Following and Trusting

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” – Job 23:10

I was hiking with friends in the Rocky Mountains recently when we came to a narrow part of the trail. I looked to my left and realized there wasn’t much room between me and a long drop to the creek below. My heart raced and I slowed my pace. Beth, walking behind me, asked if I was afraid, and I admitted I was. She understood and asked Bonnie, another friend, to walk in front of me. Bonnie got around me and then walked a slow and steady pace, knowing I needed to be able to follow. It was much easier getting through the tough part of the trail when I was watching her feet instead of the drop-off beside me.

I learned two things that day. First, I have some great friends. They saw I was in trouble and, one behind and one in front, helped me through. When we struggle with a hard part of life’s path, we need friends like these two!

Second, I needed someone to trust. I knew my friends had hiked this trail before, so I had confidence in them. When I took my mind off the scary edge next to me, focusing on Bonnie instead, I calmed down and made it to the wider part of the path.

Do you know the person I trust the most? Even more than my friends? Jesus. I’m trying to learn to follow his sandaled feet whenever I’m afraid. He always leads me to a safer place. He’ll do that for you, too!

“Self-denial . . . means no longer seeing oneself, only him who is going ahead, no longer seeing the way which is too difficult for us. Self-denial says only: he is going ahead; hold fast to him.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Only What’s Important

Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” – Ephesians 4:29b (NLT)

I have a friend who mentors, teaches, and engages easily in spiritual conversation. After one of those discussions, she followed up with this text which she later shared with me “….I treasure most the conversation we had. I love talking about what’s going on inside of us as we search for meaning for our lives–using the gifts, talents and resources we have been blessed with to help and love on others. I’m at the stage in life where I want to talk only about things that are important.”

I read that and thought of all the lesser conversations I have each day. Then I began to think about what kinds of communication I would describe as important. Here what I came up with:

Relationships: Our conversations should build each other up, encourage, and empathize. This is the kind of talking and listening that shows love and wisdom and draws people together in friendship and community.

Ideas: Let’s skip right over talking about people, things, and events and get to ideas. Great ideas can challenge lazy thinking, steer our futures, and make us better humans.

The eternal: There is perhaps nothing that matters more than talking about knowing God, understanding the Bible, planning our lives for 100 years from now, and walking in harmony with others on our spiritual journey.

Are we stuck talking about the mundane instead of building relationships, entertaining new or old ideas, and connecting with the eternal life of the unseen spiritual world? It may be time to get “unstuck” and start engaging in more of the conversations that matter!

“The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man’s observation, not overturning it.” – Edward Bulswer-Lytton

Perspective

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” – Romans 14:13

I’m reading a book that talks a lot about perspective: How we think we remember things correctly, when often we don’t. How we think we are paying attention when we’re not. How we see ourselves as better, smarter, more careful, more skillful, kinder, more moral than others. I think the author was describing you, but not me, right?

Let’s face it: We all have a way of rationalizing our point of view and marginalizing the opinions of others. Maybe we would be wise, in this world of extremes, to understand that sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we don’t see things clearly. Or, if we are honest, sometimes we’re strongly opinionated about something that doesn’t really matter.

Don’t get me wrong: We should never compromise on clear biblical teaching on any subject. We should never compromise our morality or character as described in the Bible and as generally considered “orthodox” (right teaching) by the church through the centuries.

But, on things that are not so clear, we may need to take a step back and try to see the perspective of the other side. Paul gives first century examples of eating meat, celebration of feast days, etc. that were causing contention then. Today it might be something far more political in overtone. But let’s realize that it’s not dangerous to try to see another viewpoint. We don’t have to change our minds. But trying to understand what others are thinking and honestly evaluating what is worth fighting for are important steps toward living a life of love.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” – Augustine of Hippo

Twinning

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. ” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Twinning. It’s a concept born in the mind of Mother Teresa, the famous little Albanian nun who gave her life to helping people with the severest of needs. Over time, several thousand nuns were called by God to work with her. One of her most often repeated sayings was that they could do nothing without prayer.

So, when a friend of hers wanted to join the work, but was sidelined by physical limitations, Mother Teresa asked her to found an organization made up of others like herself who couldn’t go, but could pray. They called it The Sick and Suffering Co-Workers. Each person from Sick and Suffering was assigned to one of Mother Teresa’s missionaries, and the two became “twins”. When one suffered, the other did, too. When one was on the front lines for God, the other was, too – through their prayer connection.

They prayed for one another daily. They wrote to each other at least twice a year. One twin was homebound and had the time and heart to pray. The other was busily working humbly and daily with the needy and dying, relying on the prayers of her twin.

Do you have a “twin”? A person who prays for you every day? Who suffers when you do and celebrates when you do? Who connects now and then by text, phone, or email? Who will take your call no matter what? I do. For several years now, God has used each of us to do through prayer what neither of us could do without it. Maybe we all need a spiritual twin!

A true friend is the greatest of all blessings.” – Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Sorry!

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12

I learned a lot playing Sorry! with my daughter, 11-year-old grandson, and 13-year-old granddaughter recently. Have you ever played the game? You draw a card, do what it says, and try to get all four of your pieces from Start to Home before the other players do. Because of the Sorry! function, you can knock another player’s piece back to Start, so the lead in the game changes many times before it’s over. Here’s what I learned in playing this game:

Play to win. You have to be willing to make the choice that will best help you reach your goal. That works in life, too. We can get sidetracked with the peripheral things and lose our perspective. Stay focused!

Study the board before you decide your move. We want to make good decisions. Thinking about options is part of that process. If we don’t look at the ramifications of our choices, we could make ourselves vulnerable to attack and defeat.

There are setbacks for every player. The nature of the game means there are times when we get knocked back to start. It’s OK. We can pout or get mad or we can shrug our shoulders and cheerfully start over again. It’s our attitude that counts.

The people around the table are more important than the moves on the board. We laughed, we asked for mercy, we tried again, and we rooted for each other. In the end, all the pieces went back in the box, both winners and losers went on with life, and the fun was the part we remember the most.

“The workshop of character is everyday life. The uneventful or commonplace hour is where the battle is won or lost.” – Anonymous

Be good news!

“Let all that you do be done in love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:14

I recently was reading a book by Richard Foster and came across this statement, “We cannot preach the good news and be the bad news.” I had to think about that. Have I ever been a “bad news” Christian? Judgmental, critical, dissatisfied, unaccepting, arrogant, stingy, or uncompassionate? Yeah. Probably. Sometimes.

I think you will agree there’s a lot of bad news in the world today. It’s easy to find it and to react to it. But, if we have a relationship with the eternal God and his Son who is the redeemer and ruler of this world, that bad news should not make us into bad news Christians. Of all the people in the world, Christians should be able to rise above the rhetoric of the day and be the most gentle, wise, loving, stable, compassionate, honest, confident, humble, and generous people on the planet.

Jesus commissioned his followers to share the news of his life, death, and resurrection and of his promise of new and eternal life to all who would believe and follow him. We are told to go into all the world to share this message and to invite people everywhere into relationship with the God of creation. That’s the best news anyone could hear. Few will listen, though, if we’re reflecting more of the bad news in our world than the good news Jesus told us to share.

We all want the same things, don’t we? To be loved, listened to, understood, and accepted. And that’s what Jesus did for the people around him. Maybe to share the good news, we first have to be the good news, just as he was.

“To love someone means to see him as God intended him.” ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky

Am I the answer?

“He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” – Job 6:14

Most of the time, we don’t know what’s on another person’s prayer list, do we? Sometime they share their burdens with us. More often, they are silent about what keeps them awake at night. We might not even know they need help.

But God does. He knows, as well, our relationship to this person, and it just may be that he wants to use us to answer a prayer request we aren’t even aware of. So what do we do?

First, as friends, we should learn to listen with sensitivity and to observe behavior. Often a person in need will give clues to what he cannot seem to verbalize, but we have to be aware and watchful. The Spirit will often reveal what we would not see on our own.

Then we can come in a little closer and try to help – sharing from our resources, offering our skills, giving biblical counsel, and standing alongside until our friend’s burden gets lighter. If we are willing, we can make a difference – one act of kindness at a time.

We usually aren’t called to solve other people’s problems, but we are called to respond in whatever way the Spirit shows us until they, with God’s help, can solve their own.

We may be the answer to someone else’s prayer. That, dear friends, is one of the greatest joys of the Christian life. Serving God. Loving others. Sensing God’s affirmation. And being reminded of Jesus’ own words, “. . .It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35b).

None of us can help everyone. But all of us can help someone. And when we help them, we serve Jesus. Who would want to miss a chance to do that? – Max Lucado

Need a leader?

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 11:1

Need a story of hope, today? Try this:

God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel, but King Saul was mad and determined to kill David before that could happen. Early in David’s fugitive life, supporters began to gather. Before long, he has a ragtag “army” of about 600 men.

And “ragtag” might be the right word. The Bible tells us they were people who were in debt, distressed, and/or “bitter in soul”. David must have sighed deeply when they met for their first strategy meeting! These were all people who had been battered by life and were, in fact, not responding well to their circumstances.

Fast forward a few years. By then, there were thirty choice soldiers known as “David’s Mighty Men”. The rest were the support team, but all were disciplined, useful, and loyal. They were willing to risk their lives for their leader. Many, in fact, became part of David’s leadership team when he was crowned as king of Israel.

Where are you today? Getting beat up by life? Finding some bitterness in your heart? Discouraged?

If there was hope for change for David’s ragtag men, there’s hope for you, too. Suggestion? Ask God for a modern-day David, a mentor, to walk alongside you, teach you, and encourage your relationship with God. You may be surprised at the amazing changes coming your way!

And, if your life is on an even keel, maybe you are the leader God is calling to help someone else. Be open to that call. You may be the change-agent someone else is crying out for today.

The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion.” – John Stott

What about the big kids?

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:5

If you have adult children, how’s your relationship with them? We watch and worry as they learn how to do life on their own. There’s a problem, though, when we think our grown-up kids are still ours to direct and protect. If we respect them as adults, we may need to rethink our role.

At some point we have to let them go, encourage them to grow on their own, quit worrying so much about them, and stop trying to be their Holy Spirit. We can do that pretty well when we approve of their decisions, but not so well when we think we know better than they do how they should be living their lives. Some of you can relate to that.  And you know in your soul you have to stop trying parent to another adult.

So, as we let go, what do we do? First, we give up trying to control. Then we put them into the hands of our loving heavenly Father and under the guidance of the all-wise Holy Spirit. If you are at a loss as to how to do that, here’s what I have prayed about my own grown-up kids. Maybe it will help you, too.

Lord help me to . . .

love them deeply as you do,

guide them wisely as you would,

listen to them carefully,

hear what they’re not saying,

hold them loosely so they can fly, and

keep them ever before you in my prayers.

Amen

 

“We may not say that we have the answers. Questions of how to conduct oneself as a Christian or how to serve as a Christian must be answered by life itself- the life of the individual in his direct responsible relationship to God.” – Elisabeth Elliott

Reunion vs. Reconciliation

 

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” – Hebrews 12:14

Jacob had cheated his brother, Esau, out of his birthright more than 20 years earlier and now was bringing his large family and flocks and herds back to Canaan. As he prepared to meet his angry brother, he sent gifts ahead, tried to protect his family from attack, and prayed for God’s favor. Fortunately for Jacob, the reunion was one of rejoicing and celebration. Forgiveness seemed to abound and, at least on the surface, all seemed to be well.

Esau, with true Middle Eastern hospitality, invited Jacob to bring his family and herds to live near him in Seir. Jacob says, in essence, “OK, but we’re going to travel slowly because of the little ones and the animals.” So Esau goes on ahead, but Jacob never follows him to Seir. Why? I think there were too many differences remaining between them – cultural, religious, and maybe even some obvious animus from previous offenses.

Reunion is one thing. Reconciliation is another.

Maybe there is a person in your life you think of as toxic, or even dangerous to your physical or emotional well-being. Can you forgive that person? Yes. Forgiveness is for your benefit even more than it is for the person who has hurt you. And God requires his people to forgive.

Should you be in close relationship with him/her again? Most likely not, unless you see a true and long-lasting change of heart. It’s possible Jacob knew association with Esau would bring trouble. So he agreed to an amicable relationship, but not a close one. Sometimes distance is the best decision. Forgiveness is one thing. Reconciliation is another.

“It takes one person to forgive, two people to be reunited.” – Lewis Smedes