Go to the source

courseWe’re winding down the exploration of “Who am I?” in our series The New/Old where we look at old familiar topics God wants to make new. Let’s recap:

You were given biological life by the grace of God, and you were taught how to handle this gift by the influence of your parents and culture. Of course, your own temperament played a part in how these lessons were incorporated and interpreted, but for the most part you were passive in this process, you received and responded.

But now you are becoming your own agent of choice. You are wise enough to go to the source. Ask the creator of life to teach you how to live. You have much to unlearn and much to learn about this life you are seeking. God will be a faithful teacher. Jesus is your model, your instructor and friend. In the past you looked to tutors who were less faithful and true –

  • parents who, although they loved you the best they were able, did not love you perfectly and placed expectations on you that squelched your spirit, you learned to hide your true life.
  • the church, intended to train you in the love and freedom that is yours as a beloved child of God, instead taught you the life of a slave; filled with shame and rules that must be obeyed out of fear, you learned to hate your true life.
  • relationships, meant to provide the experience of intimacy, acceptance and mutual respect, instead convinced you that only perfection in body and personality could be desired and honored. Knowing your own imperfection and discovering flaws in the other eliminated the possibility of connection, you learned to wear a mask to conceal your true life.

You looked to these teachers to give you life, but they delivered death. Each death dealing “lesson” you learned, each disappointment you suffered created a wall that surrounded your true self and separated you from the source of life, God’s love. But God’s love was not content with this divide, so the trinity conspired to break down this wall of separation. The flesh and blood of Jesus eliminated this barrier and you have been brought near to the God of life. God’s grace has returned you to the place of a student, ready and eager to learn. And now Jesus will teach you. Forget what lies behind and attempt to maintain the posture of a little child who is learning things for the first time…

With you on the journey,

Debby

Begin with the end in mind

In our series of important questions, we’ve considered “Who is God?” Let’s move on to an equally important question: “Who am I?”

We know ourselves by such things as what we do, the way we look, or the relationships we are in. If I were to name a few essential things that describe who I am, the list would include:

  • I am an introvert (edging on recluse)
  • I am playful (enjoy silliness, games, childlike pursuits)
  • I love God (not perfectly, though)
  • I doubt my value (keeps me quiet and invisible)
  • I’m a woman, married, well-educated (and other external identifiers)

You could make your own list and reading it would help me know you better. But are these qualities, characteristics and interests what define you? I’m not the first to realize there is more to who we are than what we do. Thomas Merton, in No Man is an Island says,

We must find our real selves not in the froth stirred up by the impact of our being upon the beings around us, but in our own soul which is the principle of all our acts.

When you ask “Who am I?” you touch the essence of the human experience. The answer to the question reveals the unique you, who was created by God, for God’s delight and God’s intention.

God created you to belong to God, to know yourself as God’s beloved; and from this solid sense of self, to allow your unique personhood to become a means of expressing God’s character and God’s good will toward the entire world.

In Rev. 7 there is a description of the end for which you were made:

‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ These are they who have come out of the great ordeal. 

The ordeal you face is the lifelong struggle of putting off the old, false self with all it’s sin-based, ego-driven needs and habits and putting on the new self, the one God has named “my beloved and pleasing child.” Emerging victorious from this struggle is accomplished by faithfully clinging to Jesus and being deaf to any voice but God’s. The evil one would clothe you in shame and accusations. God clothes you in a white robe, the robe of acceptance and purity. Hold this truth foremost as you fight the good fight. Because:

For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

As it has been said, begin with the end in mind. Today, you are in God’s presence. Can you feel the shelter of God’s love and power? Right now, let God satisfy your hunger, quench your thirst, and keep you safe. In this very moment, Jesus, your good shepherd, cares for you and takes you to the source of life. At this hour, God knows your pain and sorrow, let God comfort and console you.

Let these truths define who you are.

With you on the journey,

Debby

This is part of a series entitled  The New Old, a look at familiar things God wants to make new. It begins here.

God’s Autobiography (cont)

Sorry about a lack of post last week. As I’m sure you can relate, I had a bit of a crazy week. Please read, comment and share these posts as you like. We’re in the middle of a series on the ways God wants to make old, familiar things new and fresh. Today we’re looking at part two of God’s self description. See part one here.

With you on the journey,

Debby

God With Us Matthew 1:23

By choice, God dwells within you. You are God’s home. No one picks a place to live that has no value, no redeeming qualities. People pick places to live they love. God wants to build a home in you, one built on a solid foundation. You may experience your foundation as weak, shaky, slapped together, and maybe this is so. Yet, God alone, the great engineer, architect and builder, will design, redeem, get rid of, build, furnish his home. God has a vision for God’s home. God will build his dream house within you. You point out the flaws, condemn and reject. God does not. God’s plan is to build a beautiful, showplace of a home within you, one God can joyfully inhabit and invite others to enjoy.

Helper Hebrews 13:6

It’s funny to think about God being our helper. I usually think of a helper as one who is paid minimum wage to do the busy work, so that the expert can focus on the important stuff. Yet God says he is our helper. What does this mean? How is God our helper? Well, God has an important assignment for you in this life. It is yours to accomplish. God comes along side, handling the details, clearing the way for you to walk in the good works prepared for you. Leave off worrying about the small stuff, trust your handy helper. You don’t need to micro-manage your life. But don’t forget that it is God’s quiet work that allows your success, give your helper glory and proper credit for the great life you’ve been given.

Husband Hosea 2:16

God invites Israel (read you and me) to relate to him as a husband. Whether you are a man or a woman, you can understand what a perfect husband would be and how he would treat his wife. This is the kind of relationship God wants us to experience. A husband cherishes, respects, protects, provides…the list goes on. This is a picture of God’s love for you.

Mother Eagle Deuteronomy 32:10-11

God is also feminine. A mother eagle is majestic. She feeds her young from her own mouth. She guards them against threats with her strong body. When they are ready, she stirs up the nest, encouraging them to try their wings. When their untrained wings haven’t yet figured out how to manage this flying business, she catches them when they fall. She makes sure they succeed. God is your mother eagle.

My hero, the leper (a prayer)

(Occasionally, I feel compelled to share with you from my personal prayer journal. This one I fearfully offer. Be gentle, you’re holding my heart.)

When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Matthew 8:1-3

Lord, the way this leper trusts you has always amazed me. He models detachment. He’s a leper, he desires to be made clean he knows you have the power to do so, yet, he doesn’t demand it or hold you ransom. He strikes no bargains; just lays his request before you and lets you give him what you will.

Boy, that’s hard. In theory, he’s my hero and I want to follow his example. But in reality I am attached to the outcome. I want to write useful material for your people. You could use me if you choose. I kneel before you, risking my request. Give words through me or not. Help me remain at your feet.  Amen.

*Epilogue*

God, you are quick to respond. You spoke practical things I can do to remain in the trusting position for which I long. It seems God says the same thing over and again to the Israelites (and by extension me.) I guess they needed to hear it more than once. Their hard hearts needed retraining, new ways of being and believing. So does mine.

In summary, from Deuteronomy 7:

  • God will give you success. Success for me is measured by my continued listening during my prayer time, capturing the words in my journal and sharing them with my friends. I can cooperate with God by faithfully showing up each morning, and without self-judgement offer the words formed in my heart.
  • You must destroy existing idols, you’ll suffer unnecessarily if you don’t. Among the idols I must destroy are perfection, competition, jealousy because others seem more “successful” than I am. I can pray that God uproots this prideful selfishness and grows humility and love in my heart.
  • You are God’s chosen, not because of your strength or beauty (inflated ego) but just because God loves you. I am not the best writer, but I express the impressions the Spirit of God has written on my heart. I am loved and chosen by God, I do not need to impress others or myself.
  • You have been set free to obey, do so and blessings abound. Like God’s word which does not return void, God speaking through my unique voice will be a blessing, at least to me, if to no one else, because I have been faithful to God’s call for me.
  • Do not focus on your lack (deflated ego), but on God’s power. I am not the worst writer, God has given me gifts of communication and opportunities to practice and hone my skills. It is God’s grace and love that works in me and flows through my writings.

Amen

Sound familiar? Does it resonant with your experience? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

With you on the journey,

Debby

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.

 

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.

The purpose of temptation

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:

  1.  provide for myself, take care of my own needs
  2. keep myself protected and unharmed by controlling my environment and relationships.
  3. 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.

Your Amazing Life (again)

Dear Elle,

The Lord plans to live an amazing life through you, a life that accomplishes and realizes feats of faith and wonder that will astonish even yourself. “We must work the works of him who sent me.” (John 9:4). “We” – a partnership, you and Jesus together. You are invited, in fact, you are necessary to the plan of God. Since Jesus was physically present to creation for only a brief moment in history, the Trinity needs you to bring the spirit and presence of Jesus to creation now, during your brief moment of history.

In Luke 9 Jesus called twelve of his closest friends together and gave them power and authority over demons and disease. He then sent them out into the world to practice what they had witnessed him doing and now had the power and authority to do themselves…proclaiming the Kingdom of God and healing those who needed a cure.

The Trinity has a plan. It is to send Jesus’ closest friends out into the world with the good news. The nature of your intimate relationship with and trust in Jesus makes you one of his closest friends. And the nature of God’s intimate knowledge and trust of you makes you one of the ones with whom Jesus shares his power and authority.

This amazing life of yours begins with Jesus’ call of you and his desire to share his life with you. “He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him.” (Mark 3:13) Jesus called the ones he wanted. His life and his voice filled the air with an invitation to come to him and live. He desired for all to heed his call and come to him.

This invitation has not ceased. Yet, not everyone who hears his voice comes to him; but you, Elle, you came. Your heart, longing for significance, recognized the call of love in Jesus’ invitation. You are one he wants. He chose you, you responded. He initiates, you follow. There is such a mutuality in this choosing. Both sides of this interaction are significant. You’ve climbed the mountain of obedience and now sit with Jesus, awaiting his voice.

With you in the Journey,

Debby

Imitating Jesus

Imitate Jesus, as you do your yoga instructor

Imitating Jesus (some thoughts on the gospel of Mark)

As a neophyte, I kept my eyes fixed on the yoga instructor, attempting to reproduce in my body and breath what I was witnessing in hers. I wasn’t just following her instructions, I was imitating her (albeit poorly). She walked from student to student correcting, aligning and encouraging us; assuring me that if I continued my efforts, I would eventually have a beautiful practice.

I want my life to be a beautiful practice. Following Jesus and imitating his actions and character is the way to achieve it.

Jesus stepped out of obscurity into the river Jordan. Like the rest of the Judean world, he followed John the Baptizer into the wilderness. He entered the waters of baptism and the world was changed.

John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This concept was nothing particularly new; previously, though, people would go to the temple for such an activity. Now they are pouring into the wilderness. This change of location suggests a new and radical way of accessing God. And this shift is only the beginning.

John’s baptism was almost a tease. Sent to prepare the way for the real deal, his preaching asked “Want a different way of life?” Then “repent” he instructed. Repentance is a change of mind and a commitment to act differently than you have in the past. This decision to live differently, though, will not be enough.

Speaking of the one who comes after him he says “I baptize with water, but HE will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” My baptism is external. The water that marks your decision will be dry within minutes and you’ll need to remind yourself to act differently. But HIS baptism will be with the Holy Spirit, it will be an internal and eternal mark that will not only remind you to act differently, it will empower you do to so.

Our preparation for the Messiah’s advent is o desire a different future, one free of past mistakes and misdeeds . Own your longing, grieve your sins, heed the voice of John, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”