Announcing the Good News!

Announcing the Good News!

Biography of a Soul…notes to a seeker.

Like St. Teresa of Avila, whose Abbess instructed her to write her Autobiography of a Soul, creating a map to follow toward the heart of God, I offer a Biography of a Soul, notes to encourage and equip your heart to seek God’s heart.

Like Screwtape to Wormwood, I make practical suggestions about how to continue toward God’s good will. Read on, won’t you?

Mary Cassatt, The Two Sisters, Public Domain

My Dear Seeker,


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 have the upper hand. Of course within our souls, 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 have 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 are available, Life has a chance. I can dare to hope that God’s love and power can bring life to 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 on the journey.
Debby

Being vs. Doing

Being vs. Doing

Biography of a Soul…notes to a seeker.

Like St. Teresa of Avila, whose Abbess instructed her to write her Autobiography of a Soul, creating a map to follow toward the heart of God, I offer a Biography of a Soul, notes to encourage and equip your heart to seek God’s heart.

Like Screwtape to Wormwood, I make practical suggestions about how to continue toward God’s good will. Read on, won’t you?

Mary Cassatt, The Two Sisters, Public Domain

My Dear Seeker,

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, and caring about what he cares about. It requires time and commitment, born out of love, not fear or regulations.


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. I wanted to “be with him” in the things he cared about. And because I loved him I chose to participate in the activity he valued. 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 on the journey,

Debby

This is Easter!

This is Easter!

We had just moved into our new condo in San Francisco. I was sorting through the unwanted items the previous owner had left behind under the deck, it was dark, murky, and damp. Some of the boxes, rusty rakes, and clay pots might be useful, the rest would need to be thrown out.

I lifted a box and was surprised when the most beautiful fragrance emerged. The lovely fragrance came from a clay pot. I took it out from under the deck and into the light so I could get a better look at it.

The pot contained a hyacinth. It was pale (colorless, like white asparagus) and since the box covering it prevented it from growing upward, it had wrapped itself around the perimeter of the pot that contained it.

Although formed by the pot’s limits, the darkness and the confinement could not suppress its truth.

I placed the pot in a sunny spot on my deck and within a day, it was transformed. It stood straight, reaching for the sun and it turned a beautiful lavender color. Freed from its darkness and confinement, it could become the lovely flower it was created to be.

This illustrates the power of the Gospel. God created you in God’s image and planted a seed of beauty and truth in you. This is your true self. But, like my hyacinth, your true self has been distorted and hidden by sin.

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection address the sin that binds you and deforms you.

Let’s talk about sin. Some people have a problem with sin or the word/concept of sin. They’ve come to understand it in a cultural or societal or even a religious interpretation…we are worms, worthless, and there is no good in us.

This is not a biblical picture of sin and its effect on us. Remember before original sin there was original grace.

Dallas Willard says in Renovation of the Heart, “Sin does not make us worthless, only lost.”

Let’s start at the beginning:

Genesis 1 – Humankind was created in the image of God and declared “good.” There is a God spark inside every person that is tended by God. It is guarded and never extinguished like the eternal flame at Arlington Cemetary.

Then, of course, came Genesis 3. Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, which God had asked them to avoid, saw that they were naked, felt shame, and attempted to clothe themselves. Sin became incarnate.

Although created in the image of God (good) we also have inherited the image of Adam and Eve (sin). We are sin tainted, it’s in our spiritual DNA, like fat marbled in a piece of meat.

Simply speaking, Sin keeps the hyacinth in the dark, hindering it from being the colorful and beautiful flower it was meant to be.

Jesus is described as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He purposely entered our world, taking on flesh and bones, and carrying our sin with him when he was killed and placed in the dark, dank tomb.

The dark couldn’t kill the hyacinth and death couldn’t hold Jesus. He rose and now shares his death-less life with us.

Jesus tells us of God’s heart toward us in Luke 15 the prodigal son. (Did you know prodigal means extravagant, spending resources freely and recklessly? I think this parable should be known as the prodigal father!)

“All I have is yours.” This is what the perfect Father says to the not-perfect son.

We are coheirs with Jesus. All that is true of Jesus is true of us by grace. (Gal 4:7)

You see, we are not just good people who do bad things, nor are we bad people who do good things. Take heart! We are beloved sinners.

Like my hyacinth, your true self has been distorted and hidden by sin.

And like my hyacinth, God seeks you, finds you, and brings you into the light so you can stand tall and beautiful.

This is the Good News! This is the story of Easter!

A shadowy confession

A shadowy confession

Biography of a Soul…notes to a seeker.

Like St. Teresa of Avila, whose Abbess instructed her to write her Autobiography of a Soul, creating a map to follow toward the heart of God, I offer a Biography of a Soul, notes to encourage and equip your heart to seek God’s heart.

Like Screwtape to Wormwood, I make practical suggestions about how to continue toward God’s good will. Read on, won’t you?

Mary Cassatt, The Two Sisters, Public Domain


My Dear Seeker,

I often feel so inadequate to be writing to you about the things of the Spiritual Life. I frequently come face to face with my own monumental flaws, flaws that cause dark shadows to be cast on the landscape of my soul. At such times I am tempted to cower in their shade, eyes closed, hands over my face. Cold and accusing, I am convinced that there is no good in me, I am helpless, I can’t even look beyond the darkness of that gloom. I am lost in my pain.

But, I remember God’s truth, even when I don’t feel it. There is hope. Shadows are only cast when there is a source of light. God’s light is shining in me and on me. God’s love is illuminating my life, and it is his kindness that causes my pain. In his light, the contrast between life and death is obvious. My eyes are opened to the times and places I prefer the comfort and familiarity of death. Oh the pain of knowing there is life available to me and I cling to death. Oh, the pain of having to die to death.

How in the world is it possible to step into the light? There must be a way out of the shadows.

Take courage, my soul. The fact that you know you are in the dark is the beginning. Realizing you are living in the shadow reminds you that there is light. Remove your hands from your face, open your eyes, and look toward the light. Remember the feel of the sun on your face, the warmth of the daylight on your skin, and the relaxation you experience when resting in the sunlight. Focus your mind’s attention on the goodness of that light. Choose to remain with these thoughts holding them in your baptized imagination. When you are tempted to avert your eyes from the light and look again toward the darkness, repent. Practice letting yourself choose to stay with the light.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of this world will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.” Helen H. Lemmel

This interior turning is the source of the transformed life. Facing Jesus, choosing Jesus, remaining focussed and intent upon Jesus is the only way into the light. It is a difficult practice to develop, we are bent toward the dark. It requires effort and commitment to stretch toward the light. But I am convinced that this work is our cooperation with the grace of God. When we face the light, the shadows fall behind us and we see only the glory of God.

With you on the journey,

Debby

You live in the year of the Lord’s favor!

You live in the year of the Lord’s favor!

Biography of a Soul…notes to a seeker.

Like St. Teresa of Avila, whose Abbess instructed her to write her Autobiography of a Soul, creating a map to follow toward the heart of God, I offer a Biography of a Soul, notes to encourage and equip your heart to seek God’s heart.

Like Screwtape to Wormwood, I make practical suggestions about how to continue toward God’s good will. Read on, won’t you?

Mary Cassatt, The Two Sisters, Public Domain


My Dear Seeker,

The Sabbath we’ve been discussing, described in Luke 4, gave Jesus the opportunity to announce who he was and why he had come into the world. When handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, he unrolled it and searched for the very words that would explain his purpose and his mission. In Isaiah, there are plenty of passages that show the Lord as judging, angry or punishing. Jesus did not choose one of these passages to reveal God’s heart toward the world. The closing phrase of Jesus’ mission statement captures God’s intention, “I came to announce the year of the Lord’s favor.” The year of the Lord’s favor, not the year of the Lord’s displeasure; favor, as in honor, acceptance, approval. Having made this announcement he rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down.

End of story. Or should I say beginning of story?

You can begin your day with the expectation of God’s favor going before you preparing the way. Every meeting you enter, every conversation you have, every errand you run, all brim-full with the goodness of God for you. Live in this truth and your attitude toward all that fills your day will be different. Your eyes will be opened to see God’s activity all around you.

In a football game I recently watched the quarterback got sacked, injuring the shoulder of his throwing arm. The commentators kept referring to the way he “favored his right arm” as evidence of the pain the injury caused him. To favor an injured body part means treating it gently, not putting your full weight on it, and recognizing it needs special attention to return to full capacity. 

God’s favor offers you such treatment. God knows you are injured, have been wounded, need to be protected from further harm and damage, and has given you the power of the resurrected Jesus Christ to guard and allow healing for your wounded soul and body.

Jesus ushers in the year of the Lord’s favor, not the moment, nor the day, nor even the week, but the year. This promises that every season of your life will be covered with the Lord’s favor over you. The Springs of your life, when all is new, fresh, bursting with life and energy; the Summers when life is slower and warmth has its healing and nurturing way in the earth and in your soul; the Autumns when death, disguised in beauty and brilliance is mingled with the abundance of a hard-earned harvest; and even the Winters, when you experience coldness, emptiness and are tempted to doubt the coming again of Spring; all seasons of your life come and go under the watchful and attending God of heaven and earth. All are opportunities to receive God’s favor.

As we speak of God’s favor, let this thought stretch your imagination, you are God’s favorite! Allow yourself to bask in the pleasure of being God’s favorite. You are the only you and you are God’s favorite you! Think about it this way, I bet you have many pairs of shoes. Each pair was purchased because you liked them. You have a favorite pair of running shoes, a favorite pair of shoes you wear with your jeans, and a favorite pair of slippers you wear around the house. All your shoes are your favorite ones. In the same way, God loves all of us equally, and each of us is the favorite child, created for the exact purpose of living the life with which we are blessed.

Go forth in the light of God’s favor resting on you, walking before you, following you; know that God’s favor hovers over you, protecting and covering you; the very ground you walk on is the favor of God underneath you, holding and establishing you.

You are God’s beloved.

With you on the journey,

Debby

Lies can hold us prisoner

Lies can hold us prisoner

Biography of a Soul…notes to a seeker.

Like St. Teresa of Avila, whose Abbess instructed her to write her Autobiography of a Soul, creating a map to follow toward the heart of God, I offer a Biography of a Soul, notes to encourage and equip your heart to seek God’s heart.

Like Screwtape to Wormwood, I make practical suggestions about how to continue toward God’s good will. Read on, won’t you?

Mary Cassatt, The Two Sisters, Public Domain


My Dear Seeker,

Jesus continues his mission statement by announcing that he came to bring release to the captives. Jesus is the door through which prisoners walk into freedom. To all who are held captive, he brings the good news that there is release and liberation in relationship with him.


Think about the ways you feel imprisoned. Your captor may be a habit you can’t break or a relationship that keeps you a victim of sorts. Maybe you are locked up within the consequences of an earlier bad choice, or in a body that houses sickness or disease.


It is death in its many forms that hold us captive. Defeat and despair are the guards that march sentry around our souls, whispering to us that the cell we inhabit is locked forever, don’t even try to escape; the bars that confine us are unbreakable and unbendable; the door is shut and sealed, and there is no key to fit it.


But, these are all lies! Jesus has turned the table – his death took death captive! His resurrection swung wide open the prison door and the bars that formerly held us now melt like the illusions they are, and we can walk into freedom. This is the truth!


Consider this good news – in Jesus you are free to do whatever you want! The wonder is that in Jesus and with Jesus what you want will lead to life and away from death. Freedom comes not by abandoning rules and laws, but by embracing them; trusting that God has established them for your good. If God has asked some obedience of you, you can be sure it is the Lord’s love that prompts this request. True freedom is experienced when you are bound by obedience.


Unlike you and I, there are some who are literally held captive, through such things as wrongs they have done or because of unjust powers. Does this promise of Jesus hold true for them? How does Jesus, incarnate, bring them release? First of all, in their spirits. They are connected to the love of God through Christ Jesus and no other authority can determine their eternal outcome or their present joy. Sadly, some will physically die as prisoners and on that day they will realize in their person what they have experienced in their spirit, the freedom of a beloved child of God. And God’s Spirit active in us will encourage us to remember these temporally imprisoned friends through our prayers, our visits to them, and our work for justice.


May the freedom Christ bought you bring you joy and abandon.

With you on the journey,
Debby

It’s a privilege to be poor????

It’s a privilege to be poor????

Biography of a Soul…notes to a seeker.

Like St. Teresa of Avila, whose Abbess instructed her to write her Autobiography of a Soul, creating a map to follow toward the heart of God, I offer a Biography of a Soul, notes to encourage and equip your heart to seek God’s heart.

Like Screwtape to Wormwood, I make practical suggestions about how to continue toward God’s good will. Read on, won’t you?

Mary Cassatt, The Two Sisters, Public Domain


My Dear Seeker,

Jesus came to bring good news to the poor. The best news the poor could receive is that the resources they are lacking are now provided. The poor have no money to purchase what they need; they have no power to influence the system; they are faceless, invisible, abused, and exploited. The poor need provision, recognition, and protection. Jesus is our provision. Jesus is our power. Jesus is our protection. That is good news. In Jesus’ economy, being poor comes with privileges.

In order to receive the good news of Jesus, we must confess our poverty. This admission is a very humbling experience. It means admitting to ourselves and to others that we can’t take care of ourselves, we need help. It means we must rely on another to supply what, in our mind, we think we should be able to supply for ourselves. Sometimes it means admitting that we have particular needs or desires that we think (or wish) we didn’t. Admitting our poverty requires our ego to die. We can’t pretend that we are wealthy or powerful or that we have it all together. In this dying, we receive the gift of poverty.

To us who are the privileged poor, Jesus says, “do not worry about what you will eat or what you will wear.” Why? “Because your heavenly Father knows what you need and will supply your every need out of his abundant riches.” (Luke 12) These promises are sweet, pretty, and very poetic. They bring great comfort and are easy to believe when I am not in touch with my poverty. But when I am out of resources and in real need, I find myself wondering if they are practically and literally true. My soul cries, “I don’t see how you can provide, the need is too great.” Doubt pushes out faith and the vacancy in my soul is filled with fear.

Fear, the great thief, whispers,

  • “Will you have enough? Maybe you should withhold, God will understand.”
  • “Don’t be too generous, remember you have lots of bills to pay.”
  • “Ignore the pleas of that homeless man on the street, he’d just use the money for drugs.”
  • “You need to put that extra money aside for the future instead of taking the widow out for a nice dinner, her husband probably left her plenty of money. Who’s going to take care of you in your old age?”
  • “Why don’t miracle provisions happen for you, as they do for him? He must be more faithful than you. No wonder God doesn’t provide for you, you’re not obedient, you don’t deserve his kindness.”

On and on, fear wages its campaign of dread and worry.

In this cycle of fear and anxiety, be glad that Jesus knows our process intimately and interrupts fear’s tirade. Immediately after telling his followers not to worry, he adds these tender and gentle words, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He knows that in the face of potential lack, our natural tendency will be fear. Jesus knows that we will forget his promises of provision and will think it is up to us to strategize our solvency. And this forgetting keeps us living in fear. We need to live in the place of trust, in the arms of the good shepherd, Jesus. Picture yourself, a little lamb, being carried in the strong and gentle arms of the one who loves you and gave his very life for the privilege of holding you close. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

With you on the journey,

Debby

The Wilderness of Life

I was interviewed by Rev. Albert Hahn about entering the Wilderness during Lent. It turns out I spoke more about life’s wilderness experiences. Please watch this and hopefully be blessed. Check out his facebook page for more resources.

Jesus’ Mission Statement!

Biography of a Soul…notes to a seeker.

Like St. Teresa of Avila, whose Abbess instructed her to write her Autobiography of a Soul, creating a map to follow toward the heart of God, I offer a Biography of a Soul, notes to encourage and equip your heart to seek God’s heart.

Like Screwtape to Wormwood, I make practical suggestions about how to continue toward God’s good will. Read on, won’t you?

Mary Cassatt, The Two Sisters, Public Domain


My dear Seeker,
Towards the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, he entered his hometown synagogue and was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah from which to read. Luke says,


He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”


In this proclamation, Jesus was announcing his mission statement. Isaiah had prophesied these amazing promises centuries before, and now Jesus is declaring that he is their fulfillment. Jesus himself is the good news that the poor need to hear; he is the captive’s release and the blind’s sight; he is the freedom that the oppressed seek and the means of favor in God’s eyes. All these are accomplished in Jesus. All these are accomplished in Jesus for you.


Ultimately, the fulfillment of these prophecies will be concrete and literal, but penultimately, their good work begins in you, and in me.


God is a very individual and personal God. It is God’s intention to personally bring you good news, release, sight, freedom, and favor. Wow! Consider what this means in your every day, walking around life. Savor the possibility.


(My dear friend, I realize that I’m having a difficult time thinking about what to write to you regarding these promises. I know they are true and sure at all times because I know Jesus is true and sure at all times, but my experience sometimes suggests that they are true and sure only sometimes. I wish my experience could declare their trustworthiness without a doubt, but it is only my faith that I can make such a declaration. And so, it does. “Oh Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”)


Oh, Holy Spirit, bringer of wisdom and discernment, will you speak your truth through my words right now? I so long to impart only what is of you; form my thoughts after yours, inspire images, form sentences that bring to this page what would bring life and liberty to me and to my friend. We need your help. Amen.


With you on the journey,
Debby

Most Important Lesson

Biography of a Soul…notes to a seeker.

Like St. Teresa of Avila, whose Abbess instructed her to write her Autobiography of a Soul, creating a map to follow toward the heart of God, I offer a Biography of a Soul, notes to encourage and equip your heart to seek God’s heart.

Like Screwtape to Wormwood, I make practical suggestions about how to continue toward God’s good will. Read on, won’t you?

Mary Cassatt, The Two Sisters, Public Domain

My dear Seeker,

Pay attention because I’m about to share with you the most important lesson you’ll learn in your life of discipleship. This truth is the foundation upon which you must build your life. Are you ready? Here you go – This life is a gift. A gift. Do not pass over this lesson quickly, thinking you already know it or thinking it is too simple to give much attention. I know you, you desire a life radically different from the one you have previously lived, you long for a mind made new, more readily thinking God’s thoughts; you yearn for a heart shaped by mercy and justice; that offers kind and trustworthy actions that bring glory to your Lord. The life of a faithful follower of Jesus is possible only because God gives it to you. You cannot “white knuckle” yourself into transformation. The Jesus-likeness you desire happens when you make yourself available to receive God’s grace.


Think of your heart like a balloon, empty of any ego or drive for perfection, ready to receive a breath that will fill it and give it shape. God’s love is the breath that will inflate your soul. As God’s love and character are poured into your heart, your life will take the form for which you were created. Your life will become like Jesus. Your part in this process is to remain receptive to this inpouring.


This life is a gift—what a profound thought. You cannot earn this life, you do not merit it. You receive it. All gifts proceed from the resources of the giver. Your God is rich in mercy and kindness and gives life to you in abundance. You need only want it and then be willing to set aside your pride and your belief that you need to do something to deserve it. This belief forces you to perform in order to be worthy of God’s love or to protect God’s reputation. It’s outcome is the opposite of what you desire. It separates you from God. Duty performed, not fueled by affection, displeases God. Nothing but love and desire for God and an awareness of your need of God are required of you.

Any duty you perform, not fueled by affection for God, displeases God.

DB


I’m not saying there is no effort on your part. There is, it is not easy to receive this gift. The hard work you must do is to slay your pride and deny yourself as a god in your life. This work requires vigilance and a great faith; even these, though, are gifts of God’s grace if you are willing to receive them. Your effort is to remain receptive out of your love response to God and to realize that apart from God’s grace, you can do nothing.


You are saved by grace, yes. But you also live by grace. Your every breath is God’s gift to you. You remain alive because God is continuing to prepare you for eternity, training you in worship and equipping you for reigning with him. Each day you live in dependence on God’s gifts of life and love for you, you are being shaped into the likeness of Jesus; day by day, changed in character and actions until the day comes when you shall see him and when you see him, you will be like him.


Remember your childhood and the intense longing you had for that special toy you wanted for Christmas? Remember how you were convinced that without it under the Christmas tree your life would be empty and miserable. Remember how that desire caused you to beg your parents for it? Caused you to attempt to modify your behavior so that you’d more likely be in a position to receive it? (“He knows if you’ve been naughty or nice…”)


Even now, desire the life of a faithful disciple as much as you wanted that toy; beg your heavenly parent for it, dispose yourself to receive it, and trust that it will be yours. God is waiting for you to ask and is eager to respond.


With you on the journey,
Debby