Good Monday morning, dear ones. Today’s word is perfect for me (and you) today. To continue to obey, even when the heat of repentance has cooled down, requires God to grant us a spirit that is willing to say yes to life and no to death. We need God’s perspective, a long term vision of where our obedience (even in the small things) will lead. Let’s pray with David and each other today, “sustain in me a willing spirit.” Amen.
Jesus tells us we can have whatever we ask on one condition: that we abide in his love. Abiding in his love means to dwell within the shelter of his loving character. His love is our home, the place we are welcomed, safe and our needs are met. From this place of being totally encompassed by the love of Jesus, what could possible be missing from our life that we would need to ask for? The answer: relationships.
The relationship Jesus experienced with his father is the model for our relationships, with God and with one another. Our scripture today paints a picture of such friendships.
Healthy and fruitful relationships require a connection to a source of love that is greater than our human affections. When we are convinced that we are completely loved and totally provided for, we are free to love the other without a hidden agenda. We can offer ourselves in love to the other for who they are, not who we need them to be. Love abounds. How can you ground yourself in God’s great and abiding love for you? Make the conscious decision to offer yourself in love to someone today, without expectation of return. How does this feel?
Jesus’ love led him to lay down his life for his friends. That probably won’t be the case in our relationships, but sacrifices will need to be made. Putting another’s interest above our own (Phil 2) means we may not get our way. Ouch. But we love in the same manner of Jesus when we suffer such self denial. In what way can you lay down your life for your friend? (Letting them choose the restaurant, giving them the comfortable chair.) Practice this today and notice how it impacts the nature of your friendship.
Jesus shared with his friends all he had heard from his Father, we should also share with one another the way God is working in our hearts. Take the risk of moving a casual conversation to a deeper level, tell a friend what God is teaching you about the life of the Kingdom. This is the path to deeper, more fruitful friendships.
We are not God, we do not have the capacity to love all people equally; but we can choose a few friends who we can commit to loving as best we can, offering them a physical reminder of God’s tender and present love. As has been said, we can be “Jesus with skin on.” Who can you choose to love?
Jesus said, “This is my commandment that you love one another.” Such loving relationships produce fruit that will last throughout eternity.
With you on the journey,
Written for CBC’s weekly devotional thought.
God made you you on purpose, and God needs you to be you. In order to live from the freedom of your God given identity, you will need to replace the lies that you have come to believe about yourself with God’s truth concerning you. As Jesus said, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
So how does this happen?
- Identify the lies that hold us in hiding. See here, here and here for help in identifying these lies.
- Replace with lies with God’s truth. For more help read this post A Return to Trust.
In my last entry I shared some of the lies that have held me captive. “I am powerless, there is no hope.” Here is how these lies can be replaced with truth. It’s not an easy process, sometimes it helps to have a trusted spiritual director who can walk through this with you. I’d be honored to walk with you through this exercise. Contact me if you like.
Identify an inciting incident – Prayerfully recall a specific incident from childhood that typifies how you began to believe the lie. My lie was a sense of powerlessness, yours will most likely be something different. On a family camping trip, when I was around seven years old, I was holding my mom’s hand as we walked on a small dam across a tiny creek. It was a hot day and the pond the dam created looked so inviting and cool. My mom kept saying, “Don’t go in the water” as she would push me toward the pond with a smile on her face. It was very confusing for me. I kept trying to not go in the water because that is what she told me to do. Her words said one thing, and her actions said another. I didn’t know which to obey.
Experience the feelings related to that incident – Revisit the scene in your imagination, let it come alive and get in touch with what you felt at the time. I felt confused. I wanted to do what was asked of me, but I couldn’t determine which demand I should obey: to stay out of the water or to let my mom push me into it.
Messages/tapes that play – As a result of such incidents what messages does your subconscious hear and live by? Any decision I make will be the wrong one. I’ll get in trouble whatever I do.
Vows I make (beliefs I hold) – What is your response to these messages? How have you determined to act in response to their demands? I will not make any decision on my own. I will keep still and let others decide for me.
Impact of vows – How has keeping this vow, holding these beliefs impacted your life? – I’m indecisive, passive, untrusting. I don’t know myself, I blame others for my failures.
Relive incident with Jesus – Prayerfully re-imagine the inciting incident but this time Jesus is there with you. What does he say/do? How does he act? Notice your feelings as you re-experience the event. How does what you learned of him in your scripture study impact the outcome of this scene? Jesus walks behind us on the dam as I cross it with my mom. I know he’s there. When my mom begins to tease me by issuing conflicting messages, I hear Jesus behind me saying, “You are not crazy for being confused. Your mom is teasing you, she’s trying to be playful. She’s not trying to harm you. Relax, you can trust your instincts.” Jesus then comes between us, puts his arms around our shoulders and we all jump into the pond with surprise and laughter.
Everyone agreed, townspeople and disciples alike, there was a lot of work left to be done in Capernaum. Jesus had barely scratched the surface last night; he healed some of the sick and cast out some of the demons but not all of them. There were plenty more people in this town that needed his healing touch.
They all went searching for him the next morning, but couldn’t find him. Simon knew where to look for him though. He was used to Jesus’ early morning disappearances. He and his companions found Jesus in a deserted place, praying. In an almost chiding tone, Simon asked, “Where have you been? Everybody’s searching for you.” Suggesting, “Come on Jesus, we all want you to finish the work you started.”
Jesus had a different plan, though. Having spent time alone with his Father, he knew what he needed to do. He was to go into the other villages, proclaim the good news and bring with him healing and wholeness. Jesus went against popular opinion and listened to God’s opinion.
Notice that Jesus didn’t get to all the people who needed his healing touch. Being God, Jesus could have cured all who crowded around the door with a single word; but being human, he was limited by time and space, he could only touch so many people in any given hour. This demonstrates the way God desires to interact with us. God’s healing word is not a one-size-fits-all kind of healing. It is personal and customized to address your particular needs. God deals differently with your neighbor than the way God deals with you. Can you trust God’s goodness, even when it appears your prayers are not being answered?
Notice that Jesus was not swayed by the people’s expectations or their apparent needs. His time alone with his Father grounded him in his life’s purpose and directed his life’s course. He was to bring the good news to all the villages, not to be a vending machine dispensing healing on demand. When you are at a decision point in your life, make time talking with God your highest priority. Let your choice be guided by your life’s purpose.
Written for CBC’s weekly devotional
The narrow gate, hard road, leads to life, few find it.
The wide gate, easy road, leads to destruction, many take it.
Why would someone choose the hard road over the easy road? Obviously, because it leads to life. But why must the road that leads to life be hard? Is there value in hardness? Why take the stairs when there is an escalator?
hmm…taking the stairs makes you stronger physically. Accomplishing a difficult task gives you confidence and joy. Taking the narrow gate means you are not following the crowd, but thinking for yourself (by God’s grace).
So, the narrow gate, the hard road trains your body, your emotions and your mind; take it and you will be physically fit, emotionally invigorated, true in heart and mind. God graciously invites us to take the narrow gate, doing so prepares us to enjoy eternal life with the Trinity and the all the saints.
God has chosen you, now you must choose God.
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13,14
Jesus taught that few people will take the hard road, the one entered through the narrow gate. The easy road is much more accessible and practically everyone will choose that path. And why not? Why climb four flights of stairs to your apartment when an elevator is available? Why walk to work when you can take your car? You’d only choose the more labor intensive options because you recognize the benefit they would provide – a healthier body, saving of money, less of a carbon footprint.
Choosing to follow Jesus through the narrow gate on the hard road will lead you to life, that’s quite a benefit!
Have you seen that commercial with Jimmy Fallon and a baby? The one where he asks “Who wouldn’t want an extra $50?” He is dumbfounded when the baby doesn’t want it because the obvious answer to the question is everyone wants an extra $50.
Who wouldn’t want life? It seems an easy choice: life or destruction? But destruction wears a mask. She pretties herself up in guises such as pleasure, or a career advancement, or ease. “Who wouldn’t want a job promotion?” “Why not have that 2nd martini?” “I’m tired, I deserve to veg-out in front of the TV.” It’s a wide and inviting gate, and has been said, it is a slippery slope.
The narrow gate that leads to life requires a commitment to the journey. Anyone who has tried to lose weight, kick an addition, or save money knows how easy it is to start on the path to life. An intense emotion awakes the desire within us for a change. But when the emotion fades it is difficult to remain committed to the goal. This is where it gets hard.
There will be times you’ll want to turn back, the road seems too steep; some moments you’ll want to sit down, it seems as if there is no end in sight; you’ll get exhausted, confused; you’ll question why you even entered this narrow gate. What will keep you motivated to continue to put one foot in front of the other?
The writer of the book of Hebrews tell us the answer.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Elle, keep your attention focused on the joy that is set before you, remind yourself of why you’ve chosen this road: Love has beckoned and you’ve said yes. You wouldn’t have become the great pianist you are unless you endured hours of practice. I would have never finished a marathon if I quit training because it made me tired or sore. Fix your eyes on the prize, life in God’s kingdom, and let this energize and sustain you on the narrow way.
With you on the journey,
He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Mark 1:13
Remember the children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are? Maurice Sendak tells the story of Max, a boy who learns to manage his anger by entering his imagination and taming the wild things he finds there. Max went to the place where the wild things ruled, Jesus went to the wilderness where the wild beasts lived; we must look within and deal with the wild beasts we meet roaming and ruling the uncivilized places of our soul.
It was in the wilderness that Jesus faced down the primary temptations that would attempt to pull him off course. He met the temptations, wrestled with their attraction, and willfully decided to trust God. This is the formula for transformation, it is this process that shapes our character into the image of Jesus.
What are our wild beasts? Simply speaking, anything that tempts us to not trust God. They take many forms and sometimes hide in plain sight. I’m sure ours are variations of the tricks Satan used to tempt Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11. Here’s one way of looking at Satan’s provocative invitations to leave the Kingdom.
I will be tempted to:
- provide for myself, take care of my own needs
- keep myself protected and unharmed by controlling my environment and relationships.
- make sure I’m noticed, appreciated, elevated.
The first is about sustenance, the next about safety, and the third is about significance.
All of the temptations are rooted in Satan’s attempts to nullify our identity as God’s children and demean God’s character. “If you are the son of God…” “If God was a loving God…” “If God’s so powerful, then why…”
These are the wild beasts we must tame. How do we do this? First, we have to want it. Do you want to be transformed into the image of Jesus? Then keep in mind that Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to go looking for the wild beasts, God’s love allows them to cross your path so you can wrestle with these temptations. This is where you make choices that lead you from death to life.
Ask God for eyes to see the wild beasts (they are pretty good at camouflaging themselves). The eyes of faith exposes them. Learn to notice when you have the feeling that it’s all up to you to provide, protect or insure your reputation. These are the wild beasts you must face. Like Jesus, hide yourself in God’s word and in God’s presence and dismiss the impulse, naming it for what it is – Satan’s attempt to lure you from God’s love.
Jesus resisted the temptations perfectly, we won’t. So be as patient with yourself as God is with you. Commit yourself again to saying, “no” to Satan’s suggestions; and begin again, and again, and again. I take great comfort in the fact that “God’s mercies are new every morning.” We can always begin afresh.
How are Jesus, Porsches and discipleship connected? Here’s how.
You walk with Jesus, get to know him and trust him; watch him do wonders, listen to his authoritative teaching, even witness God’s power working through you. Then there comes a day when you approach Jesus with your heart’s desire.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it that you want me to do for you?’ Mark 10:35,36
First of all, I love the approachability of Jesus. He was patient and generous with these two friends, who had no qualms about coming to him with a pretty selfish request. They must have known they would be welcome. This is where the maturing begins, trusting Jesus enough to come to him as you are, daring to ask for what you really desire. You don’t have to pretty it up, or pretend you don’t want it. “God desires truth in the inward heart.” (Ps 51). You must be real and raw. If you want a porsche, tell God about it. Start where you are. Go to Jesus with your heart in your hand. Enter the conversation. Key word: conversation; complete with give and take, speaking and listening. Don’t demand and then shut your ears.
This is God’s entry point into your heart. In telling God what you really want, you invite God to talk with you about the contents of your heart. Remember Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there will your heart be.” God uses this conversation to shed light on the true nature of your soul.
Back to Mark, “But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking.’” Jesus’ gentle reminder that they are limited in their vision, their power and their understanding. They think they know what would be best for them, but they hold only one little part of the story. They cannot comprehend the big picture, which is about so much more than their small wants and desires.
We ask Jesus for a porsche (or a husband, or health, or a child), his come back is, “My friend, you don’t know what you need.” Period. We sit together with that big matzah ball hanging in the air between us (a Seinfeld reference, hehe). Staying in the conversation with Jesus, when a porsche does not materialize, forces us to look beyond the porsche to the nature of our relationship with God. Is God a vending machine, there to service my needs? Hopefully, this silence leads us to the realization of “I trust that God wills whatever is best for me. If God doesn’t give me a porsche, maybe having a porsche would not be what is best for me. hmm.”
This place of openness to God’s will is where the rubber meets the road. Jesus asks some significant and challenging questions. “Are you able…Are you able?” Mark 10:38
By the leading of the Holy Spirit we now realistically examine our motives, and without judgement, realize our sin-tainted values and intentions. Oh, dear friend, this is the purifying and necessary path to a mature faith. Not using God to get what we want, rather, wanting God to get what we need. And what do we need? Power to follow Jesus where ever he leads.
“(James and John) replied, ‘We are able.’ Mark 10:39. Jesus affirmed their ability to follow him where ever that might lead, he did not give them a porsche. Porsches will rust and decay, relationship with Jesus will increase and remain.
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..demons love darkness and hiddenness. Inner fears and struggles which remain isolated develop great power over us. But when we talk about them in a spirit of trust, they they can be looked at and dealt with. Once brought into the light of mutual love, demons lose their power and quickly leave us. Henri Nouwen The Road to Daybreak
Return to Innocence – Raise the dead: animate and reenergize what once was alive
(part three of four)
OK, we’ve established that unhealthy fear equals death and wise trust equals life. So how do we cooperate with life? How do we return to trust?
We are bound to trust, what matters is who and what we trust. From this decision point comes either death or life. Jeremiah 17:5-10 announces our reality.
5 Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. 6 They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.
We are not cursed because we trust in mere mortals and flesh and blood, rather because we trust in mere mortals and flesh and blood we are cursed. That’s reality. People will always disappoint us. Depending on imperfect people to meet our needs will leave us empty and dry. Others are busy trying to get their own needs satisfied, they cannot offer us the complete nourishment and relief we need to thrive.
This first step in learning to trust is to admit and repent of this practice. (Repent means to think about things in a completely different light and as a result of this new thinking, change our habits and our practices.) Such a repentance also makes room for true relationships to grow. When I quit seeing you through the very narrow lens of being the answer to a particular need of mine, I can see the whole of you. You are not my fix, you can become my friend.
7 Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8 They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.
Trusting the Lord is born out of remembrance. Returning to what we know is true. God is faithful. God’s salvation is thorough. God provides streams of living water that hydrate and nourish our lives. Even in difficult seasons of life, we’ve witnessed God’s provision. Recall and re-experience what your life was like when your heart was turned away from God, remember the darkness? the lostness? the fear? Remember the joy of being found, of coming home. God never changes. He is always and constantly loving and good. Practice trusting this and act accordingly.
As I mentioned before, God is a god of reality and the truth is that fear is deeply embedded in our psyche and our being. We may mentally agree with the Biblical statements about God being all loving and good, yet we cannot generate a feeling of security and confidence in God’s trustworthiness. This is not news to God! The next step of learning to trust addresses this issue. It is a difficult process and may take most of our life to accomplish. We must allow God access to the areas of mistrust in our hearts and souls.
9 The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse— who can understand it? 10 I, the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.
It’s like your soul is a piece of saran wrap that has been rolled up into a ball. It is practically impossible to smooth out, doing so requires great patience and persistence. Both of which God has in abundance. Slowly, steadily the Holy Spirit will enter a place of fear within your experience, shedding light on the ways you distrust God, offering an invitation to trust. The decision is yours, to trust God or to trust yourself; you will bear the fruit of this decision.
Practical steps of implementing this trust will be addressed in the next and final installment of the article Return to Innocence.
(This material is based on the Shaped at the Garden retreat. For information about this retreat contact me or refer to the upcoming events section.)
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,