounds around the kitchen. “It’s not YOUR fault. It’s your father’s!” I grabbed my cell phone to call my husband and let him have it. Never mind that he was on a pastoral visit. This was all his fault, and he needed to know.

Fortunately, the Holy Spirit intervened as my thumb swiped across my screen to unlock the phone.

What are you doing? it gently asked. You’re making a fool of yourself in front of your son over a trash bag. You’re being dumb.

In that moment, I considered my anger. I dug deep to see if it was righteously placed. And guess what? It wasn’t. The full to bursting trash bag was as much my fault as anyone else’s. And I was setting a terrible example for my son. The truth is, I have a great husband. Is he perfect? Of course not, he’s human. But, he is perfect for me. He cooks. He cleans the kitchen. He talks to me about decisions. He talks to me–period. He lets me do whatever I want with generally very little fuss. He encourages my work, is my number one fan, and doesn’t get too upset when I make a mess of things and he has to fix it. He’s also a loving father and helps the kids with their math homework. Really, what more could you ask for in a partner?

There’s a reason that Scripture cautions us about anger. As Jame says, an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. Anger is an all-consuming fire. It burns through our souls and spreads to those around us. Anger destroys. It destroys our spirits. It destroys our relationships. It destroys our ability to problem-solve. It destroys our peace. Read what what the psalmist says about anger:

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Anger only leads to evil. Think about that for minute. Anger is a powerful emotion rooted in self-centeredness. It is a dam of self-entitlement that breaks open and drowns us in bitterness, envy, and hate. Anger consumes our reason and suffocates our ability to love, thus leading us into careless words and actions that seek to harm others. We justify our anger by placing the blame for situations that cause anger on others–making ourselves victims in the process. It’s easier to blame someone else than to take responsibility for our own culpability. However, this need for justification and descent into anger is contrary to Jesus’s teachings. Jesus cautioned against anger, focusing instead on the power of love. Where anger destroys, love builds. Where anger suffocates, love gives breath. Where anger burns, love quenches. Love is the ultimate power for good in a world that seems bent on hate.

That is not to say that there is no room for righteous anger. Jesus, himself, showed a righteous anger when he cleared the money changers from the Temple. However, righteous anger is outwardly focused. It is not based on the self, but a response to the oppression and injustice worldly powers inflict on others. Righteous anger is based in love, and an understanding that God designed the world to operate in a different way than what it currently does. Righteous anger leads to positive change. Selfish anger leads only to destruction.

This week, consider the things that make you angry. What is fueling your anger? Give your anger to God, and ask him to replace it with his love.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 455: A Change of Heart

Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new.

The other day, my 13-year old posed this philosophical question while we were driving:

Suppose you have an axe. You change the blade twice, and the handle three times. Is it still the same axe?

I thought about it for a bit…

Because the axe is not a sentient being, I argued, it is not the same axe. There is no life-force within the axe that would remain once its parts are replaced. However, I continued, the same is not true for humans, as we have an essence of life within us that cannot be changed. You can replace some parts of a human, like a knee, or hairstyle, but the essence of the person remains.

My son, not one to linger too long in the philosophical depths, quickly returned to his favorite topic–Baby Yoda. But I, having the nature of one who stews, continued to think on the issue. Something was nagging at me…I thought about people suffering from debilitating mental diseases, like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Are they the same people they were before the illness struck? In my experiences, the answer is both yes and no.

But, there’s something else that is troubling me about my response to my son’s query; because, at the heart of the question lies the fundamental belief in whether or not people can truly change. As a Jesus follower, I’m supposed to believe that people can change. As someone who has always been prone to optimism and idealism, I’m supposed to champion the belief that people can become better than what they were when they first started out. However…I’m not sure that my responses to others truly reflect this belief in the power of changed life.

Too often, I judge others based on past experiences. It’s the basic survivalist instinct we’re all born with. Our brains are hardwired to seek and respond to patterns. So, if someone has been hurtful to us in the past, our human instinct tells us that they will likely hurt us again in the future.

Jesus’ entire ministry, however, completely rejects this fundamental operating principle. Jesus changed lives everywhere he went. There’s a whole list of people in the New Testament who were never the same once Jesus got ahold of them.

Peter, the impulsive young man who betrayed Jesus three times  became the rock on which the church was established.

Paul, the egotistical and hypocritical religious leader who was intent on wiping out the early believers became one of the most outspoken proponents of the Gospel message.

Nicodemus, a wealthy  Pharisee who went to Jesus in the dark of night later gave Jesus his own tomb for burial.

Zacchaeus, the tax collector who was likely a crook met Jesus one day and decided to repay everyone he’d ever cheated in order to follow Jesus.

The list goes on and on and on….people who change because of the message of Jesus Christ and the imprint God makes on each of their souls.

I, too, am a continual work in transformation, as God leads me to be kinder, more accepting, more grace-filled, and to serve others more than myself.

So, with so much overwhelming evidence to the potential of people to change, why do I stubbornly persist in refusing to believe that others change, too? Why do I cling to the idea that people are what they always have been, and will continue to be that way? Honestly, the answer is probably because it’s easier. It’s easier to believe that people are what they have always been then to admit that people change. This is because change is frightening. Change messes up those patterns our brains depend on to make meaning in this world. If we accept the idea that people change, then we have to reject the idea of stasis, of permanence, of solid foundations. We must admit that, perhaps, we don’t know everything, and that there are other truths beyond the ones we stubbornly cling to in order to make sense of this crazy world. We like the known, the absolute. It’s comforting…but that kind of comfort leads to closed-mindedness. And Jesus was about opening minds, not closing them.

I’m not the same person I was 5, 10, 15, even 20 years before. God and I have been working hard on a lot of different aspects of my being to try and make me better than I was before. I’m guessing the same can be said for each of you. So, this week, let’s embrace the idea that people can change. And let’s praise God for the work he’s doing in our lives to continue to make us more like him.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

The ESV Jesus Bible: A Review

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honor of receiving a review copy of the ESV Jesus Bible for FREE from Bible Gateway. As part of Bible Gateway’s Blogger Grid, I sometimes get to participate in reviews of new products. Being a total Bible nerd, I jumped on this opportunity!!

As a reminder, I received this Bible for FREE, and all opinions of its contents are most definitely my own.

Jesus Bible

The name of this Bible says it all: its entire focus is on Jesus. The tag line reads:

sixty-six books.

one story.

all about

one name.

To that end, the editors have included contributions from renowned theologians and Bible scholars, including Louie Giglio, Max Lucado, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, and Randy Alcorn. These contributions are:

  • short feature articles
  • side notes
  • historical and thematic explanations of each book
  • generous concordance for reference

Take a peek…

The biggest draw of this Bible, however, is that it is an artist’s Bible. The pages leave room for you to engage with Scripture through drawing, painting, journaling, etc. You can use the space to visualize and bring the word of God to life, capturing the ways in which God is teaching and leading you in your study.

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Pages like this allow give you space and freedom to communicate with God the Creator by creating spiritual works of your own–a wonderful resource for those of you who love Bible journaling!!

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I like that the focus is on Jesus, and the articles and commentaries allow the reader to further immerse themselves into the story of Christ. The contributors offer devotional-style words of wisdom and encouragement that are applicable in real-life situations. The Jesus Bible is a beautiful gift for those who want to dig deep into the life and teachings of Christ, and who love to express their spirituality through artistic interpretation or meditative writing.

In other words, this is a great Christmas gift for artsy friends and family!!

As with the Life Application Bible, the only drawback I have with this Bible is the lack of female voice among the contributors and developers. There are SO MANY amazing women who are teaching, leading, and delving deep into Scripture that I feel it is wrong to leave their voices out.

The Jesus Bible can be found wherever Bibles are sold. You can also find the link to it here, at Bible Gateway.

Finally, here’s a note from the publisher about the Bible:

Encounter the living Jesus in all of Scripture. From the Passion Movement, The Jesus Bible, ESV Edition, with exclusive articles from Louie Giglio, Max Lucado, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, and Randy Alcorn, lifts Jesus up as the lead story of the Bible.

Profound yet accessible study features help you meet Jesus throughout Scripture. See him in every book so that you may know him more intimately, love him more passionately, and walk with him more faithfully.

Features:         

  • Introduction by Louie Giglio
  • 66 book introductions highlight the story of Jesus in every book
  • Seven compelling essays on the grand narrative of Scripture by Louie Giglio, Max Lucado, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, and Randy Alcorn guide you to treasure Jesus and encourage you to faithfully follow him as you participate in his story
  • Over 300 full-page articles and nearly 700 sidebar articles reveal Jesus throughout all of Scripture
  • Complete English Standard Version (ESV) text of the Bible
  • A beautiful special edition featuring the art of Atlanta-based artist Britt Bass
  • Room for notes and journaling throughout
  • ESV concordance
  • Two ribbon markers

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 454: A Courageous Heart

Philippians 1_20 (CEB)u

On Veteran’s Day, I often find my thoughts circling back to my grandfather. My grandfather was a WWII veteran, a private in the 9th Army. He trained with horses in the deserts of Nevada, but was sent to France in the second wave of the invasion. Although he served for just a little over a year, those months battling through Europe left a defining imprint on his life. He and I talked endlessly of his experiences during WWII. I was fascinated at all he had seen and done. Of course, there were stories he wouldn’t share–couldn’t share, even after all those years. He was awarded three Bronze Stars, but never spoke of them. My dad pieced those stories together when he accompanied my grandfather to an Army reunion.

Whenever my grandfather shared his experiences during battle, it was always with a dose of self-effacing humor, maybe even indifference, about his own contributions to the war effort. To hear him tell it, the courage to continue on in the face of battle was no big deal. Like many veterans returning from active duty, he took the path of humility. You just did what you were supposed to do, and didn’t worry about the rest.

This casual courage was a hallmark of his personality for the rest of his life. Truly, the man was unflappable. He greeted problems that would send most people into a tailspin with a chuckle and shake of his head. He was always decisive, and never seemed to question a decision once it was made. What he would never say, but what I gathered over the years, was that he never really expected to come back from the war. At some point, he made his peace with the idea of his own mortality, and every day he rose from his bed he accepted as a gift.

My grandfather had a courageous heart. But the peace which gave him courage didn’t just come from a gratitude for life, it came from a deeply rooted understanding and appreciation of where that life came from. Each day, my grandfather would begin with Scripture. Each day, his Bible would be placed on his lap, pen in hand, and he would read, pray, and think. Each day, he pulled God’s promises from the page and applied them to his life.

Do you know the one command God issues over and over again in Scripture?

Do not fear.

It’s a command that echoes through both the Old and New Testaments. When the Israelites stand on the precipice before hostile nations as they journey toward the promised land, God calls, do not fear. As David is pursued by his enemies God tells him, do not fear. As Jeremiah faces exile and possible annihilation from a foreign power, God reminds him, do not fear. As the disciples cower in the hull of a wave-tossed boat Jesus speaks and says, do not fear.

And do you know why God commands generation after generation, do not fear?

It’s because he has, to quote a familiar refrain, the whole world in his hands. God created the world and all that is in it. There is no knowledge he does not possess, no problem too complex for his understanding. He knows the created, intimately. No thoughts, motives, plans, or outcomes are hidden from his sight. God is. God was. God always will be.

Therefore, how can we be overcome with fear? God is standing at our side. He goes before us and follows behind us. He walks beside us and hovers above us. God surrounds us with his presence, even when it seems as if we’re standing alone in the darkness of night. God is there.

We are called to be people of courageous hearts, not because we know life will always turn out okay, but because we know God is there through it all. Our courage, like our hope, comes from the Lord. No matter what we face, we can do so confident in the knowledge that God is by our side. Even if we fall in the midst of the battle, God is still there, carrying us home.

This week, remember: God is with you, and therefore, you are a person of courageous heart.

Philippians 1_20 (CEB)u-2

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

The NIV Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition: A Review

NIV Life Application study Bible, third edition

As part of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid, I occasionally get emails offering an opportunity to review a new product. I’m not much of a salesperson, so I don’t often request copies. However…when I got the email that a new edition of the NIV Life Application Study Bible was coming out, I jumped at the chance to get a FREE copy!!

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that Scripture is my jam. I love spending time in God’s Word. It’s where I feel most connected to God, and I am passionate about sharing his Word with others. Reading the Bible for me is like having a conversation with a close friend…I feel like God and I truly talk as I read and contemplate his Story. And, study Bibles are an integral part of that experience. I received my first study Bible as a teen, the NIV Teen Study Bible. Over the years, I’ve collected several different study Bibles. Each one has facilitated a deeper understanding of God’s Word in my life. The new NIV Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition, is no different.

Again, I need to point out that I received this Bible for free as a member of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid. (#BibleGatewayPartner) 

The purpose of the NIV Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition, is to help readers “go deeper into god’s Word, helping [them] discover the timeless truth being communicated, see its relevance for [their] lives, and make personal applications” (LASB, pg. A19). To that end, the following features are included in the Bible:

  • Notes that provide both cultural context and real-life contemporary application of the Scripture
  • Book introductions that provide historical timelines, relevant maps, megathemes, blueprints for reading, and an outline
  • Outlines with three levels of headings carefully differentiated for easy reading and recall
  • Personality profiles of key figures throughout both the Old and New Testaments
  • Charts and diagrams to help readers visualize concepts and relationships
  • Cross references to assist readers in seeing connections between different texts
  • Maps, including black and white thumbnail maps within the text and color maps at the back of the book to aid in reference
  • Textual notes and section headings that include the each section’s guiding theme made applicable to contemporary life
  • Complete master index of all notes, charts, maps, and personality profiles, as well as resources for preparing group Bible studies
  • Comprehensive dictionary and concordance for easy Biblical reference and study

One of the best things about the NIV Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition, is its relevancy in contemporary society. The themes and notes presented in each section deal with issues specific to contemporary life. Take a look at this image from Psalm 62:

NIV Life Application study Bible, third edition-4

Note that the beginning of the Psalm includes a contemporary theme, as well as a historical reference. The reader knows from the very beginning the historical impetus of the Psalm, as well as how the Psalm applies to their contemporary life.

This image showcases the life application notes at the bottom of each page:

NIV Life Application study Bible, third edition-3

The first note gives an expansive application of the Psalm’s theme. It states:

David continually praised God through both good and difficult times of his life. Do you find something to praise God for each day? As you do, you will find your heart elevated from daily distractions and concerns to lasting confidence (LASB, pg. 913).

Other notes follow and include both historical information and contemporary life application.

You should also note the ability to easily take notes as you read the NIV Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition. I’m a note taker, and can appreciate the margin width to make notes about the text and the application. While Psalms lend themselves to note-taking because of their poetic structure, the full-bodied narratives are also arranged in a way that makes it conducive to write in the margins.

Here is the full double-page view of the text:

NIV Life Application study Bible, third edition-5

The following images showcase the articles within the text, as well as the expansive concordance and dictionary. One of the hallmarks of a good study Bible for me is a comprehensive index and concordance so I can easily find Scripture by topic, as well as cross-reference passages. The NIV LASB3 has both!

NIV Life Application study Bible, third edition-6

My only real criticism with the NIV LASB3 is the lack of diversity in the authorship committee. In reviewing the makeup of theological consultants, it seems that most  are men who have teach at prestigious evangelical/conservative seminaries. While I don’t doubt the educational authenticity of their work, it would be nice to see representatives from other backgrounds, including more diversity in gender and theological tradition. Much of the life application notes veer toward the more conservative branches of Christian theology and ideology. While I did not personally agree with all of the interpretations in the Scriptures I read, the opinions and perspectives expressed opened up my thinking and led me into deeper conversations with God and better contemplations of his Word.

Overall, I would recommend the NIV Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition. The lay-flat feature is wonderful, especially if you sit and write in your Bible, as I often do.

 

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

 

Confession 453: God’s Family Tree

You are the body of Christ, and parts of each other.

This past weekend, we celebrated my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. Family came from across two states to pay honor to a beautiful woman who is always there, giving of herself, so that others might know they are loved. For the first time in many years, almost the entire extended family was gathered in one place. As we took our places in front of the house for a family photo to capture this small but momentous moment in time, three generations smiled (or squirmed) in front of the lens.

Family is a funny thing. Scores of disparate people are thrown together, sometimes with nothing in common but one tiny leaf on the bigger family tree. Things get messy on occasion as personalities clash. Old hurts hang around looking for new opportunities to inflict their pain. But there’s love, too. There are shared memories of festive celebrations, stories handed down from one generation to the next that build a collective family identity. We are bound by those who came before us, and we continue to build their legacy.

As I was thinking about family, legacy, and the generational ties that bind, I couldn’t help but think about the body of Christ that is the church. The body of Christ is a family, too. Our common ancestor is Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, in whose blood we are cleansed and in whose death we are granted access to the throne of God.

Like other families, the body of Christ is far from perfect–perfection doesn’t exist this side of eternity. So, our collective family tree can get pretty messy as we struggle with the fact that, although we are diverse, we are also united. The church has, at times, been a terrible representative of Christ in the world. We’ve accused. We’ve judged. We’ve harassed. We’ve misunderstood. We get all caught up in our own vines sometimes, and forget the trunk that holds us all. It can be difficult, being in the body of Christ. To be honest, sometimes I’d rather let my leaf fall. Church can be challenging, especially when you’re in leadership. It’s easy to forget that we are part of a bigger trunk, a trunk that has roots spreading throughout all parts of the world. It’s also easy to forget that, as a body, we have a purpose. We are called to bear God’s fruit and share it with the world.

The body of Christ, for all its imperfections, has worked to build God’s kingdom. We’ve confessed. We’ve forgiven. We’ve loved. We’ve hoped. We’ve shown others that there is another path on this journey of life–a way of living that leads to healing and peace. We have a legacy of love that we do our best to share with others, as Jesus called his disciples to do before ascending to heaven. And we don’t do it alone. The Spirit is there, urging us onward, guiding and directing us to be more fruitful. We also have the legacy of believers to look back on–those collective stories of our early ancestors, found both in Scripture and our church histories. These leaves on God’s family tree help us better understand not only who we are, but whose we are. As the author of Hebrews writes:

You are the body of Christ, and parts of each other.-2

God’s family tree ground us, inspires us, and gives us our collective identity. We, as members of this body, are called to continue the legacy. It is up to us to add new leaves to the tree, and creating a glorious canopy of love that stretches across the sky.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

 

Confession 452: Goodness

Psalm 27_13

My oldest has to be at the bus stop by 6:40 each morning. As Summer gives way to Fall, the early morning light has dimmed. The sun takes longer to rise, and so my son and I walk together down the deserted street in the quiet twilight of pre-dawn. I often look up at the sky as we walk, noting the gradual arrival of daylight, and the way the light doesn’t push out the darkness, but rather, the light moves into the darkness, streaking through it in beautiful shades of pink, purple, orange, and yellow that eventually spread to become a brilliant canvas of cerulean blue.

The other morning, the light bled into the darkness in such a way that it looked like an Impressionist painting. Beautiful paintbrush strokes of violet, pink, and white were drawn across a backdrop of blank indigo. I paused my son in his never-ending discussion of Lego sets and Funko Pops and pointed heavenward: “Look,” I said. “It’s a painting.”

In those early morning treks to the bus stop, I see God’s goodness. I see his goodness in the dawning of the day, as the light eases its way into the darkness and gradually moves over it until the darkness is transformed. I think this is how God works in our world, which is often anything but good. God moves into the darkness, transforming it until his love light is the only thing that can be seen. God overcomes the darkness by moving in and transforming it.

My sister used to work for an organization in the Kansas City area that provided transitional living for homeless teenage boys. These young men would come to the residential facility with very little, little in regard to material possessions, and little in regard to a hopeful future. The boys worked with tutors, social workers, and counselors to overcome the struggles of their past and to forge a future that was bright with possibility. It was hard work, and change came slowly. There were often setbacks, and some of the young men chose the familiarity of the past rather than the unknown of the future. However, over time, these boys’ lives were gradually transformed. They graduated from high school, some even went on to college. They got jobs that paid a living wage, purchased cars, and rented apartments or homes on their own. But, it wasn’t just the boys who were transformed–the entire community that held and supported them was transformed, as well. Lives were changed. Perceptions were altered. Transformation came. God’s goodness was seen.

Psalm 27 makes a promise about God’s goodness. The psalmist writes, assured by his faith, that he will see the goodness of God in this lifetime. We don’t have to wait until the next life to see God…we can see him now. However, we have to look.

Where do you see God’s goodness? Where do you see the light of his love pushing through the darkness? What transformations are taking place in your community that reflect the goodness of God?

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 451: The Complexities of Love

Sunset and Trees Landscape Good Evening Quote

Several years ago, I remember getting a phone call right before dinner. I was juggling plates, loading up food, and sniffing the milk to make sure it was drinkable when I glanced down at the caller ID and immediately sighed. Ugh…what now? 

The person calling me was someone I had been ministering to for awhile. This person was trying to get back on the path that leads to life, but it was a very rocky road, and I simply did not have the time nor desire to be a hiking guide. Instead of embracing the opportunity to show the love of God to someone in need, I instead chose to ask God why he insisted on brining people into my life who needed to be shown that love in the first place. With my best impersonation of Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless performance, I rolled my eyes to the sky and said, “Like, you know, God, I to-tal-ly have my own life!”

Of course, God responded in equal measure and I’m pretty sure I heard him say, “Are you serious right now?” I put down the plates and picked up the phone.

Sometimes, love is hard. If I’m being honest, I don’t always want to put out the effort to love. Love is messy. Love is complicated. Love is uncomfortable. Love makes you vulnerable. Love takes time. Love requires intentionality. Love is unpredictable. Love is hard. Why didn’t Paul say any of that in 1st Corinthians? I suppose no one would want to hang it on their living room wall…

It’s true though…real love is work. It’s so much easier to talk about it than to do it. Take my 13-year old. He’s come up with about 100 different screenplays over the years that he plans to put into development one day when he sets forth on his moviemaking life in LA. But, put a pen and paper in the child’s hand and he suddenly has something much more pressing to do than work out the details of a script that is so much more fun to just talk about. Scriptwriting is a lot of work. Talking about a concept, pretty easy.

The thing is, Jesus was pretty clear about the easy life, and it’s not for us would-be Jesus followers. Jesus said, if you want to follow me, you’d better be ready to work.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.-2

Jesus says that we can’t truly follow him unless we’re ready to give up ourselves and focus on others. We have to put aside our own ambition, our own wants, our own plans, our own will, our own perspective at times in order to put love into action. Because our job is to follow Jesus, and Jesus doesn’t always take us on a beach vacation. Where Jesus goes, life is rough. Where Jesus goes, people are broken. Where Jesus goes, shadows threaten. But Jesus makes rough places plain. Jesus heals the broken spirits. Jesus casts out the darkness with the light of his love. And my friends, he invites us to follow him on this journey.

I’m ashamed to admit that when it comes to putting love in action, I often don’t want to follow. I don’t want to give up my time, my energy, or my dinner plans to follow Jesus somewhere or to someone who makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to see the broken, or walk in the shadows. But then Jesus says, if you can’t put my love into action, then you can’t really follow me. And I want to follow Jesus. I want to follow Jesus because he is the way, and the truth, and the life.  I want to follow Jesus because I thrive in his presence. I want to follow Jesus because he gives my life purpose. So, I need to work more on talking less and walking more. I need to put Jesus’ love in action, so that others can know how great his love truly is.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara