Jesus’ best friend

Did you know you have a lot in common with Jesus? Here’s one way. Think about your best friend. I bet he’s someone you met by accident, at school, or at a party, or on your soccer team. You didn’t go to school with the agenda of meeting someone who would become your best friend. It just happened as you went about your normal life. Same with Jesus. He was out for a walk one day beside the Sea of Galilee with no particular destination in mind, just out for a stroll when he met the men who would become his closest friends. (I guess there’s a lesson here for being open to new and unexpected relationships.) He models for us the need for friends and partners on our journey. He didn’t go it alone, neither should we.

On this walk Jesus encountered two sets of fishermen brothers, Simon and Andrew, and James and John. He invites them to join him in his work. “Follow me,” he invites, “I will use your skills and abilities for a larger purpose. Now you catch fish – follow me, learn to do as I do and you will catch people.”

Notice several things about these encounters.

1. “He was passing by the Sea of Galilee…” (Mark 1:16-20) Jesus was just out for a walk. He didn’t have “find four disciples” on his list of things to do for the day. He saw these able fishermen, most likely knew them from previous interactions, and offered them the chance to lead a different kind of life, a life that used their acquired skills and natural abilities for the Kingdom’s sake. They weren’t spiritual giants, they were ordinary fishermen.

Jesus invites ordinary you to follow him; to use your everyday skills and abilities for the sake of God’s kingdom. Take a minute and think about the things you do in your ordinary day, activities you’ve acquired by training or by natural gifts. Maybe you’re a mom, a teacher or a banker. Whatever your role, the ordinary duties you perform are absolutely transferable and useful for Jesus’ mission! The famous acting coach Konstantin Stanislavisky was channelling Jesus when he said “Remember, there are no small parts, only small actors.” You are an important part in helping fulfill Jesus’ mission.

2. The two sets of brothers, although both fishermen, were doing two different tasks: Simon and Andrew were casting their nets, James and John were mending theirs. Jesus needs all kinds of expertise in his community.

Some of us will be naturals at bringing in or adding to the family of God. Others of us will have hearts that incline toward caring for and tending the members of the community. Both dispositions (plus many other gifts) are necessary. We need to honor our temperament and personality as we follow Jesus into life’s ministry. Let your God given tendencies be used by the Spirit to complete the body of Christ. And in a spirit of humility we can bless those of us who have different giftings. It is not a competition. All are necessary and included in the community of Christ.

3. Both sets of brothers needed to be willing to leave behind important aspects of their life in order to follow Jesus.

Simon and Andrew left their nets. They were willing to lose their possessions and a relatively secure future because being with Jesus meant more to them than what they owned. James and John left their father with the hired men. From now on their sense of family would be found among the people, who like them, followed Jesus. Their primary identity would no longer be Zebedee’s sons, the fishermen. Soon they would be known as disciples of Jesus.

So on this average, ordinary day Jesus sees you going about your average, ordinary activities. He recognizes you have talents and a heart that your average, ordinary work can’t utilize or satisfy completely. You were meant for more. He invites you to join his community, to partner with him in his purpose of letting people know the Good News: God’s kingdom is here and now.

Following Jesus requires you to leave behind the security you seek from things and relationships and to cast your allegiance and trust onto Jesus. He will name you, satisfy your ache for a meaningful life, and provide the security you need to live peaceably. Jesus needs you as part of his community. It’s a grand and marvelous adventure, will you follow him?

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I wanted to be Japanese when I grew up

Dear Elle,

Every child is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My response would usually cause a smile and then an attempt to correct my faulty thinking by the curious adult who posed the question. “I want to be Japanese.” It didn’t matter that I was a blond-haired, green-eyed four year old, I had been told that America was the land of opportunity, a person could be anything they wanted to be; and I wanted to be Japanese!

If you want to know who you are and who God created you to be, pay attention to your childhood dreams and the worlds you invented and inhabited in your childlike imagination. They hold the secret of the you you long to be. God named you, formed you and consecrated you before you were even conceived. You have been imagined by God and created to live in the exact time and place, country and family in which you find yourself. You and your life are not an accident that is correctable by God’s grace. You and your life are potentially exactly what God had in mind.

You were born to carry a particular piece of God’s heart into the world and as an uninhibited child you lived this mission out in your play and your imagination. I wanted to be Japanese… My mom even made me a Japanese outfit that I would wear as I served tea and bowed to the roses in our garden. In my little girl mind Japanese ladies were so pretty, quiet, demure, and serving.  This ambition of mine was left behind as I matured. Family and school taught me that success was measured in the amount of attention I was paid by others, so I would do whatever it took to gain the notice of those in power. I wasn’t the smartest or the prettiest, so I became the loudest and most talkative. Goodbye quiet and demure, hello “motormouth” (as I was dubbed by my high school teachers).

Losing touch with the Japanese lady inside me caused me to lose touch with the me God had created me to be. I know this because of the misery I experienced in relationships and the disdain I had for myself. Pay attention to your current life situation. If you are more often unhappy or unsettled than peaceful and at rest, perhaps you’ve lost connection with the embedded God-image that is yours alone to express.

When God first thought of you, he assigned you a particular temperament, a unique set of talents and gifts, a distinctive personality and energy level, and a range of emotional reactions. You are unrepeatable and important to God’s plan for bringing out the “God colors” of the world in which you live.

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