A Receptive vs Acquiring Gospel

Thoughts on John 3:1-8

We all know about NIcodemas coming to you under cover of night, out of fear, they say. Or maybe he thought he’d have a better chance at a private conversation at night, out of the public eye. At any rate, he was testing you. Not testing as the Pharisees were later to do, trying to trip you up, but legitimately checking you out. He called you Rabbi and acknowledged your wondrous deeds proved God sent you.

You throw him a curve ball with the born again talk. According to his way of thinking, entering the Kingdom of God was done through keeping the law and offering the correct sacrifices. But you are describing a receptive means of righteousness, not an acquiring one. Nicodemas’ attempts at righteousness was playing catch up; trying to return to the state of innocence experienced by Adam and Eve in the Garden. You describe union with the Kingdom as accomplished by starting over, becoming like an infant who is born not of it’s own plan or control, but because of the joining of its parents. Spiritual birth happens not by trying hard, but by letting love create and carry me. The grace is found in being dependent upon my loving parent, there is no grace in relying upon my best efforts to earn your love.

Come Holy Spirit, blow into and through my life. Leave evidence of my spiritual birth as I work, talk, and write this day.

God gives God’s self a gift

Imagine, you are a gift God's gives the world

Imagine, you are a gift God’s gives the world

Recall the satisfaction you experience when you find the perfect gift for someone you love; the joy of knowing it will bring them delight. If we find joy in giving good gifts, imagine how much more God enjoys giving the perfect gift. And wrap your mind around this truth: You are God’s gift!

Everybody loves a gift, right? Even God! Jesus described you as a gift given to him by his Father. (John 17) You know the joy you get out of spending your birthday money on something you really, really want? That is the same joy God experiences over you. You are precious and honored in God’s sight and dearly beloved. (Isaiah 43) You are God’s gift to God’s self!

You are God’s gift to the world! God planned for you to inhabit earth at this very precise moment in history. You are uniquely created, there is no one like you. You have particular gifts, inclinations and skills necessary to bless your family, your coworkers, your neighbors. You are an essential means by which God shows the world God’s great love and generous compassion.

You are God’s gift to you! God created you to experience joy and delight as you follow your interests, use your good mind and enjoy exercising your body. Let yourself become friends with who you are. Sure, you’re not perfect, but you, the true you, is a wonder. Take a lesson from Evelyn Underhill, in her book, The Ways of the Spirit.

The true relation between the soul and God is the perfectly simple one of a childlike dependence. Well then be simple and dependent, acknowledge once for all the plain fact that you have nothing of your own, offer your life to God and trust Him with the ins and outs of our soul as well as everything else! Cultivate a loving relation to Him in your daily life; don’t be ferocious with yourself because that is treating badly a precious (if imperfect) thing which God has made. 

Imagine: you are God’s gift, this is your fundamental identity. (For more thoughts on your identity in Christ, read the paragraph Concerning your Identity in the Mentored Life Rule.)

But something has gone awry. Generally speaking we do not live from this sense of being celebrated by God. And we rarely recognize that our very self, with it’s unique temperament and talents is entrusted by God with the mission of bringing the gospel to the world in which we live.

With you on the journey,

Debby

P.S. I love gifts, hint, hint.

To be continued in my next post.

The series of posts The NEW Old begins here. Join me each Monday as we explore how God wants to make old things new.

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?

Do you need God to come near?

John the baptizer had his time, but with his arrest it was at an end. Now it is Jesus’ time. John was Advent, Jesus is Christmas. John was pregnancy, Jesus is birth. John prepared hearts for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus is the Messiah.

A man’s singleness ends with his wedding. His hope for a life with a partner is fulfilled on his wedding day. His waiting is complete and a new season of life begins. Jesus’ arrival is the wedding. His coming is the fulfillment of time, the waiting for God’s messiah is completed. Jesus, the Messiah, is come and with him good news.

Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.’

With these few words Jesus declares his definition of the good news.

The good news he proclaims is that the Kingdom of God has come near. Notice this subtle, but very important aspect of Jesus’ gospel, the Kingdom has come near. God’s promise spoken through Moses is realized in Jesus’ arrival.

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.  – Deuteronomy 30:11-14

You don’t need to go anywhere or do anything special or religious to access it. God is the one who moves close, you just need to stand still. God’s Kingdom will come near to you. This is truly good news!

Yet, the good news Jesus preaches calls for a response on our part. The Kingdom has come near, therefore, we must repent and believe. John also preached about the need for repentance, but his was for forgiveness of sins; backwards thinking, erasing our past. Jesus’ call to repentance is forward thinking, it is an invitation to act differently because we believe God’s Kingdom is here, now. The good news is not just about the forgiveness of our sins; it is believing and living from the reality that God is among us, God has drawn near.

The rest of Mark’s Gospel explains how to repent and believe.

Fear – our emotional fire alarm

Return to InnocenceRaise the dead: animate and reenergize what once was alive (part two of four)

Jesus tends the garden of our soul by resurrecting our true selves, the self that wisely trusts because it is free from fear or worry. (see part one)

When you find yourself not trusting, ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?”

Usually pain of some kind is the answer. Fear is our emotional fire alarm, saying “Danger, slow down, let’s make sure we’re safe here.” Healthy fear can help us unhealthy fear can paralyze us.

Unhealthy fear is like a muscle-bound, well-armed, overprotective body guard. Originally employed to keep us safe, he now keeps us a prisoner to guarantee our safety; reasoning only when we are locked away from any danger, whether it be physical or emotional, can we hope to be kept safe and avoid pain. Trust is the key to this prison, but this key is so infrequently used, it has grown rusty and is often hard to locate.

Spiritual speaking (which in turn impacts all the rest of our lives) we are living oxymorons in relationship to trust. We say God is good and loving and yet we resist trusting him completely. Why? Why is it hard to trust God? Why do our actions not match our words?

Three reasons:

1. Lack of perspective – Eliza and the peas. Peas were good provision for her, and needful for her, but she wasn’t crazy about the flavor, so she trusted her taste buds more than her providers. So it is with us. We know what we want and think we know what we need, therefore we resist anything that doesn’t square with our expectation. God has long-term, life-providing, strength-building provision for us, we don’t recognize it because it tastes like peas, not sweet potatoes. (See part one)

2. We’ve been injured – In the past trust lead to rejection and pain, experiences we made a vow to avoid at all costs. Most of us had, as they say in the psychological literature, “good enough” parents; parents that more often than not were available to meet our needs, provide and protect, so fear is not the foundation of our life.  But it is still a powerful factor in keeping us “dead”.

3. Lack of Control – Need I say more? We all believe in the myth of control. If I’m in charge, I can manage the situation and insure that neither me nor anyone I love is hurt in any way. If I trust, I give another power over my life and am at risk of being hurt.

Unhealthy fear = Death. The good news is that if fear is a learned condition, it can be unlearned. Jesus came to resurrect trust in our lives once again.

More about this in part three of Return to Innocence.

(This material is taken from the Shaped at the Garden retreat. For more information about participating in this retreat, contact me or look in the events category.)

How does your Garden Grow?

A beginner [in prayer] must look upon himself as making a garden, wherein our Lord may take His delight, but in a soil unfruitful, and abounding in weeds. His Majesty roots up the weeds, and has to plant good herbs. …so that He may come often for His pleasure into this garden, and delight Himself in the midst of these virtues.

from The Life of St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa uses an analogy to help us understand our relationship to the Lord, we are the Lord’s garden. Jesus longs to walk amongst the flowers of our garden-soul and make us his dwelling place. Weeds in the garden choke the flowers or food that have been planned and planted. They hinder the beauty, the accessibility and the effectiveness of the garden.

No need to argue that we are weedy – that is obvious. It is the job of the gardener to uproot the weeds, to clear the soil, to plant the flowers. He has a plan and a timeline, it is our task to submit to his activity and cooperate with his work.

***

We find the primary activities of God’s plan for tending the garden of the human soul in Matthew 10:7,8. Jesus sends out the twelve disciples on their precedent setting mission, giving them the following instructions. They were to:

1. Awaken Hope – Proclaim the good news: the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near

2. Restore to Health – Cure the sick: relieve hindrances to wholeness

3. Return to Innocence – Raise the dead: animate and reenergize what once was alive

4. Remove Shame – Cleanse the lepers: restore to community

5. Establish truth – Cast out demons: eliminate spiritual lies, provide spiritual truth

Each of these activities provides a return to health, life and proper normalcy. This is the Lord’s intention for us and his means of weeding our souls.

Awaken Hope – Proclaim the Good News: the Kingdom of Heaven has come near

The sequence of these instructions is significant.  The first task of God’s weeding is to proclaim the good news: The Kingdom of heaven is near.  This assurance awakens our hope. We are so convinced of and consumed by our deficits, our sins, our wrongs, that it is hard to believe that there is hope for us. That’s why God begins the work of weeding the garden of our soul by letting us know He is near.

God’s reign begins here. Right exactly where we are. We don’t need to move toward it – It has drawn close to us. The Kingdom of Heaven is wherever God has his say so. This kingly authority and power of God has approached us and is as close as our skin.

God’s character of love and grace is shown in the post fruit-eating episode of Genesis two and three. Adam and Eve have screwed up and in their shame they hide from God, the one they’ve disappointed. What does God do? God seeks them out, wanting to stay in relationship with them. God names their reality, they have disobeyed God’s instructions and as a result there are consequences they must bear. Yet God does not leave them as they are found, cowering and clothed in fig leaves; he covers them with soft, durable and warm animal skins. (Perhaps foreshadowing of the need for blood sacrifices?) God’s next act of love is a confusing and profoundly loving thing, he banishes them from the garden, so that they may die an earthly death and be reborn into eternity.

From the Garden of Eden, where death was unleashed to the Garden of the Resurrection where life defeats death, God’s love awakens our hope.

(This material is taken from the retreat, “Shaped at the Garden.” Contact me or look at the events page for information about participating in this retreat.)

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