Patient Hope

2 Peter 3:3-15a, 18

…in the last days scoffers will arise… (verse 3)

Scoffers come in many forms. Family members who don’t understand your faith, friends or co-workers who ridicule it; cultural systems that diminish or mock your beliefs. But perhaps the scoffer that is the hardest to handle, is the one that lives within your own head. Can you hear the voice of the scoffer?

  • “You’ve been faithful, where is the answer to your prayer?”
  • “Why keep trusting God’s promises? Things will never change. Today is the same as yesterday, why do you expect tomorrow to be any different?”
  • “Why not just have a little fun, live for today?

Peter reminds us how to address these mocking voices.

Don’t be surprised by their appearance. Your desire to live for the glory of God makes the enemy of God very unhappy. As Peter describes in his first epistle, the enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Your righteous life is his appetizer! Your doubts do not necessarily suggest there is something wrong with your faith; they may indicate a space in your heart where God is expanding God’s territory or a space where your trust in God is a threat to the devil’s devices and he is out to get you!

God creates and God re-creates. The Trinity created the universe out of nothing; and when the world was destroyed by a flood because of evil, God re-created the earth. God did not and does not abandon the creation he loves. The scoffing voices may suggest otherwise, but God is powerful and committed to ensuring your complete wholeness. His timing may be different than yours, but remember: “God is not slow, he is thorough.” The apparent delay in the promise being fulfilled is purposeful, founded in love, not neglect.

A day is coming, we are promised, when Jesus will return. He will bring with him complete justice and salvation. We don’t know the day or hour, but we are to live in the hope of his appearance.

Who/what are the scoffers you encounter in your life? Where in your life do you feel God is slow in keeping promises? Peter reminds you of God’s power to create and to re-create according to God’s loving purpose. How does this impact your doubt?

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. (verse 14,15)

 Written for weekly devotional for CBC

God heeds your soul’s cries, do you?

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication…I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in his word I hope…with God there is great power to redeem.

Psalm 130:1,2,5-7

I know I’m late to the party, but I just saw The Dark Knight Rises a few days ago. Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, finds himself in a hellhole of a prison, it’s dark and ugly. Being kept barely alive was the torment inflicted on the prisoners, death would be a welcome release.

Surprisingly, the other instrument of torture was hope.

A beam of light, traveling 500 feet down a narrow shaft, penetrated the darkness and despair of the captives, teasing them with hints of life and freedom; unassailable and impossible to acquire. Yet rumors were whispered that someone had climbed up the shaft and escaped into the light. Hope constantly dangling in front of them, without power to realize it, was the harder, more devastating torment, it killed the soul.

The blind man spoke wisdom to Wayne, “You can escape; but to do so, your escape must not be motivated by despairing of life (‘I don’t care if I die, I need to escape or end it’), but by fear of death – knowing that if you remain in this limbo, an unending torturous life of death will be yours. Your escape must be born of the desire to escape this death. And you must attempt the escape with no rope tied around your waist, no second guessing, no backdoor. Let your fear of dying push you to great courage and strength. You must own the piece of your soul that wants to live and want it so desperately that you’ll take a huge risk to realize it.”

Such are the depths from which our souls cry to God, places where we feel as if we’re barely hanging on, where despair, lethargy or indifference takes over and we settle into survival mode. We see the promise of a life of freedom and peace, we hear God’s invitation to come and live in the light, yet it seems out of reach or too hard to accomplish. Allowing ourselves to want such a life only increases our discomfort, there is such a gap between the dream and reality.

Still, there is a piece of every heart and soul that knows, with complete purity, that she was made for Life and that she needs God to energize this Life. This is the true self, the self made in God’s image, the self that knows she needs salvation and God alone can satisfy this existential need. No darkness can extinguish this light, it is God’s eternal flame burning within, not letting her settle for a living death.

This voice cries out to God for release, she will not be silenced. She will not settle for a living death, a life that goes through the motions without joy and freedom. She cries out, looking toward the light, continuing to hope. God has promised life and freedom and has the power to grant her release.

My friend, heed her cries, just as God does. Let yourself want Life, this is the first step of ascending into freedom.

Oh God, You pay attention to my soul’s persistent cries. Your light penetrates my darkness and ignites my hope – I was created for Life. You have not abandoned me to mere survival. You are the source of my freedom. Sometimes, though, it hurts to hope. Yet hoping gives me energy to remember you and honor the true me, the me that will not settle for less than all of you. Amen.

 

What drives you to Jesus?

He begged for more than alms, he begged for mercy.

In both yesterday and today’s Gospel reading Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Yesterday’s request by James and John was born of ignorance mixed with pride, today’s of hope for restoration and maybe a little anger.

As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ …Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ …So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go your faith has made you well.’ Mark 10:46ff

Bartimaeus wasn’t always blind. Something transpired in his life that robbed him of his sight. His blindness physically reduced him to the role of an insignificant beggar, yet his spirit retained the memory and the experience of being a person of consequence. In Jesus, he hoped for more than alms because of who he was, a blind beggar. He hoped for mercy.

Mercy, the quality that looks beyond the present reality to the original and intended plan of God. Mercy, originating in the caring heart of the beholder, not in the pitiable state of the one seen. Bartimaeus begs Jesus “Please don’t see me as I am now, a blind beggar in need of alms, see the real me, the me I am meant to be, a person returned to wholeness.”

Yesterday, James and John were bold in their request of Jesus because of their intimate relationship with him. Today, Bartimaeus’ boldness is energized by desperation. Both motivations for approaching Jesus are equally welcomed by him. Jesus will use your intimacy with him to take you deeper into his love. And your desperation to lead you into greater wholeness. “Let nothing separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” [Romans 8] Run to him with your heart’s desires. You are welcome in his presence. He longs to ask you, “What do you want me to do for you?”

For more thoughts about your desires leading you to a deeper walk with the Lord read  “What do you really want?” and “Choose Life.

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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.)

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

Confession from the Shadow

Shadows are only cast when there is a source of light

Dear Elle,

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, look toward the light. Remember the feel of the sun on your face, the warmth of the daylight on your skin, 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.

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 in the journey,

Debby

The year of the Lord’s favor (part 2)

Dear Elle,

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 it’s 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 Elle. 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 purchased because you liked them. You have a favorite pair of running shoes, a favorite pair of shoes you wear with your jeans, 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 in the journey,

Debby

Jesus’ mission statement -part 1 of 2

Dear Elle,

Towards the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry he entered his home town 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 Elle, and in Debby, and in Ray, and in Jack, and in…. (You get the idea.) 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 everyday, walking around life. Savor the possibility.

(My dear friend, Elle, 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 without a doubt their trustworthiness, but it is only my faith that 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 Elle. We need your help. Amen

(In my next post, I’ll finish this letter.)