MAKING IT

 

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.   I Thessalonians 5:11

 

I had noticed the Arkansas sweatshirt earlier when we were exploring Pompeii and made the obvious comment, “So, you’re a Razorback?” I asked the young woman. “Yes, she is,” her mom replied, “and we’re from Arkansas.” Diane then proceeded to expound on the athletic prowess of her two daughters, as would any proud mother. And then they blended into the crowd.

 

Pompeii continues to impress, particularly after the recent eruptions of Kilauea in Hawaii and Volcán De Fuego in Guatemala. I’d studied vulcanology in university and so was interested in the archeological site, but the opportunity to hike to the top of Vesuvius was especially interesting. I didn’t realize how challenging the incline would be.

 

We’d been warned that the first part of the climb would be hard. And I’d forgotten that my respiratory system hadn’t completely recovered from my last illness. My two grandchildren and I started the hike together, but the farther we climbed, the harder it was for me to keep up—and breathing became even more difficult.

 

That’s where Diane, my new friend from Arkansas, came in. Coming up from behind, Diane called out to the grands, “You go on up. I’ll climb with your grandmother.” I knew the two youngsters were like racehorses, ready to bolt, but they were hesitant to leave my side. “Go,” Diane urged, “I’ll stay with her.”

 

And so we climbed, Diane and I. We hiked a few yards, and when she’d see me struggling, she’d suggest we stop and rest. Then we gained a few more yards and stopped. She never suggested that I give up and go back down. Instead, we inched our way up—almost to the top—when we saw those two Razorbacks come running down. They saw me and said, “You’re almost there. You can do it.” And with their mom, those girls who had run up the mountain encouraged me to keep going.
We made it, the four of us. And at the top, I joined my grandchildren. And I saw the caldera and the steam making its way through the cracks in Vesuvius’ massive crater. I had made it to the top of Vesuvius.

 

Could I have done it alone? Probably, but not likely. It was hard. My breathing was labored; my heart was pounding . But Diane climbed with me; she stopped and waited with me; she encouraged me. She didn’t demean me. She made the journey interesting and carried on a vibrant conversation as we ascended. She acted as if climbing steep mountains with struggling people was something she did every day.

 

And that’s what I think we’re all called to do. People struggle all around us. Almost everyone is involved in some sort of conflict. We’re all in a battle that we can’t win alone. As the Church, it should be our normal, everyday activity to look around and cheerfully say, “I’ll walk with you. I’ll encourage you in this challenge. I’ll rest with you. I’ll stay with you.” And then we just do it…until we’re no longer needed. And if we’re the ones needing help, we need to humbly acknowledge the fact and reach out.

 

As we were loading up the bus for our return to Rome, I made a point of seeking out Diane. “I couldn’t have made it without you,” I said…and meant it.

 

Father, thank you for bringing into our lives those saints with hearts of love and compassion. Make me to be one of them. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

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GIVING

 

Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him… I Corinthians 16:2 (KJV)

In a meeting the other day, we were discussing funding for certain of our ministries and the need for economy. Someone piped up with, “If everyone tithed, we’d have enough for all the ministries.” That wasn’t exactly a revelation, but we all moaned in agreement.

Statistically speaking, “Tithers make up only 10-25 percent of a normal congregation. Only 5 percent of the U.S. tithes, with 80 percent of Americans only giving 2 percent of their income” (relevantmagazine.com). There are reasons people give for not tithing, but it all boils down to relationship—relationship with God.

You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving. And actually, tithing is not a gift. A tithe is just a basic payment in recognition of God’s generosity. A tithe is a payment; anything above the 10 percent mark becomes a gift. With all that God has given us, how can we fail to recognize his generosity by our giving in return? “Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand” (I Chron. 29:14 NIV).

Do we foolishly think we can out-give God? Will our faithful stewardship cause us to suffer financially? In response to that, God challenges us, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Mal. 3:10). He promises blessing in response to obedience. But we don’t obey to be blessed; we obey out of love.

Perhaps you’re thinking, this is old stuff. I already tithe and don’t need any reminders. So, what about becoming a giver and moving to another level? In Freedom of Simplicity, Richard J. Foster suggests practices such as simplifying our lives by giving away all the extraneous things we tend to warehouse just because they might someday be needed. He cuts even deeper proposing that we begin giving away (all or in part) monies that we weren’t expecting, such as tax refunds or inheritances or rebates, those unexpected windfalls. And there are even more ideas in Freedom

Foster’s thoughts could be considered radical, but considering all God’s marvelous abundance with which we are constantly and consistently blessed, our giving back is nothing. Think about your giving as an index of your relationship with Jesus.

 

Lord, we cannot begin to express our gratitude for you and your ongoing kindness, love, and mercy. Work in us a heart of thanksgiving so that we willing let go of more and more of those things with which you have blessed us. And let our joy abound. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

BECOMING

 

The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Job 33:4

 

God creates us, sets us on our feet, and tells us to go. And as we go, Jesus walks with us teaching us just as he taught his disciples. We learn as we go and as we follow. He doesn’t wait until we’re fully formed—he just calls, and we are expected to leave our plows and our oxen and anything that would bind us to this earth.

We become as we follow. In fact, the only thing we can do to become is to follow. Becomers bear fruit, but it’s nothing they do themselves. They could will to bear fruit; they could study fruit-bearing; they could concentrate on bearing fruit; or they could attempt to replicate the fruit they’ve seen. It doesn’t work. Only the Holy Spirit produces fruit in those set on Becoming like Jesus.

Jesus said Living Water would flow from the ones who believe on him, those who are becoming like him. In fact, that very water promises to be more than a trickle—it will be like rivers (John 7:38). The becomers aren’t producing the water; they are passively, but joyously, allowing the waters to flow through them to pour out on the parched lands where they live and minister.

The Holy Spirit is doing a great work in us causing us to become more like Jesus in love, action, attitude, sacrifice, humility, and all those glorious qualities we call Christian. Our task is to submit to his will, put off our old selves, and become renewed, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24). God intends for us to become like Jesus (Ro. 8:29).

I have heard it said that we are becoming what we will be. In that case, we won’t one day awake to sainthood if we haven’t allowed God to work in us in the meantime. But if we’ve said yes to our Father, it does not yet appear what we will become.

I’m in…

 

Father, we present ourselves a living sacrifice to you so that the old continues to pass away and we become new creations every single day. Bind the sacrifice to the altar lest we try to wiggle away. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

VOICES

After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave And behold, a voice came to him…” I Kings 19:12-13

The Bible is filled with wonderful stories about voices—angry voices, joyful voices, deceitful voices, commanding voices—but one of my childhood favorites is about Samuel. His mother Hannah, after being barren and mocked for many years, gave birth to Samuel. Then Hannah did something almost unbelievable. She took her little toddler to the priest Eli and presented him for a lifetime of service to the Lord. Perhaps her gratitude propelled her to make this sacrifice believing that Yahweh would reward her with other children. It is certain that the faith of this Hebrew mother saturated her small child who would become the most outstanding judge and prophet that Israel would know.

When Samuel was a small boy, a Voice came to him, calling him in the night. He arose from his bed and went to Eli the priest, reporting for duty, but Eli said he hadn’t called. After this happened three times, Eli recognized that God was calling the child. We know from the text that Eli had ceased listening to God; instead God spoke to a little child. God spoke to the one who had hearing ears. And Samuel later reported what God had told him. Throughout his entire life, Samuel listened, heard, and was God’s spokesman.

Then there’s a cautionary tale earlier in Genesis about a man who discriminated between voices but failed to take the proper action. As Isaac lay dying, he asked his favorite son to make his favorite meat dish. While Esau was out hunting, Jacob (with Mother’s complicity) disguised himself as his brother, and Mom made a tasty meat dish. Isaac tasted the food and said, “Your arms are hairy like Esau’s (because of the disguise), but your voice is like Jacob’s.” Isaac’s hearing was intact, and he questioned the voice, but he allowed himself to be deceived resulting in great bitterness for his family.

We all have voices speaking in our heads. The issue here is To whose voice are we listening? Take a few minutes from time to time to listen to the conversation in your head. We play out discussions we intend or hope to have; we replay past events, trying to correct hurtful conversations; we expend energy arguing over positions and opinions. All in our heads. And then there are other voices that inject fear or anger or hurt or negativity. Whose voices are we listening to?
My mother had an interesting observation. She said, “Always listen to the pronouns. That’s the key.” For example, does the voice say, “I or me” or does it say, “You?” When a voice begins to accuse or demean with thoughts such as, “You are never going to get it right,” or “You are always going to be a loser…” Words to this effect should alert us that the voice is not us, and it’s certainly not God. Listen to the pronouns.

But there are other voices in our heads that we need to shut down. When we begin projecting what might happen in a circumstance or speculate about the possibility of disaster or anything not of faith, we’re filling our heads with voices that move us away from trust in a loving, compassionate Father who only wants good for us. All the voices that fill our heads with noise and not belief must be silenced immediately whatever the source.

Let’s determine to stop those negative voices the first moment a word is uttered and replace them with praise. Replace them with thanksgiving. Replace them with God.

 

Lord, we allow ourselves to be robbed of the peace that comes from you when we listen to any voice that is not of faith. Forgive us; work in us; remind us to listen to you only. We ask for your glory. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

MYSTERIES

By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory. I Timothy 3:16

 

I’ve always loved mysteries from Poirot to Miss Marple to Sherlock Holmes to J. B. Fletcher. And, of course, there’s Father Brown.  On family visits to London, we never miss a viewing of Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap that has run continuously for over 60 years.  I just love searching for clues and putting them together to finally discover what should have been obvious from the beginning, if one had eyes to see (or ears to hear).

So, with all this experience in the format, why am I so often slow in understanding what Jesus told his disciples about life in the Kingdom? He even said that “it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven…,” so I’m certain it must be true. (Matthew 13:11)

I heard lots of things in Sunday school such as give Jesus all your worries (I Peter 5:7), don’t be afraid (I Timothy 1:7), God will supply all your needs (Philippians 4:19), God will make you what he wants you to be (Philippians 2:13), and on and on. Essentially, I learned that everything I will ever need in my lifetime has already been given me by my heavenly Father. And the same applies to all his children.

Here we’ve lived with a plethora of words that are waiting to become activated by the Living Word. He’s promised, but we have to access. Isaiah even warned us (45:15) that God hides himself. Curious, isn’t it? In other words, God’s just not handing out truths and transformation as a weekend special. He’s waiting for those who are intent on digging out the mysteries of the kingdom; those who are willing to take him at his word; and those who will take breathtaking leaps of faith. Makes no sense at all, Lord, but you said it, so I’ll try it. We soar out into the abyss in complete surrender and find that underneath ARE the everlasting arms.

And that’s the way the mysteries are solved. Every time we get a road block in life, we search for the clues, and we untangle them. Lord, what are you saying here? What am I to do? We obey, and the way becomes clear. We continue in obedience, and understanding follows. It’s really that simple. It’s always been so. “Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In ALL thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5, 6).

Mystery solved.

Father, remind us that you give understanding as we rely totally on you. Following Jesus is not as hard as we make it. Help us to just give up. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

TRY SINGING

Sing and make music from your heart to the LORD. Ephesians 5:19

 

Have you ever listened to what’s happening in your head the moment you awake? Quite likely, it’s a song. It seems that the heart is waiting for the body to wake up so it can begin singing. Just like the birds who, in anticipation of the day, pierce the darkness with their morning praises.

Before David became king, Saul’s paranoia had him relentlessly chasing David from one corner of the kingdom to the other. To escape, David and his men moved out of the country to the Philistine town of Ziklag. They even relocated their families. While David and his merry men were out raiding, the Amalekites swooped in, burned the town, and took their families.

The anger of David’s men was so great that they were ready to kill David. At this point, David had no place to go. Outcast at home, family lost to the Amalekites, and in peril from his own men, the Bible says, “ David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God” (I Sam. 30:6). With no one to turn to, David turned to God.

Did he sing one of his psalms? Perhaps this is when he composed Psalm 61:

Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.
I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
For you, God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
Increase the days of the [my] life,
[my]years for many generations.
May [I] be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint your love and faithfulness to protect [me].
Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
and fulfill my vows day after day.

With no visible source of help, David turned to the Lord just as we can in our time of need. Can’t get someone on the phone to listen? Go to God. Don’t know anyone who would understand? Go to God. Feel alone in your distress? Go to God.

Make music in your heart to God who always hears; who always understands; who is always there. Corrie ten Boom was once asked how she stayed encouraged. She responded that when two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, he is there. “There’s God, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and me,” Corrie answered. For her, that was enough.

With Jesus, we have enough. When you need help, try singing.

God you are all we need. Always. Thank you. AMEN.

RADICAL TRUST

 

…but as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good. Genesis 50:20

 

I was having lunch with a friend recently, and she said, “I’ve asked God to intervene in my child’s life no matter what it takes.” Pretty radical. She meant it. I’ve walked for decades with this friend as she continues to pray that her child’s hurtful lifestyle will be transformed by God’s unconditional love. And she is trusting him.

 

And then I read on a Facebook entry another friend who thanks God for using the legal system to bring his grandchild to a personal relationship with his loving Father (and with his own family). From the posted photo I saw a set of beaming grandparents with their beaming grandchild who now has peace (Dare I say “freedom”?) and ministry in prison based on redemptive grace. Where better to touch castaways? Pretty radical.

 

Think about that rascal Jacob whose life was colored by deception. Although God changed him to Israel, he still experienced the fruit of lies through his children. As they grew older, perhaps he prayed, “Lord, my favorite son, born of my favorite wife is filled with potential, but pride makes him intolerable. And then I have other sons who are violent, while none of my children get along. Do what you need to do, but please change them.”

 

We know the rest of the story, how God used circumstances to bring Joseph to Egypt, to humble him, to test and make new creations of his brothers, and to save the whole family. No one human person could have done what God did nor could they even have imagined the salvation of a whole nation. God could, and he did.

 

I could go on about the way I’ve seen God use circumstances to accomplish miracles in lives when radical trust has been at work. Think of Monica whose son Augustine was such a rebel. She anguished when he went to Rome—but that’s where he found God. You know the rest of that story.

 

We trust; God works. Let’s give it a go.

 
Father, sometimes we shrink back from allowing you to be Lord of a situation. We want to spare and protect those we love from the very circumstance that might be the instrument for the makeover they need. Help us to let go and radically trust you to be God. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.