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

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

The Truth About You and Me

“He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” -2 Samuel 22:20

Is it true that you and I are imperfect and sometimes selfish? That, by God’s definition, we are sinful? That we let people down? Yes.

We all recognize our weaknesses, our sinfulness. And sometimes that’s where we stop. But that’s not the whole truth!

I realized that one morning I read this amazing statement: “I will believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is.”*

Could it be that there are truths about you and me that are beautiful? Of course there are, but those are things that we often don’t allow ourselves to recognize. Think of how we handle criticism. We take it to heart, brood about it for days and vow never to be like that again

How do we handle praise? Sometimes we just brush it off. Our success was a fluke. If people really knew us, they wouldn’t think so highly of us. We’re not smart, wise, funny, or all that likable.

Why is it so hard to believe something positive about ourselves?

Listen to this: “You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (Song of Solomon 4:7). True, this is a lover speaking to his bride, but it is also seen as God speaking to his beloved people. It’s OK for us to realize that God thinks we’re lovable and that, through Jesus, he sees us as flawless.

We are always aware of our failures in loving God and others. But we also need to hear the tender messages from our good and merciful God. Believe the truth about yourself even if it’s beautiful!

“God doesn’t love us because of our worth. We are of worth because God loves us.” – Martin Luther

*Macrina Wiederkehr

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

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

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