Most Important Lesson

Biography of a Soul…notes to a seeker.

Like St. Teresa of Avila, whose Abbess instructed her to write her Autobiography of a Soul, creating a map to follow toward the heart of God, I offer a Biography of a Soul, notes to encourage and equip your heart to seek God’s heart.

Like Screwtape to Wormwood, I make practical suggestions about how to continue toward God’s good will. Read on, won’t you?

Mary Cassatt, The Two Sisters, Public Domain

My dear Seeker,

Pay attention because I’m about to share with you the most important lesson you’ll learn in your life of discipleship. This truth is the foundation upon which you must build your life. Are you ready? Here you go – This life is a gift. A gift. Do not pass over this lesson quickly, thinking you already know it or thinking it is too simple to give much attention. I know you, you desire a life radically different from the one you have previously lived, you long for a mind made new, more readily thinking God’s thoughts; you yearn for a heart shaped by mercy and justice; that offers kind and trustworthy actions that bring glory to your Lord. The life of a faithful follower of Jesus is possible only because God gives it to you. You cannot “white knuckle” yourself into transformation. The Jesus-likeness you desire happens when you make yourself available to receive God’s grace.


Think of your heart like a balloon, empty of any ego or drive for perfection, ready to receive a breath that will fill it and give it shape. God’s love is the breath that will inflate your soul. As God’s love and character are poured into your heart, your life will take the form for which you were created. Your life will become like Jesus. Your part in this process is to remain receptive to this inpouring.


This life is a gift—what a profound thought. You cannot earn this life, you do not merit it. You receive it. All gifts proceed from the resources of the giver. Your God is rich in mercy and kindness and gives life to you in abundance. You need only want it and then be willing to set aside your pride and your belief that you need to do something to deserve it. This belief forces you to perform in order to be worthy of God’s love or to protect God’s reputation. It’s outcome is the opposite of what you desire. It separates you from God. Duty performed, not fueled by affection, displeases God. Nothing but love and desire for God and an awareness of your need of God are required of you.

Any duty you perform, not fueled by affection for God, displeases God.

DB


I’m not saying there is no effort on your part. There is, it is not easy to receive this gift. The hard work you must do is to slay your pride and deny yourself as a god in your life. This work requires vigilance and a great faith; even these, though, are gifts of God’s grace if you are willing to receive them. Your effort is to remain receptive out of your love response to God and to realize that apart from God’s grace, you can do nothing.


You are saved by grace, yes. But you also live by grace. Your every breath is God’s gift to you. You remain alive because God is continuing to prepare you for eternity, training you in worship and equipping you for reigning with him. Each day you live in dependence on God’s gifts of life and love for you, you are being shaped into the likeness of Jesus; day by day, changed in character and actions until the day comes when you shall see him and when you see him, you will be like him.


Remember your childhood and the intense longing you had for that special toy you wanted for Christmas? Remember how you were convinced that without it under the Christmas tree your life would be empty and miserable. Remember how that desire caused you to beg your parents for it? Caused you to attempt to modify your behavior so that you’d more likely be in a position to receive it? (“He knows if you’ve been naughty or nice…”)


Even now, desire the life of a faithful disciple as much as you wanted that toy; beg your heavenly parent for it, dispose yourself to receive it, and trust that it will be yours. God is waiting for you to ask and is eager to respond.


With you on the journey,
Debby

Learning Life

Biography of a Soul…notes to a seeker.

Like St. Teresa of Avila, whose Abbess instructed her to write her Autobiography of a Soul, creating a map to follow toward the heart of God, I offer a Biography of a Soul, notes to encourage and equip your heart to seek God’s heart.

Like Screwtape to Wormwood, I make practical suggestions about how to continue toward God’s good will. Read on, won’t you?

Mary Cassatt, The Two Sisters, Public Domain

My dear Seeker,

You’ve decided that Jesus is the one you from whom you want to learn life. Good choice! Like any other skill or object you’ve determined to master, life must be learned. Life learned? This may seem contrary, but it is true. Life, ultimate life, must be studied and practiced. 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. You asked 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 your 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 finding flaws in the other, fostered the fear of rejection, you learned to wear a mask to conceal your true life.

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.

DB

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

Intention

Biography of a Soul…notes to a seeker.

Like St. Teresa of Avila, whose Abbess instructed her to write her Autobiography of a Soul, creating a map to follow toward the heart of God, I offer a Biography of a Soul, notes to encourage and equip your heart to seek God’s heart.

Like Screwtape to Wormwood, I make practical suggestions about how to continue toward God’s good will. Read on, won’t you?

Mary Cassatt, The Two Sisters, Public Domain

My dear Seeker,

You have asked me to give you some guidance about your walk with Jesus. I think your intention is to be better able, as it has been said, to see him more clearly, love him more dearly, follow him more nearly, with each passing day.

First of all, let me remind you of how this desire brings your Lord the greatest delight. When God looks out over the world God created God’s eyes take in innumerable sights and activities that must grieve God’s heart – war, greed, death, loneliness – sadnesses beyond our measure. But imagine how the Father heart of God must rejoice when he looks at you and sees his daughter wanting nothing better than to love and obey him to the best of her ability. And what she lacks in ability, she trusts that God’s Spirit will supply. You and your desire to love God and love God’s world is a bright spot in the cosmos now. Do not minimize the impact of your desire. It is a big deal.

Do you find it hard to imagine that you, little you, can bring delight to God? The reason for this is that you forget who you are. I remind you that you are God’s beloved child. You’re a parent, think back and remember the joy that filled your heart when your son would take comfort from no one but you? When your daughter would follow you around the kitchen imitating your actions? When your company alone was their preferred companion? Remember this joy and magnify it at least by 1000 to get a glimpse of how your God feels toward you. Dear one, try to remain God’s beloved child.

Also, please remember that your desire to know God on a more intimate level is not your idea! It originated in God’s own heart. You are just responding. When you were created, God planted a kind of homing device in your soul. You know yourself well enough to know that there has always been an urge for a greater and grander life. This urge is God’s strategy to drive you to seek God. Nothing else will satisfy. Only God can settle you and convince you that your life is important. You have been “hooked” by the great fisherman and you are being reeled in. The difference is that you have been caught in order to provide you a feast, not to be a feast! God is so eager to share God’s life with you. Let yourself be grateful that the magnet heart of God is calling you home.

Notice thus far, how frequently you are called to remember or are reminded of some truth about God and about you. Remembering is essential for your faithful walk with Jesus. Remembering brings to mind something from your past, allowing yourself to reexperience the event, the thought, or the emotion. To remember is to keep truth alive. To remember causes you to once again own reality. Take time in your regular prayer to recall truths you learned from the heart of God; take them from the shelf of your mind and sit with them, feel their import, let them hydrate the dry places of your soul. Few things in life are as enjoyable and bonding as friends sitting together remembering their common history. God wants to do this with you. If you faithfully remember such truths as God’s tenderness toward you, or the joy of obedience, or the comfort of Jesus, or the available power of the Holy Spirit, you will be able to live faithfully in the present. Remembering will wake your soul to the very presence of the Trinity. And in the presence of the Holy God of absolute Love, you will say yes to the life of a disciple of Jesus. If you remember well and often, you will live well and delight God.

I am quite honored to share with you the thoughts the Holy Spirit gives me about walking with Jesus. I am not an expert on the topic. In fact, I am a feeble guide. And yet you have asked, so I trust that somehow our Lord will use my life and my words to lead you into the Kingdom. Join me now in prayer. 

Holy Spirit, you who bring to our mind all that Jesus taught, you who bring illumination to our hearts, come now with your power and your testimony. Reveal through these printed words the vision of a life of a disciple who is learning to live and love like Jesus. Make these words alive, may they teach, encourage and equip. We engage with them as one of your tools to transform us into the likeness of Jesus, for the glory of God.  in whose name we pray.  Amen.

With you on the journey,

Debby

Stand tall, like the hyacinth you are!

We’ve talked about how sin has kept us colorless and bent, like the hyacinth I found under my deck. Sin needs to be addressed. Jesus is described as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He purposely entered our world, taking on flesh and bones, and carrying our sin with him when he was killed and placed in the dark, dank tomb.

The dark couldn’t kill the hyacinth and death couldn’t hold Jesus. He rose and now shares his death-less life with us.

Jesus tells us of God’s heart toward us in Luke 15 the prodigal son. (Did you know prodigal means extravagant, spending resources freely and recklessly? I think this parable should be known as the prodigal father!)

“All I have is yours.” This is what the perfect Father says to the not perfect son.

We are coheirs with Jesus. All that is true of Jesus is true of us by grace. (Gal 4:7)

You see, we are not just good people who do bad things, nor are we bad people who do good things. Take heart! We are beloved sinners.

Like my hyacinth, your true self has been distorted and hidden by sin.

And like my hyacinth, God seeks you, finds you, and brings you into the light so you can stand tall and beautiful.

This is the Good News!

what do you fear?

6122500677_3ed6856ee7_m“Fear of the Jews locked up the disciples. I too am afraid, hiding behind tightly shut and locked doors. Fear of being ridiculed, considered foolish, judged by others (and by myself). I remain hold up, living in a bit of fantasy, ignoring the threats from which I hide. And then you show up. Locked doors cannot stop you. You enter and I am startled and a little freaked out. You calm me down…”Peace be with you, Debby. I was ridiculed, made a fool of, judged and even murdered, but such did not kill me. I survived. I am alive. Relax, trust. I have a job for you.” Breathe on me Jesus. Give me the Holy Spirit anew and refresh me. Breathe on me, give me life, just as you did to Adam in the garden. Breathe on me and share with me your power, power to give life or to hinder it. I am humbled and charged. Come Holy Spirit.” thoughts from John 20

Friends, what are you afraid of? what keeps you in hiding? Such fear prevents you from being part of the life God wants to offer the world. Closed doors do not keep your fears out, they only keep you locked in. Jesus joins you in your hiding – to the disciples he said peace, to me he said trust. What does he say to you? He wants you to know that the worst things you fear cannot touch you. He has gone ahead of you, fought the fight, was dealt the death blow and now gives you the Holy Spirit. You have a job to do, offering life to the part of the world you inhabit. Will you breath in the power and breath out the mercy?

Jesus redefines family

Then Jesus’ mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’ But he said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’ Lu 8:19-21

In this scene Jesus redefines family, admitting you and me into God’s gracious home. But what was it like for Mary to hear his new description of the familial bond? Can you put yourself in her sandals?

Her son, Jesus, had been out and about proclaiming the good news and healing the sick. He had gained quite a following, wherever he went crowds surrounded him. Mary comes to see him, assuming her role as his mother would give her a backstage pass. After all, she’d carried him in her womb, birthed and raised him; she was his mother.

Jesus’ response opened her eyes a bit wider to truth. Her role in his life was important, but not central. Her relationship with him was unique, but not more significant than any one else’s. He said anyone who hears God’s word and acts on it is as central and signifiant to me as my own mother. Jesus adjusts her view of reality. He is not primarily her son, he is Lord. Being intimately connected to him is not about family ties, it is about obedience. What do you think she felt at his response? What would you feel?

We are not told how Mary reacted, but I know what I would have felt: offended, embarrassed and angry. My reaction tells me I expect my relationship with Jesus to afford me some special privileges; my needs should be honored; he should march to my drumbeat. And Jesus gives me ‘tough love.’ “I am Lord, you are not. The universe does not revolve around you and your expectations. You are one of my Father’s deeply loved and valued children. Will you let this be enough for you?”

The scripture, when we let it, tells us our own story, opening our eyes to the truth and adjusting our reality.

Pockets of Paradise

God desires our communities to be safe places where one can live in intimate relationship with God, with self and with others. Genesis 2:25 describes the quality of such a fellowship beautifully and poetically, “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”

A gathering of God’s beloved children should be characterized by people who are “naked and not ashamed.” Wow! Of course I am speaking metaphorically and spiritually, but consider with me the definitions and implications of what it means to be naked and not experience any shame in the context of community.

Although Adam and Eve were literally naked, the Hebrew word translated naked also means a person without pretense or uniform. Police officers wear uniforms so they can easily be identified. A police uniform tells you how to relate to the person wearing it and what you can expect from them. The uniform defines the role they’ll play in your life and how you should interact with them. You don’t know the person behind the uniform, you don’t even care about the person behind the uniform, your relationship with them is defined by the role they play.

When physically naked, there is nothing covering your body, your beauty and your flaws are seen by all. To be naked spiritually and relationally is to be yourself, without pretending to be someone you are not, or hiding within the safety of a role you play. It’s “what you see is what you get”, no pretense, no hiding, just guileless authenticity.

And (here’s the kicker) this person, in their absolute nakedness feels no sense of shame. Shame is the feeling that follows disappointment of opinion, hope or expectation. They are purely themselves and have complete confidence that who they are will not disappoint in any way. There is no shadow of doubt cast on their personhood, they live from a place of sufficiency, value and acceptance.

I think of my grandkids when I think about this type of unashamed nakedness. Eliza and Jack both jump out of the bath and run around in naked exuberance, unaware of their bodies, conscious only of joy and life. This is the experience God desires for us in our communities. To live with one another in the freedom that unselfconscious nakedness would allow. Imagine outposts of Eden where God’s kingdom is realized, where brothers and sisters can live together Naked and Not Ashamed. This is paradise!

What are your thoughts about this concept? Do you have any place where you experience the type of community described in Genesis 2:25?

Do as the Israelites did

The returned Israelites set up the altar on its foundation, because they were in dread of the neighboring peoples, and they offered burnt-offerings upon it to the Lord, morning and evening. Ezra 3:3

King Cyrus allowed 50,000 Israelites to return from exile in Persia. They were given freedom and fortune with the assignment of “rebuilding the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.” While captive, they were far from the holy place where God was worshipped. They were marked by sorrow and lament, wondering if they would ever again worship in the temple. “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” They longed for the joyful worship they knew in Jerusalem. (Ps 137)

Upon returning to their homeland, their first act was to build an altar upon the site where the original altar had stood, so that they could begin to offer worship and sacrifices as Moses had commanded. God’s people were always building altars, a holy place to give thanks to God and to remind themselves of what God had done for them.

Like the Israelites, do you feel far from God? Have you doubted you’ll ever reconnect with God? Then, do as the Israelites did; return to an earlier moment of your life with God, recall the nature of God’s actions for you, create a holy place where you can willfully offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving. And sometimes, when your life doesn’t feel joyful, saying no to the negative emotions that oppress and yes to the truth of God’s goodness does feel like a sacrifice. This is where joy begins.

I imagine the Israelite’s were excited about their return to Jerusalem; I know they were afraid of the people they would encounter (Ez 3:3). So what did they do? They began to worship God, twice a day, offering sacrifices that reminded them of God’s protection and provision.

Like the Israelites, do you live in the midst of fear? Then, do as the Israelites did; come to God regularly. Do not let fear keep the nearness of God from your heart. Imagine your heart as an altar dedicated to God. Every time fear threatens: pause, be still for a moment, turn your attention away from the source of your fear and focus on God’s face of love. When you are in the presence of the Lord of life, fear fades away.

Are you plagued by perfectionism? Then do as the Israelites did. They didn’t wait until the proper temple was built to begin their worship. They started where they were with what they had. Now is the time to worship, here is the place you meet the Holy. Jesus gladly receives you and shares his joy.