Category Archives: Vintage Content

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Better Than Mine

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(Image courtesy of ronedmondson.com)

I don’t want you to have my faith.
I want you to have something better.
It’s not that mine is bad, deficient, or lackluster.
Mine is good, and getting better every day.
Each day it grows stronger, goes deeper, spreads wider, and draws me closer to God.
But this is my faith, and you deserve your own.
You deserve to discover what God has planned, made, and meticulously crafted just for you.
You should see what your faith is like,
For it can never be exactly like anyone else’s, nor should it be.
Your faith should fit you like well worn jeans, perfectly broken in shoes,
And hold you like the hollowed out space where you sleep in your bed.
Your faith should be the best it can be, as close to perfection as humanly possible.
I hope it is better than mine.
I do not want to you change your expectations to match my own,
Nor lose your sense of the awesomeness of God, because it doesn’t jive with mine.
I want you to expand your theology and grow your beliefs beyond my wildest dreams.
When I share my faith story and the conviction of my call to ministry,
I am not asking someone to adopt it, like a homeless puppy.
I am opening space for you to share yourself, your story, your faith with me.
And, if you don’t have something to share right now,
Then I will leave that space open for another time.
But do not settle for my faith or anyone else’s.
Pursue your faith, your God encounter, and personal experience with the Risen Christ,
So that your faith will be the manifestation of you and this mysterious, mighty Lord we share.
We are not judged on the comparison of our faith next to another,
But by our faith in God alone.
Faith is not about the latest edition and the flashiest model.
It is not about the one who opened your eyes to God,
But what you did when you realized that your eyes were opened.
So do not worry about what my faith looks like in comparison to yours,
Or anyone else’s for that matter.
Instead, ask yourself, “What does my faith look like in comparison to the incredible grace and love I have been offered?”
No matter what your answer, I hope it is better than mine,
Because you deserve the best, and God has chosen you.
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When Righteous Anger Deteriorates into Self-Righteousness

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“But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.
He prayed to the LORD and said, ‘O LORD!  Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country?  That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.  And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’
And the LORD said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?'”
(Jonah 4:1-4 NRS).



(Image courtesy of phillipbrande.wordpress.com)

Jonah resonates with me in more ways than I would like to admit.  However, in the current socio-political-religious climate, I see Jonah all around me as well as within.  Jonah exemplifies the struggle many of us have when we can see sin embodied in others: it makes us angry, righteously so.  It is the same anger that welled up in Jesus, making him over turn tables and drive the money changers from the Temple.  It is the same anger that the Father felt when he discovered the almost immediate infidelity on the part of the Israelites who crafted a golden calf just as the Father was giving the Law to Moses on the mountain.  Yet what really makes our anger righteous is not the affront to us personally, but our outrage at the offense to God.  It is a reaction against sin, not simply the person who has sinned.  Christ calls us to be reconciled to one another, not destroy each other out of righteous anger.  Notice Jesus never called forth a plague upon the money changers.  He just drove them out to force them to cease their sinful practices which perverted the Temple.

We have to be extremely mindful and careful not to let our righteous anger at sin, injustice, and wanton indifference twist itself into a sense that we have been wronged personally and so we must have vengeance.  Righteous anger does not seek to retaliate, to cause pain and suffering in return.  It is an expression of the seriousness of our brokenness and the effect of our sinfulness.  It is prophetic when it is articulated in such a way as to draw attention to the sin, and seek to call the sinner into account, but then immediately strives to offer forgiveness and be reconciled.  Anger that turns to snarky insults is the first sign that our righteous anger has mutated into self-righteousness.  Anger that seeks to publicly embarrass, humiliate, and castigate is another.  None of those will lead to restoration of relationships broken by sin and the presence of evil.  Instead, we become part of the degeneration of relationship and the downward spiral of sinful retribution that seeks to deprive God of God’s judgment, and replace it with our own.

I mourn the current state of the world and the Church where we feel justified in lashing out at one another.  I long to see the Church take the first step in refusing to engage in these self-righteous practices that are polar opposites of divine righteousness.  We have to be intentional about refraining from the sniping words, the social media face slaps, and the alienation of others by targeting them for our disdain.  Those may be the way of the world, but they are not the way of Christ, and they are not right for us who long to be his disciples.  We need to set our egos aside, and embrace the grace that has cleansed us, so that we can embody that when we see sin and injustice all around.  We need to strive all the more to not equate the sin with the sinner, as if the sin overshadows the person.  The only thing that should overshadow us is “the power of the Most High” (Luke 1:35), and that is to bring Christ into the world in incarnational ways.  It takes great strength and conviction to end this war of words and retaliatory relating to others.  Blessedly, God is ever willing and able to grant us the strength and perseverance to do just that.  May it be so.

Prayer:
Gracious God,
Forgive me when I have sinned.
Grant me your grace,
Even when I have refused to do so for others.
Teach me your ways,
That I may model my response to sin after Jesus.
Let me speak your truth,
Not hurl insults.
Let me reach out in reconciliation,
Not strike out in wrath.
When righteous anger is justified,
Help me to reign in the urge to be personally offended.
Only then can I channel that anger into just actions.
I am being transformed into one who can offer grace,
And I want to be part of your healing in this world.
May I find my place in your Kingdom,
Modeling mercy and respite.
I know that I cannot do this alone.
You are my strength and way past my sinfulness.
Lead on, Lord, and
I will follow.
Amen.

A Prayer of Renewal for Pentecost

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(Image courtesy of endlesscelebration.wordpress.com)

Rekindle in us your fire, O God.
Fill us with a burning desire to love others.
Set our faith alight with your Spirit.
Let our passionate belief in you,
Manifest itself in our lives.
Heal the parts of us that have been scorched from sin.
Out of the ashes may new growth come.
When your Spirit came to earth,
Settling on the Apostles,
The world discovered that your Gospel is for all people.
May we live that out this day.
Speaking in tongues that are not our own,
Teach us to communicate your grace effectively.
We desire all people to know your truth,
Receive your salvation of the cross,
And grow in love.
May we be the kindling that ignites a renewal of your Church.
In your mercy, we pray.
Amen.

Hidden Behind Closed Doors

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(Image courtesy of seedsbyshandice.com)

Just prior to Pentecost, the Book of Acts recounts how the Apostles gathered in an upper room and devoted themselves to prayer, sequestered awaiting the arrival of the Holy Spirit, they devoted themselves and their time to prayer.  Action would come later.  But what about we who are post-Pentecost Christians?  We have the Holy Spirit present with us, and yet we still find ourselves holed up in our homes.  Yes, we pray, but the time for action has come.  The Apostles were waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit, which would teach them all that they needed to know and tell them what to say so that they could fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.  Now it is our turn.  We replicate the pre-Pentecost mentality and activities of the Apostles, but much less so the post-Pentecost ones.

Too often, and to the detriment of the Kingdom of God, we hide our faith within us, lock it away behind the closed doors of our homes.  We are loathe to take it to work, because society has done an excellent job of brain washing people that we should be compartmentalized people.  “Don’t talk about faith and politics,” we hear as part of polite social etiquette, but I cannot go anywhere and not hear politics, so why is faith still taboo?  Why do we allow a secular society to put a ban on grace and divine love?  Why should we be forced into spiritual submission?  While there may be consequences, and there may be much at risk in doing so, we are called by the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ to testify to the Gospel.  We are being compelled by recollection of Pentecost tomorrow to take up, not just our cross, but our cause.  If we let fear keep us silent, silence the name of Christ upon our lips, then we give our implicit condonation of  this expectation of the world that we hide our faith, our Savior.  Pentecost was the first time that Christians discovered the power and ability to stand up before others in the open and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ: born, died, and resurrected.  

Tomorrow is the annual reminder to take up that power and that ability each and every day, not just on Sunday in the presence of other believers.  If we allow ourselves to be curtailed, then the Kingdom suffers and we fail to be obedient disciples, much less an obedient Church.  Do not be afraid.  Do not hide any longer.  Do not stay silent when the Spirit prompts you to speak and act.  You claim the name.  You have received the power.  Now fulfill the mission.  Does Christ, for all that he has done for us, deserve anything less?

Growing Together: The Gift of Group Bible Study

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(Image courtesy of gracechurch.org)

My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;
if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding;
if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures–
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God”
(Proverbs 2:1-5 NRS).

We search the Scriptures to find God.  Not that we do not know God, have not already encountered God, but that we find God in new ways when we read the Bible.  We find God moving in previously undiscovered modes, speaking in unrealized wisdom, and opening new paths of understanding.  Our beings yearn to know God, and that is ever enriched by the divine revelations in Scripture.  We read in community, because God has always been about the establishment of a people, a community of faith that lives out said faith in profound and transformative ways.  So yesterday, just before continuing this journey we began through the Book of Revelation, I asked the members of the bible study I teach what they wanted to study next, when we finished Revelation.  It was important to me that they have a crucial part in the decision making process, that they have input.  While the bible study bears my name, Pastor Sarah’s Bible Study, and in the beginning I made all the decisions about topic, we have grown into a community over the course of the past two years.  We search the Scriptures together, study the meanings together, and now make decisions on where we go next together.

It seemed very naturally to seek the will of the group, so that the topics are appealing and of use to us as a whole.  This evolved over time, as I directed it entirely in the beginning, the infancy stage.  But, just as I learn as much, if not more, than they do during the course of our journey together, I want this to be a communal effort, and I sincerely believe God does too.  We journey together, grow together even as we grow towards one another, cementing our bond.  We are a diverse group with several generations present and this only broadens our understanding, enriches our experience.  So when I approached the group about a book I am currently reading on the pseudo Christian cults of the United States, they made the decision of whether or not to use that as the topic and basis for our next bible study upon completing Revelation.  Their excitement only served to feed my own, and then it made me strive to learn more and provide an even better experience.  They push me even without intending to, even as they strive to support and encourage me, and that is exactly what I need.  I do not need to be comfortable.  I do not need relative ease.  I need to be pushed, challenged, made to grow and continue the lessons begun in my childhood and studies begun in my collegiate education.  Thank God they do this, or I would risk falling into an all to easy rest in my Scripture growth, too.

Studying the Bible in community not only enriches the individual members, but it creates a new series of bonds and relationships within the Body of Christ.  It knits us together while we pursue the common goal of learning about God and God’s will for us.  We are emerging with a deeper, more solidified faith because we have pondered the questions and wondered what we truly believe.  It is my role to frame things in the doctrine and faith of the Church, but they bring just as much insight and more experience than I do, because they out number me more than twelve to one.  There is real Godly genius in God’s command that we learn the Scriptures.  There is great wisdom to be obtained, but not just within its pages.  We learn about one another.  We learn about our Church.  We have our world expanded infinity more together than we could even have imagined alone.  I never imagined what a blessing this Bible Study would become to me and to them.  I just thought I was fulfilling my duty as a Minister of the Word, or meeting a need expressed from within the congregation.  Yet God has once more revealed that studying the Word together in community is much bigger than that which is a part and parcel to a bigger, more profound journey.  Thank God we have embarked on it, and I give thanks that we did so together.  It is so much more than me, as the Body of Christ has always been meant to be.

Discerning God in a Cultural Cacaphony

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(Image courtesy of thepinnaclelist.com)

Mass media, social media, mix media, commercial media, digital media, print media, broadcast media, and others inundate our senses and pummel our brains with messages and demands: “Buy this!  Do that!  Feel this way!  Think that way!”  So how do the people of God hear God in all this social bombardment?  It is not an easy task, nor one to be taken lightly.  We have to remember not just the tone and means by which the Lord has chosen historically to speak to humanity, but keep the themes at the forefront of our spiritual consciousness.  God continually speaks on and calls forth for redemption (from our sin), restoration (of the divine image), and reconciliation (with God and others).  If we are hearing those messages, even through the social distortion of sight and sound, then we need to utilize our gifts and means of discernment to look deeper, listen more closely.

There is always a human propensity to hijack the authority and voice of God to further our own will, even if that will is not directed towards sin and evil.  We would love to think that our desires and wants align themselves with the Lord’s, but that does not automatically mean that they do.  Often those three themes I listed are top priorities for God, that is why the prophets spend so much time speaking out against social injustice: it is sin enacted and institutionalized, which leads to broken relationships.  That is why God spent so much time and effort in giving Israel the Law: it was a means of providing the conduit for cleansing of their guilt from their sin and restoring them to the holy people they were called forth and covenanted to be, ultimately reconciling them to God.  That is also precisely why Jesus Christ preached, taught, and died to bring all people grace from the cross: it is the final and ultimate means of redeeming, restoring, and reconciling all things and every person, should they accept the grace, to God.   While there are other good ends in this world, they are not all the will of God, nor should they be our priority, especially not at the expense of God’s priorities which are pretty clear and consistent in Scripture and tradition, both in Judaism and Christianity.

This is exactly why we must not abandon diligently and consistently engaging in the spiritual disciplines to discern the voice and will of God.  We need to read the Scriptures, alone and in community.  We need to pray as individuals and corporately.  We need to worship, not only to proclaim the Gospel, but to hear it in new culturally and contextually pertinent ways from those God has tasked with the Ministry of the Word.  We need to immerse ourselves in the work of Christ, acts of kindness and mercy that further the mission of our Lord to make disciples of all people, and bring salvation to every person.  We need to embody the grace and love of our Savior, so that people can receive his truth.  We need to take our rightful place in the Body of Christ, so that our perspective is ever centered and challenged by those of others within the Body in that blessed, yet difficult, gift of accountability that comes with communal faith.  If we rely solely on our rationale, then we risk offending God by baptizing our will as God’s, or worse: co-opting the will of a secular society as that of the Almighty.  While they can and have aligned themselves in the past, they do not default that way, and often the means for change in society is in contrast and even tension with those of God.  We love in the midst of and through challenge.  We do no forsake relationship for results.  We stay the course, even when society abandons hope, because our hope is eternal in the heavens, not made with human constructs on earth.  Now more than ever we must practice the disciplines, and strive to hear who and what God is calling us to be, because our society and its culture have plenty of its own ideas.

Healing Reflections

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Being miserably sick for the last thirty six hours gave me a lot to think about and a lot of time for which to think.  I, and I use this world carefully and intentionally, hate being sick.  I usually feel very good in my physical being.  I exercise, eat a healthy diet, work at getting a good night’s sleep, and take time each day to relax and enjoy my blessings.  So when I get sick, it feels magnified to me.  I don’t take well to being unable to do what I need to do, and think about all the things I could and should be doing while I toss and turn in my sick bed.  It came to me in the midst of a sleepless afternoon that we are so often keenly aware of being physically sick, but less so spiritually sick.



(Image courtesy of sigamosconjesus.com)

Like physical illness, spiritual sickness can destroy our beings.  It spills over into the other aspects of holistic health: mind and body.  It ravages our spirits with the infection of sin, and threatens to destroy our hope and joy.  Often we are not as quickly aware of spiritual sickness, and we may even mistake it for mental or physical illness.  I believe that there can be a strong correlation between all three.  Spiritual health gives us insight into ourselves and the will of God for us.  It demands that we care for our whole being, because our whole being is a blessed gift from the Almighty.  Self care requires diligence and consistency, and if we are unaccustomed to caring for ourselves in any one sphere, then we are more likely to let another slip into distress.  As I sat in my sick state, I reflected upon how I got to that point.  Did I push my body too fast and too far?  Did I let some of my healthy practices slip a little too long?  Did I just happen to catch the inevitable cold?  Any and all of those possibilities are valid, but then I shifted into wondering how I can keep myself healthy, and that includes my spiritual health.

I read Scripture daily, pray consistently throughout the day, gather in small groups for accountability and fellowship, and worship with the Body of Christ weekly.  Yet I could do more, and I feel like I should.  I could start my weekly fast again, for the hunger in my empty stomach recalls the hunger of so many who go without food and those who go without justice.  I could downsize my world possessions, because I just spent thirty six hours straight with them, and I looked around to see that I have much I do not need, and probably do not really want.  I could do those and many more things to increase my spiritual health and keep it where it needs to be to grow and mature in my relationship with God.  The last thing I need is to wake up one day spiritually sick and devoid of hope, because I took the means of grace God has given to all Christians for granted.  I don’t want to feel the pain in my spirit that I know comes from separation from God, from letting my sin multiply until God seems practically unreachable beyond a wall of sinful separation.  I want to wake up each morning and go to bed each night knowing that every day is a blessing and I have done all in my power to live as those who have great hope, have accepted Christ’s grace, and are ready to stand before the Lord when that day comes.  I have some spiritual work to do, and because I realize that, I also know that I have some mental and physical work to do, too.  They go hand in hand.  When all three are healthy, then I feel like I can handle whatever may come, because I know that I am right with God.  Strange that a little cold had to sweep into my life to make me refocus, but God is not beyond redeeming such occurrences.  That God just transformed my sick day should not surprise me, but I am always amazed by the clarity that comes in the midst of trial, and, in this case, turmoil.  Thank goodness I had a little time on my hands to think and take stock, or else a cold might have become the least of my worries.