Lately, Charlie has been really interested in police officers. In their cars, their sirens, and even the star on their badge. Last week we saw someone getting pulled over and Charlie says loudly to the rest of us in the car, “Ohhhh, someone’s been naughty!”
That led to another discussion about what police do when they catch a “naughty” person. Someone at school had told Charlie about jail and how the police send people there. We spent time correcting that line of thinking and helping Charlie know enough about it so that he understands the concept of jail, but not enough that he becomes fearful (it is always a delicate balance). On our travels, I visited a few historic jails and while I myself have never been behind bars, I do know what it is like to be bound by something. I know what it feels like to have chains that constrict and weigh me down. And so I found it particularly meaningful to be asked this question on Sunday.
“Where in your life do you need liberation? Where do you need freedom? What is it you are bound by? Illness. Grief. Doubt. Fear. Addiction. Injustice. Discrimination. Hate. Jealousy.”
And then next question was, “What binds us as a people? What do we as a people need to be liberated from? Where do we need the freeing blood of the lamb?”
With the conversation swimming in my head with Charlie and the questions from the sermon on Sunday, I pondered true Liberation and in doing so, sought the wisdom of others. If you have heard me preach or read my devotions long enough, you know that I glean wisdom from Father Richard Rohr. He is a spiritual mentor of mine, and I read his devotionals daily. In his book, The Art of Letting Go, Rohr writes about the six forms of liberation.
- Inner liberation from ourselves (letting go of the centrality of the small self)
- Cultural liberation from our biases (which involves letting go of the “commodity” culture and moving into the “personal” culture)
- Dogmatic liberation from our certitudes (letting go of the false self and discovering the True Self)
- Personal liberation from the “system” (letting go of dualistic judging and opening to nondual thinking)
- Spiritual liberation for the Divine (some form of letting go happens between each stage of spiritual growth)
- Liberation for infinite mystery (the mystery that what looks like falling is in fact rising), which is really liberation for love.
This list helped me really start to think about parts of my own life that need liberation and so I invite you to think through this list and see which one rings most true for you. Ultimately Jesus came to free us from every chain, every bondage. And in every area, we are liberated most thoroughly through love. Because Jesus is love and all of Scripture is really a long and beautiful story about God’s love, we have that opportunity to be freed by love through worship, service, deeper discipleship and being together as a community of faith. Our job is to love others the way God has loved us. And the truth is the generous nature of divine love keeps liberating you and me at deeper levels, but it keeps going deeper with each chain we take off; each restraint we remove. And this journey we are on never stops giving. Why wouldn’t everybody want that?
Maybe because we don’t yet know what we are bound by. And so I invite you to look at this list this week and pray through it. As we prepare for Holy Week and the coming of the Prince of Peace into the crowded Jerusalem streets, where do you need liberation most and what needs freeing in your own life?
Our church recently participated in a pilgrimage to Naivasha, Kenya to see our students from Inua Partners In Hope. Below is a testimonial by Camila Barahona, a young adult from Cornerstone UMC in Naples, FL. Cornerstone is a partner church that we brought into Inua to expand this transformative program. Please spend time in prayer for this ministry and our church community both near & far!
“I went on this pilgrimage with no expectations of the people and students but only doubts in myself because I had no idea what I would be able to offer. I’m not rich, I’m not the most knowledgeable about scripture, and I don’t attend church every Sunday. I instantly made this trip about myself and my fears without realizing it.
I got the breath knocked out of me when I realized how wrong I was in that mentality because the students only cared that their brothers and sisters in Christ were there to show them love and support. That’s when I felt God working through all of us – tearing down our walls and lighting my spark of faith back into a roaring fire that not even my doubts could put out. I must admit I knew I wouldn’t be very shocked going to a country like Kenya (because she has traveled extensively). However, I didn’t know I would experience the most beautiful, kind-hearted, faith-driven people I have ever met. I didn’t know I would be reminded how lost our country is in faith and humanity.
The students showed me that we had lost our community, we are so self-absorbed in materials and wanting to be the most popular or rich. They showed me the true importance of building a real community with God in the center.
My experience with the students opened my eyes to realizing that being present, and showing your love and compassion is sometimes all we need to stay motivated. It gave the students hope that what they were doing was worthwhile. It reminded me that having a community, building relationships, and connecting is more valuable than worrying about when my next raise is or if my iPhone is up to date.
I hope I encouraged them and showed them that we do care, and we don’t see them as a project to fix because they don’t need to be fixed. They just need this opportunity to show their potential. These kids gave me so much in return. They wiped away my little seed of doubt in God when the first thing they did was celebrate him in every step of every day. They humbled me when they told their stories of tragedy that ended in hope, love, and community. They taught me that fear of embarrassment is only in my head because I allow it, and that letting it go and not being scared to praise God and spread his love and word is what I need.”
I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6
Heavenly Father, we ask for your presence in our family. We pray for strength and understanding between our brothers and sisters. We ask for loving, strong bonds between the children, teenagers, adults, and seniors of our community. We pray that each branch of the family would demonstrate love for one another.
We ask for healthy, thriving relationships between neighbors. We pray different cultures will be able to understand and care for one another. We pray that the diversity of your people will be celebrated by all neighbors – just as you affirm and love each of us. Let us hear from you. Let us learn from you. Higher higher higher. Higher Jesus higher! Amen.
This past week our little family got away and spent 5 days up in the Great Smoky Mountains near Waynesville. A family from Ryan’s church opened up their mountain home to us and we decided to make an adventure out of it. The drive up there with three young kids was adventure enough, but we included a waterfall hike, a trip into Asheville, a visit to Lake Junaluska and an opportunity to teach our big kids how to ski at Beech Mountain…yes, we are tired.
Our week started off last Tuesday with a hike. Ryan had done his research and found an easy enough family-friendly hike up to Flat Creek Falls and so we packed a lunch and snacks and headed out. Remember, directions matter. When we finally arrived at the trailhead, the entrance had been washed away by a creek and in order to get on to the trail, we had to walk across two logs that were steady, but all that stood between us and the cold creek. Ryan’s parents were with us and so the 7 of us set off up the trail. Now I should note that while I love nature, I am not an “outdoorsy girl” but I want our children to love nature and so we give it our best shot. Time in nature gives us time to talk and laugh and sing with our kids and it allows us to notice things that we are often too busy or distracted to see. There is a lot to appreciate while out hiking, but this wasn’t a normal hike. What we quickly learned is that the path was distorted and rather hard to follow. There were times that the trail was obvious and clear and well maintained and other times where actual tree limbs had to be removed or rocks tossed down to cross through the mud. For the majority of the almost 6 miles, our tiny humans were troopers. But towards the end, their legs hurt, they needed a potty, and we all needed clear reassurance that we weren’t going to die out there.
You see, when we returned to our car (by another route, no doubt) we looked at the way we traveled on our tracking app and it was quite hilarious (see right photo). When I look at this view of the path we walked that day, I am reminded how important it is to know where we are headed, especially if we are taking others along for the journey. Having clear directions, or at least a map to follow is vital for the journey, both in life and in faith. Ryan is a skilled navigator of maps, but the trail had been distorted by a recent storm. In fact, we saw evidence of chain saws while we climbed that showed that others had come before us to clear the path and yet the path was still winding and unclear, steep and a bit unsafe at times.
Back at the mountain house that night with a warm meal in my stomach, I began to see the connection between directions on a map and directions on our faith walk. Even if you are the most skilled hiker or avid nature enthusiast, there will be times when you get lost. There will be seasons when you lose your way, when the path before you is distorted and unsafe. These moments may have little to do with your faith and everything to do with the storms of life. They are inevitable and unwelcome, but a part of the human condition just the same.
Growing up in church, maybe you learned that the Bible is the ultimate map for the journey; guiding and directing you towards the correct way of living. But I want to challenge that. Yes, Scripture is the primary source for understanding our faith. However I have shared life with many that find Scripture almost as confusing as hiking a trail after a storm. Words that were written down to bring life and bring us closer to Jesus can leave us perplexed or can be taken out of context. As Wesleyans, we hold to Scripture as primary as long as it is read through tradition, reason and experience. In order to have a deep faith, we need all four of these to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Because the truth of the matter is, there will be seasons in our life where we walk through storms, and simply reading the Bible will not bring about healing, or peace, or comfort for a grieving heart. There will be seasons that feel like hiking on a trail with no direction and we might be tempted to lose hope.
And so, when we find ourselves in times like these, I do encourage you to cling to Scripture, but do not neglect service and worship and fellowship and prayer and fasting and spiritual formation and being in community. Don’t let yourself believe that Christianity is a solo sport or a one-on-one hiking experience. No, we were meant to walk this confusing and winding and challenging trail together. We were created to lace up our hiking boots and carry one another’s burdens. We are meant to ask directions from those that have walked the path before us, and we are required to not give up even when there doesn’t seem to be any clear path forward.
If you haven’t already, may you find the people to “go hiking” with and may you find strength from other disciples when the path needs clearing or when the trail needs reassessing. Directions really do matter and we are meant to follow them together.
All three of our children wake up differently. Maybe you can recall how your children woke up when they were little and maybe my story will bring back a few memories.
Emmaline loves to sleep and still naps on the weekends, so often we will have to scoop her up and snuggle her on the couch in the mornings before she fully wakes up to start the day. Charlie, however, is ready to take on the world, every day and promptly flings his door wide-open and announces loudly, “Good morning!” And add to that that he’s usually the first one up. Ellie, we haven’t quite figured out yet because she loves waking up at all times in the night for comfort and feeding. Compared to even just 8 years ago, our wake-up routine is much different these days.
On Sunday, Pastor Leah led us through John’s letter to the church in Sardis and she shared her own story about a church that was awake to God’s Spirit and welcomed a young, unaccompanied youth into their midst and it ended up setting her on a trajectory of answering her call into the ministry years later. And we are thankful for those churches that are wake and alert to the work of God in their midst. I don’t know about you, but I want to be a church like that, one that is ALIVE and AWAKE and ALERT. But sometimes, I am sure, we can remember seasons in a church or faith community when we circled the wagons and acted out of fear, not out of faith. Times when we woke up and feared what hadn’t happened over what God might be up to in our midst.
I had a parenting moment like this just this last weekend, when fear almost overcame faith. It is the kind of moment that all parents of school-aged kids have nightmares about and it happened to me. This weekend was full and in the midst of celebrating the end of another busy week and Emmaline’s third lost tooth, I went to bed early to get ready for the INUA race on Saturday morning. Ellie and I were up much earlier on Saturday than the rest of the family and right before we headed out the door, I heard this bloodcurdling scream from Emmaline’s room. I ran in, fully, expecting her to be hurt, or ready to throw up, and then with tears streaming down her face, she cried, “THE TOOTH FAIRY DIDN’T COME!” (Bring on the Parent Guilt!) We had forgotten, of course, in the busyness of the night before to help the tooth fairy deliver on her word. In a split second, I thought I may have ruined my oldest daughter’s childhood forever! I know, I may be a bit dramatic, but these things really do matter to a 7-year old! Dear Jesus, take the wheel…
I don’t know if it was the Holy Spirit, or parenting instinct or just that my coffee had finally kicked in, but I thought up a story, and thought it up quick and with Ryan’s help, the magic tooth fairy money appeared, and all was right with the world. Now go with me on this, aren’t we sometimes like a 7-year old, full of disappointment and fear? Overcome by our childish expectations of how we think this journey of faith should play out? Don’t we sometimes think first of the impossible, rather than what is only possible through faith?
My point, in connecting both the excellent sermon on Sunday and the parenting lesson from the morning before is asking myself, when it comes to being the church, how will I choose to wake up? Will I act in fear over what hasn’t happened rather than in faith about what CAN happen? Because I think you know which one I would choose and I hope you will join me. Because I want to be a part of a church that is waking up every day ready to face the brokenness of the world not with fear, but in faith. Knowing that God will always show up, will always deliver on God’s word and is a God that is constantly showing up and surprising us. I want to be a part of a movement that greets the day’s challenges with hope and a deep love for the one that gives us the gift of each day to begin with. I don’t want to be so wrapped up in my plans, that I can’t appreciate when the “tooth-fairy” doesn’t show up in the way I expect her too. And finally, I want to be open to rethinking how God will deliver on God’s promises. Not always how I expect, or plan, but God is faithful to the end. May we be a church, may we be a people who choose faith over fear because are feet are firmly planted in God’s faithfulness.