Why choose the stairs when there is an escalator?

The narrow gate, hard road, leads to life, few find it.

vs

The wide gate, easy road, leads to destruction, many take it.

Matthew 7:13

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.

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Love beckons. How will you respond?

Dear Elle,

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,

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.

 

Trust takes a dive

Let nothing disturb thee; Let nothing dismay thee; All things pass; God never changes. Patience attains All that it strives for. He who has God finds he lacks nothing:God alone suffices.               -St. Teresa of Avila

Return to Innocence – Raise the dead: animate and reenergize what once was alive (part four of four)

A few years ago, I was vacationing in a tropical locale. I got bored just sitting on the beach and decided to pursue a little adventure. I took a scuba diving class. Have you ever done this? If you haven’t let me tell you how it works. I spent the morning in a three foot deep swimming pool learning how to use the equipment, wearing the tanks and practicing breathing underwater by using the mouthpiece. Easy-smeashy, right?  Break for lunch, delightful. In the afternoon, I get on a boat, am taken out into the middle of the ocean, I gear up with the wetsuit, the tanks, the fins and, unlike the practice in the swimming pool, the crew put weights on the straps of my tanks! Weights! With all the equipment and the weights I am so heavy I need help standing up. Then, aided by the crew, I am walked to the edge of the boat and asked to jump into the deep, deep sea. I am so weighted down I can barely stand up, and now I’m expected to jump into the bottomless ocean? How can I trust that I won’t sink down, down and down to my drowning death? I am freaked out.

Here’s where trust must kick in. If I’m going to enjoy the adventure of scuba diving I have to put into practice what I learned and believed to be true in the pool.

If you are going to live the adventurous life of a follower of Jesus, with all its beauty and health, you must put into practice what you know to be true. Trust is learned by trusting. You cannot reason your way into faith, you can only take an informed leap into it.

Practical steps into faith (as taught me by a scuba diving lesson)

1. Desire truth – “The scuba gear is trustworthy, I will be able to breath underwater. I want to scuba dive” translates into “God can be trusted and I want to trust God.” Feed your desire for a life that depends on God’s supply of the air you need to sustain your life.

2. Develop supportive community – “Look, that woman isn’t sinking and she’s got equal amounts of gear and weights on her” translates into “look at the people around me, both personally known or known by reputation who have taken great risks of faith and are surviving, even thriving. I’ve trusted God in the past and God came through.” Live in a community of faith where you can admit your fears and be reminded of truth.

3. Practice the Presence – When I finally did get the courage to jump into the ocean, trusting the equipment that had been provided, I made sure I remained close to the instructor. True, this nearness was initially caused by fear; if something went wrong, I wanted to be close so he could save me. But as I relaxed and began to forget about the equipment and just enjoy the adventure, it benefited me to remain close to the instructor. He was practiced at seeing underwater. He pointed out beauty and unique sights that my unformed eyes would never have seen. I gained more profit by remaining close. So it is with God, let God be your companion. It is okay if your first motive is fear, hang in and relax, God will train your eyes to take in the sights and wonders of this life, unnoticed by those who remain distant or independent from God’s loving presence.

4. Remember well – “What was true in the pool is true in the ocean.”

A Return to Trust

..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 InnocenceRaise 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.)

Choose Life

It's all about choice. Choose life!

Dear Elle,

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,

Debby