Choose Life

It's all about choice. Choose life!

Dear Elle,

The evil one subtly lures us into distrusting God by convincing us we need more. If some is good, more must be better. (Reread my last letter for a fuller discussion about this subject.) How, then, does Jesus woo us into believing in and acting from a trusting heart? By using the same motivation, desiring more, but with a different object as it’s goal.

As I said before, desires are not bad, they fuel our choices, they spark us into action and can lead us to life. It is the goal of our desires that can be deadly. Remember Satan cannot create, so he must twist a God given goodness into something harmful and hurtful.

Jesus also invites us to desire more. The more he encourages is to have more of God. We are to make choices based on our desire to trust God. This is the more he sought, it is the way of life he invites us to follow.

Every choice we see Jesus making is based on his desire to be united with the will of his Father in heaven. He made the choice to leave heaven and become poor for our sake, fulfilling the will of the triune God. He did not desire and seek after people’s good opinion. He suffered dishonor in the eyes of the world, because he desired to live out of the Father’s heart toward humankind. Jesus cast himself on the care of his Father in heaven. He trusted God for all, his daily bread, his ministry and ultimately his life and death. He humbly depended on God for everything.

St. Ignatius said it this way: choose poverty which leads to dishonor which leads to humility.  Yikes. Who wants to be poor and dishonored? It is definitely an upside down world Jesus embodies.

A more contemporary way of understanding Ignatius’ insight is choosing contentment/simplicity which leads to suffering which leads to dependence.  When we make choices to be content living simply, doing without certain things, we will suffer to some degree and suffering leads us to God. For example, choosing to ride your bike to work and leaving your car at home. This small but simple choice, made out of love for God’s world, reduces your carbon footprint, but increases your inconvenience. Now you must suffer the weather, the time constraints, the lack of flexibility that driving your car would allow you. You must trust God with your schedule, your safety and your social calendar.

The starting point of the evil one’s strategy is the lure of riches/more. Jesus’ way of living starts with inviting us into humility. We want humility don’t we?

Life will bring you many choices. The choice you make will be rooted in what you most desire. Your enemy will attract you toward a choice that will bring you worldly riches and honor. Jesus will attract you toward a choice that leads you to trust God more and to desire the will of they Trinity.

Every choice you make in life has these two options. Jesus would have you choose life.

With you in the journey,

Debby

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What do you really want?

What do you want? a nicer house? additional money in your bank account? What??

Dear Elle,

To understand the choices we make and prepare to make ones that turn us toward God, we must understand our desires. It is desire that leads to choice. What we want we make choices to get. What we are attracted to, we find a way of moving toward. What we don’t want, we attempt to find ways to avoid. Desire fuels our choices.

There are two competing strategies for attracting our hearts and shaping our desires; therefore influencing the choices we make. The evil one’s and Jesus’.

The evil one’s strategy can be summed up in a word – more. I will be happier if I have more.  If some is good, more must be better. It is only natural for me to work harder to acquire more. More possessions, more influence, more friends, more security, more beauty, more, more, more.

This strategy develops a connection in our mind between what we possess (things, accomplishments, relationships) and our identity. It is tempting to think we are more because we have more; or are less because we have less. We judge ourselves and one another by these measures of success, leading to pride, arrogance and independence from God.

St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits said it this way: Having Riches leads to Honor (in other people’s eyes) which leads to Pride.

A more contemporary rendering might be: Acquiring More leads to Success which leads to Independence (Self Sufficiency).

This lie is hard to identify because it is relatively counter-intuitive. Why wouldn’t we want a bigger house if we could afford it? It makes sense to strive for more, working hard to enter that next pay grade so that we can take better care of our family and make sure they are provided for and don’t have to go without anything that would bring them happiness and security.

The wickedest aspect of this strategy is that it takes a good thing and turns it into an idol. For example, wise stewardship. Of course God would have us consider the financial welfare of our family, the problem comes when we trust our bank account to provide the security that God alone can ultimately provide. We chase the More. We give lip-service to trusting God’s provision, but our worrying hearts and anxious thoughts prove we have bought the lie. We say we trust God to provide, but live as if it were up to us and our hard efforts to accomplish the best.

Oh, Jesus, save us from these lies! We’ll talk about his strategy to influence our choices in my next letter.

With you in the journey,

Debby

prayer + choice = life

We must choose to remember that God is trustworthy

Dear Elle,

Following the example of Jesus’ life requires you to cast out demons! (Mark 3) This means you will replace lies that lead to death with truth that creates life. Although this seems like a hugely complicated ambition, it may be more simple than you imagine. Notice I said simple, not easy.

The most important thing you can do to ready yourself for this assignment is to be with Jesus. The first disciples had trouble casting out demons because they had not invested in the work of prayer. (Mark 9:28,29) Every step of your work must be steeped in prayer. You must be with Jesus in order for him to share his authority with you, ask this of him; you must be with Jesus in order for your own heart to be purified so that you seek God’s best for the people you love, ask this of him. Jesus is already praying for the ones you love, you are just partnering with his heart for them. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your interactions, to give you spiritual discernment, to guard your heart and your mouth. You’ll be better equipped to love wisely and well by being with Jesus.

Casting out demons is casting light on the lies of the enemy. Although we live under the rule of our Lord and Savior, Jesus, the evil one still has influence over our lives, lying to us, attempting to trick us into distrust of God. The nature of this influence always takes the form of a choice.

From humankind’s beginnings in the Garden of Eden, there has always been a choice. We can choose God and God’s ways or we can choose to turn away from God. The enemy of our soul is constantly trying to convince us that God isn’t trustworthy and we need to take matters into our own hands. This is the ground from which all the lies of the evil one grow.

Uncovering the hidden lie is the work of casting out demons. We begin with our own demons. We must come face to face with our choice to either follow God or to believe the lie that God is not trustworthy and turn away. Living according to the truth rather than the lie means we choose to trust God alone.

Choice, the pivotal action. How do we unmask the subtle (and always inviting) lie of the enemy so that we can make the choice to follow our Lord?  We’ll talk about that in my next letter!

With you in the journey,

Debby

Good vs. Evil

Dear Elle,

We’ve been talking about your God-given assignment of going out into the world, announcing the good news and casting out demons. We’ve established that casting out demons today means to confront and dispel the lies that the evil one uses to hold us captive to death. We’ve discussed how it is sometimes difficult to identify lies, so let’s talk now about the nature of these lies.

Basically there are two forces operating in our world and in our lives, the force of God – all things loving and good, and the force of evil – all things anti-God. Make a list of the character and nature of God. For example, God is:

Loving

Generous

Faithful

Kind

Trustworthy

Now, next to the attribute of God, write its opposite, this is the nature of evil.

LovingHateful

GenerousSelfish

FaithfulDisloyal

KindCruel

TrustworthyUndependable

Evil is the opposite of God. God is loving and desires our best, evil hates us and wants our demise; God is generous, giving us all we need for life, evil robs us of life’s necessities. You get the picture.

Job teaches us the tactics of the evil one. Satan (evil in form) constantly roams about the earth looking for opportunities to cause people to doubt God and turn away from trusting God. In effect, to curse God. These attempts are usually subtle and insidious. In our case, they are rarely blatant, as good “Christians” we would never outright curse God, would we? But how often do we question God’s ability or desire to provide?

Even though God’s love and blessing surrounds us, we are still under the influence of the evil one. We need to recognize the nature of this influence in order to identify the lies. I’ll talk more about this in my next letter.

With you in the journey,

Debby

Casting out demons?

What does it mean to cast out demons today?

Dear Elle,

God has given you an assignment, one that only you can fulfill. No one else is R’s wife, S’s mother or the worship leader at your church. With this assignment comes the authority to proclaim the good news and to cast out demons. (Mark 3:14,15) This is your job description, given and empowered by Jesus.

In my last letter we spoke of how your proclamation of the good news awakens hope in the flock that is yours to shepherd. Spiritual rebirth is accomplished and new life is possible! That is good news. God now asks you to live among your family, friends, co-workers and the world at large as one who is in the business of casting out demons!

Casting out demons in our day and age is to confront the darkness of the enemy.  Wherever death has a grip, your God-empowered job is to name it and dispel it by your prayers and your presence. This is messy work. You can understand why the first order of your assignment is to be with Jesus (see letter titled “Be with Jesus before you do for him”) so that your own hope is stirred and your own darkness dispelled. You can only offer what your have received.

This is hard work because death is often unrecognizable. It disguises itself behind such masks as fun or as our “rights.” We think we are expressing our freedom, but unknowingly death is tightening its grip on us.

You, Elle, will unmask these lies. They promise life, but deliver death. You must lovingly tell the truth, identifying the death dealing lies of the enemy. Pray for the lies to be eliminated and replaced by the truth of God’s word. Stay close and connected to the ones you love. Remember the parable Jesus told about the room being cleared of demons and swept clean only to be reoccupied by this demon and his friends because it had not been inhabited by the presence of Jesus? Truth and presence is required in order to cast out the demons of death and lies. Jesus sends you to be his truth and presence.

We’ll talk more about the difficult and liberating job of casting out demons in my next letter.

With you in the journey,

Debby

Your job – to awaken hope!

Dear Elle,

You are an important person in God’s plan! You have been given a particular assignment and Jesus sends you into the world to proclaim the good news and cast out demons. (Mark 3:13-15)

Proclaiming the good news – announcing life. Casting out demons – destroying death. Two sides of the same coin. The people you love need the whole penny! Announcing the good news is the first order of business.The flock you shepherd needs to hear your voice telling them of the hope the gospel brings.

Good news is necessary and so needed in this world of ours. Most of us, knowingly or not, live in the conviction that bad news reigns. We look around and see destruction seeming to march in victory. Sure there are little pockets of life-sustaining activities operating in the midst of death-dealing events and circumstances, but they seem the minority, the underdog, the exception.

And when we turn our attention away from the big picture of the world’s situation and look within our own souls, we are even more convinced that darkness and disease has the upper hand. Of course within our soul, there are exceptions to the death principle at work within us (thank you God), but there is plenty of evidence that proves darkness and death still has control over a lot of our thoughts, emotions and actions. Ask St. Paul. He talked about his own struggle with this conflict in Romans 7. We might despair…

…except for the announcement of the good news –  the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near (Matt.10:7). Hope stirs. “If the Kingdom of Heaven has come near to me, here and now, maybe there is hope. If God has come close, if the power and authority of the rule of God is available, Life has a chance. I can dare to hope that God’s love and power can bring life the  death’s outposts in the territory of my soul. Praise our God.”

Which leads to the other side of this coin – the casting out of demons, which I’ll talk about in my next letter.

With you in the journey,

Debby

Be with Jesus before you do for him

Jack and I after running the Race for the Cure (I'm a breast cancer survivor)

Dear Elle,

In our last correspondence we spoke of Jesus’ choice and call of you. Your response to his invitation readied you to hear his voice and receive an assignment to carry out in your Kingdom life. He follows up the appointment by giving you a role or title that announces your identity and gives you the authority to carry out this assignment. (Mark 3:13,14a)

You are “mom” to your kids, “wife” to R., “worship leader” to the musicians and choir at church. These names cause others to relate to you with your assignment in mind. They do not determine your value or worth, God’s choosing of you does that. Be careful to not confuse what you do (God’s assignment) with who you are (God’s chosen). Such a mistake would bring death to your own soul and would not bring life to the flock you shepherd in Jesus’ name.

There are three elements entailed in fulfilling this assignment – 1) To be with Jesus. 2) To proclaim the Good News. 3) Cast out demons. (Mark 3:14,15) The first informs your “being”, the second two describe the fruit of your “being.”

To be with Jesus is your essential and elemental requirement. It is the soil from which your life and ministry will grow. It means sharing his life, knowing him intimately, caring about the things he cares about. It requires time and commitment, born out of love, not fear or regulations.

Twenty years ago, when I married Jack I took up running as a wedding gift to him. Running was a part of his life, he loved it. And because I loved him I chose to participate in the activity he valued. I wanted to “be with him” in the things he cared about. Love prompted my choice and even on days when I don’t “feel” like putting on my running shoes and hitting the road, love keeps me committed to the daily training regimen.

Practically speaking, when we are talking about being with Jesus, we’re talking about spiritual disciplines; practices we commit to because we love the Lord and want to share his life. It is love that keeps our discipline in place, not legalism or superstition. Slow down and get in touch with the love that has drawn you to Jesus. Let this love woo you to the mountain so you can listen to the Lord. Your being with Jesus will look different than mine and it may even look different than you imagine. Try not to predetermine what your spiritual practices will be, let the Holy Spirit direct your ways of being with Christ. And even when you don’t feel like it, let your love of God keep you committed to the daily training regimen of the Kingdom life. Your soul will need the restoration of such disciplines as you go about your God-given assignment.

With you in the journey,

Debby