Why, God?

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18

In the year 2000, a small group of devoted monks moved from the relative comfort of their lives to Norcia, Italy to re-establish the monastery founded there long ago by St. Benedict. Their sole purpose was to love and serve God through the solitude and simplicity of the ancient monastic life.

Then in October of 2016, the Basilica of St. Benedict, built in the 14th century as the center of this monastery’s worship, collapsed in an earthquake. It was a shocking tragedy. The monks couldn’t help wondering how God could allow the destruction of this cathedral when it was built by, and then used for centuries by, those who loved him sacrificially.

They mourned the loss of this great place of worship, but soon all their spiritual training kicked in, and they began to make plans for starting over. One writer described their reaction as “receiv(ing) this catastrophe as a call for deeper holiness and sacrifice.”*

Is that how we respond to crises in our lives? As a “call for deeper holiness and sacrifice?” Not usually. More often our response is “Why, God?” I think it’s OK to ask, but if the answer doesn’t come (and often it doesn’t – at least not right away), we need to accept what has happened and move closer to God as we pick up the pieces.

One of the monks said, “These are mysteries which will take years – not days or months – to understand.”*

Do you have an unanswered “why?” in your life? Let’s not let God’s silence stop us from answering his call to deeper holiness. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!

“Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.” – Sam Storm

*Both quotes are cited in The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (Sentinel Books: New York, New York), 2017, p. 243

Sailing or Drifting?

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” – Hebrews 2:1

Years ago, I had a friend, Phyllis, who owned a small sailboat, and we shared some sunny afternoons on that boat, sailing across Spring Lake and back.

When we pushed out, Phyllis would choose a spot across the lake and set her sail toward that point, making corrections along the way to keep us on course. Working with the wind to move us in the right direction required constant attention. But we always reached our destination and always returned to our home port safely, and usually dry!

There is a spiritual truth here. Generally, we don’t turn around and sail away from God. Instead, we drift away. One day we wake up and realize how far we are from him. What can we do?

Be intentional: Phyllis always had her eye on the shore, skillfully keeping us on course. Spiritually, we need to keep God always in focus, adjusting our activities, decisions, and relationships to be constantly moving toward him. It won’t just happen. We have to work at it.

Pay attention: If we ever take our attention off the rudder or the sail, we drift and the results can be disastrous. We must not let distractions interfere with our goal.

If we have drifted away from God, let’s get back on course. We can place him in our mind’s eye and keep him there. Then we pay attention by filling our mind with the important and by not being distracted by the inconsequential. Set the sail and stay on course. He’s worth it!

“You either line yourself up with the Son of God . . .or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.”– Elisabeth Elliott

Christian Privilege

“This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” – 1 John 2:5-6

We hear a lot these days about privilege, most frequently “white privilege”. We know it’s true, don’t we, that some of us grew up in more privileged circumstances than others? We had food to eat, decent clothes to wear. We had a safe place to live and got to go to school every day. 

We also know that with privilege comes responsibility. The Bible itself tells us that in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted much, much more will be asked.” It’s a biblical principal we must take seriously.

In light of that, think about this: As Christians, we have a far greater privilege than that which is afforded by our ethnicity, race, family stability, or the level of our education. We have the privilege of knowing and serving the living God! And with that comes greater responsibility than any social privilege might give us.

How do we live out that responsibility? We learn to yield to the Holy Spirit who will enable us to live as Jesus would if he were living our lives. We already know Jesus was confrontive with abusers, kind to children, compassionate toward the weak, patient with his followers, and enlightening to seekers of truth. His was the greatest privilege of all – after all he was the Son of God! He showed us how to live out privilege through humility and self-sacrifice.

The good news is that Christian privilege is available to all, no matter religion, race, gender, or intellect. If we know that, we have a responsibility to spread the word!

” . . . life’s joys are only joys if they can be shared.” – Ravi Zacharias

 

Using Money

“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” – 1 Timothy 6:18

Whether we have a lot of money or a little, God teaches us how to use it. This is what I think he has in mind for the cash in our pockets:

If we have a family, we’re responsible to take care of them. Children need clothes, food, shelter, education, and healthcare. Elderly parents may need financial support as their savings are depleted. Family is priority in God’s economic plan (1 Timothy 5:8).

Then, we are to be as generous as we are able. God expects us to give money to the church and to his work in the world. But, sometimes the “giving away” goes directly to someone we know who is struggling. We are to be merciful to those in true need if we have the ability to help (Luke 10:36-37). In doing so, we gain friends for God.

There are so many needs, though. How do we know where to start? The Bible says to help other Christians first (Galatians 6:10). They are like extended family to us and their needs take priority over those outside the faith. Then, if we have more, we offer our help to the needy ones God places in our path day by day.

The bottom line: God wants us to use money to build relationships! Sometimes that means taking the kids out for ice cream or going on vacation. Sometimes it means sacrificing for the good of a neighbor in need. Whatever the opportunity, money is a tool to be put to work for eternal good. (Luke 16:9). 

 

“But for money and the need of it, there would not be half the friendship in the world. It is powerful for good if divinely used.” – George MacDonald

Yielding

“Now may the God of peace . . .equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” – Hebrews 13:20-21

Jesus taught what it means to follow him. It means saying “no” to our own ideas and walking with him. Not second guessing his plan.  Not explaining why we prefer our way to his. It means yielding decisions and desires to him. Why? Because he knows what we need better than we do:

  •  We want sunshine every day. God knows the earth needs rain, snow, and even a good lightning storm once in awhile.
  • We want trouble-free lives for our children. God uses troubles to mold them and draw them to him, just as he does with us.
  • We want everyone to like us. God wants obedience, boldness, and holiness over acclaim.
  • We want good health. God wants us to realize our frailty, our dependence on him. Maybe he allows failure in our bodies to help us share in his sufferings.
  • We want everyone to live at peace. He reminds us that he knew his coming to earth would create division, but he came anyway.

Yielding to God is not fatalistic. It’s following as his disciples did: walking with him wherever he led, stopping when he stopped, listening when he taught, and doing what he asked. It’s trusting his understanding and his intentions. Leaning in. Living confidently. Listening for his whispers. Following with anticipation.  His way is better than my way every time!

“In all his acts God orders all things, whether good or evil, for the good of those who know him and seek him and who strive to bring their own freedom under obedience to his divine purpose. “ – Thomas Merton

Who’s in tune?

“. . . imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.”- Hebrews 6:12b

I am learning a little bit about music from my musician husband. One thing he’s observed is that if a section of the orchestra is out of tune, it may be because the musicians are tuning to each other and not to a standard beyond them. For example, one violinist might suspect she’s playing a little flat, but will still tune her instrument based on what she hears played next to her so she will be in sync with the other violins. The result is the entire section might be playing flat. 

There’s a way to change that. If a strong, in-tune instrument moves closer to the problematic section, the players will begin to hear a new standard and will tend to tune to the stronger instrument. One by one each player in the section will follow suit. The result? Everyone will be playing in tune!

Most of us tend to tune our spiritual lives to the people we hang out with. Are they warm toward things of God or cool? Turning to him for direction, or relying more often on their own wisdom? Or, worse, are they focused on their own interests and not those of God at all? If those we spend our time with those who are out of tune with the Holy Spirit in their day-to-day lives, we might be following suit without even knowing it.

The solution? We need to find friends who live in harmony with the Spirit and then get close to them. We can listen to their talk, catch their spiritual enthusiasm, and seek their counsel. Spending time with in-tune Christians will help us stay close to God, too!

“Only a disciple can make a disciple.” A. W. Tozer

Leaving Traces

“. . . for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.” – 2 Corinthians 8:21

Someday we’ll die. We don’t get to choose how it will happen – and sometimes death is sudden. So, here’s a question: If you were to leave this earth unexpectedly, what traces will you leave behind?

  • What books will still have bookmarks in them – in progress, but unfinished? What will those titles tell others about you?
  • What underlinings and notes will there be in your Bible? Will those notes show your desire to know the Author?
  • What emails, phone messages, and social media posts will have just been delivered? What replies will your family see coming back to you?

I read about a 90+ -year-old woman who died in her sleep. Those who found her body also found on the bedside table her written goals for the coming year. Her family read them and smiled, knowing she had lived her life fully to the last moment.

We leave fingerprints and footprints wherever we go.  Someday we’ll make our final impressions on this earth.

When we live everyday in light of life’s fleeting nature,

when we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man, and

when we live in light of the potential of lingering effects in every moment,

we begin to be aware of not only being good and doing good, but looking good, too. Our imprints reflect on our God. Let’s make good ones!

“O may all who come behind us find us faithful, May the fire of our devotion light their way. May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe, and the lives we live inspire them to obey. O may all who come behind us find us faithful!” – Steve Green