Learn to Live “In this Moment”

In our first trip to Italy we stayed at Villa Rosalba. Rosalba was the woman who took care of the place and her guests. Álvaro, her husband, grew the lemons in their yard for limoncello and liked to talk. We bonded over his limoncello and our mutual love of tennis.

I noticed he had a favorite expression: “in this moment.” He’d say, “In this moment, Rick, my life is very good.” Later I read this about the Italians: “Italians see time as a flowing river. Once it flows past, you can never catch up to it. You can only sit on the banks of the river and appreciate what flows past right now–in this moment.”

Quite a contrast from the way we do things as Americans. We seem to always be trying to catch up to time. I remember a few years ago when our boys were still teenagers I bumped into an old college roommate by accident. He was catching me up on his life and his family. He ran a business and then ran his kids all over their major city for their sporting commitments. He said they change clothes in the car and eat in the car and go to sleep in the car.

I told him he needed to just buy a mobile home since he already had one. I haven’t heard from him since.

Does that sound anything like the way your life works? We assume everyone lives this way. We think it is part of a privileged life. And somehow we think it will eventually balance itself out. Someday. Maybe.

It was not so in the beginning. There is a flow in the creation account we ignore to our detriment. It’s not that we have not heard it. We have just ignored it. Here is the flow: there is work and there is rest.

God worked, or created, for six days. Then, on the seventh day, he rested. Later this is called the Sabbath. The Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”

Why this flow? Why this command? Because the Creator knows what is good for his creation. Rest is part of that “good.” He was able, at the end of his work, to look over everything he had made and say it was “very good.” Then he rested. He did not work.

How does that compare with your evenings? And how does that compare with your weekends? If you are anything like the people in a study the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence conducted, then you still work in your time off.

More than 50% of adults indicate they check work messages at least once a day over the weekend. They check before and after work during the work week. They even check on work when they are home sick. And 44% check on work when they are on vacation.

Apparently we do not know how to “vacate” even on vacation.

What if we started making small adjustments? Go home one night this week and put the phone, email, and Facebook away. Find one day over the next month to rest. Spend time with your family and friends. Linger longer at the table.

See if it makes a difference in your life. It should. You were wired to work and rest. You were created so that, at the end of the day you could say with my Italian friend: “In this moment, my life is very good.”

Question: How can you live more “in this moment” today?




Your Nickname Can Change Your Life

The nickname could have been crushing for some. For whatever reason it did not bother me. Here’s the story.

When I was a teenager our youth group started a puppet ministry. Sounds kind of quaint now, but for some reason our team was a hit. This was before reality television so people had nothing better to do than to watch puppets. We performed at churches. We performed at events. We performed in the city.

Once we got an invitation to bring our show to the Cat Club. Our high school mascot was the Bobcat. Our youth minister thought it was the football booster club that issued the invitation, didn’t know why they’d want a puppet show, but figured that was about as good as it would get in San Angelo, Texas. We booked it only to show up and discover it was really the Cat Club. The Cat Club was made up of a bunch of older women who were crazy about cats.

One of our skits had to do with the rich man and Lazarus. The narrator would say Lazarus was a “diseased beggar.” I manned the Lazarus puppet and, since I was the youngest in the group, was nicknamed “the Beggar.” “The Beg” for short.

Maybe it was because I knew that behind the nickname was some brotherly love from the group I was fine with it. It stayed with me. I knew I wasn’t a diseased beggar. I was healthy and my parents had some money. But I also knew that I had a group around me who accepted me. In a strange way it gave me confidence.

Maybe you had a nickname growing up. Maybe you have one now. Nicknames can be detrimental if meant to be harmful. But they can also give a person a new identity.

Levi had a nickname and he must have loved it. “Levi” is the Hebrew name for the writer of the gospel called Matthew. Levi was the tax collector who was loathed by his Jewish friends and used by his Roman friends. The tax collector who one day packed up his tax collector booth and followed Jesus. The tax collector whose first act we know of was to invite people over to his house to be with Jesus.

Levi. That name may have been given to him by his parents in hopes he would become a rabbi or priest. We can imagine that he felt the disappointment from them too when he turned his back on their dreams for him and turned out to be a tax collector.

But he felt no disappointment from Jesus. Jesus called him “Matthew.” It most likely is a nickname. “Matthew” means “Gift of God.” Imagine how his new name changed his life. He had never felt like a gift to anyone before. His new identity sent him following Jesus and learning from him. Later it would send him as a missionary to Ethiopia to tell them about the “gift of God” to the world.

God loves to rename his people. Abram became Abraham: Father of many. Sarai became Sarah: Princess. Jacob became Israel: He strove with God and men and prevailed. Cephas became Peter: a rock.

Jesus gave Levi a vision of who he could be by nicknaming him Matthew: Gift of God. And he has given you a new name too. Try on “forgiven” for size. Or how about “saint”? “Friend” might fit you just fine.

And maybe “beggar” isn’t so bad after all. We’re told that when Martin Luther died a scrap of paper was found in his pocket. It read, “This is true. We are all beggars before God.”  Beggars that have been given an inheritance from the King.

How incredible is that?

Question: Did you have a nickname while growing up? Now? What nickname do you think God would give you?


Don’t Fear the Dragons

Remember Daniel? He’s the one in the lion’s den. Daniel’s story is about God’s people in captivity. They’re in Babylon. And Daniel and his friends show that they can stay true to God even when things look bad.

Things like being thrown into a lion’s den. Or being thrown into a fiery furnace. Or when it looks like all sorts of monsters are coming after the people of God. In chapter seven Daniel has a dream about a winged lion, a bear with tusks, a four-headed leopard, and a gigantic monster with ten horns. These monsters are making war on the people of God.

You may look at the world today like that. The people of God are getting hammered on every side. You may think the government isn’t doing what it should to protect Christians. You may see that a secular world view is taking over. You may be worried about who the next president will be or if the next Supreme Court appointee will tip the balance to the liberal side. You may notice that church attendance is declining. Monsters on every side.

Jesus’ disciples felt the same way. The Roman government had taken control of their land. The Christians were being moved to the margins of society. When Matthew wrote his gospel they were being thrown out of the synagogues. They didn’t fit with the Jewish religion anymore. They didn’t fit with the Roman government. Monsters were making war with them on every side.

They think Jesus has come to rescue them by setting up a kingdom and crushing the Romans. We know that because when he told them he was going to die and on the third day be raised they only heard the word “die” and stopped listening. They didn’t much like his game plan.

And they forgot Daniel’s vision. In it “one like the son of man” comes and is given “dominion and glory and a kingdom.” Jesus’ favorite name for himself was “son of man.” He wasn’t being secretive about who he was. He was saying “I’m the one Daniel dreamed about.”

We want power. We don’t want death on a cross so much. That’s not what Peter signed up for. And it may not be what we signed up for. We sign up for power, don’t we?

  • If we follow Jesus, then our world will be set right.
  • If we have enough faith, then Jesus will heal us.
  • If we tithe, then the blessing of God will be showered down on us and that “blessing” is typically defined as “we’ll give some money and in return God will give us more money.”
  • If we get the right staff and the right marketing plan our church will grow quickly.
  • If we get the right politicians in office they will protect us and our way of life.

Daniel and Jesus would have us know that we don’t have to be afraid. Even when monsters are attacking us on every side. Even when our leader is being delivered over, beaten, and hung on a cross. We are people who don’t need the government or anyone else to protect us. God does that.

On the cross it looked like evil won. On the third day it looked like love won. So don’t be afraid.

There’s a line that is often misquoted from G.K. Chesterton. As best I can find the original line is put this way: “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”[1]

Another way of saying Chesterton is:Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.[2]

Let’s be people of faith, not fear. Let’s be people that follow.

Question: What dragons need to be defeated in your life?


Let Go of Power and Live

We live in a day that is not so different than any previous day. We want power because power is the way the world seems to work. Power can come in many forms.

  • Power can be athletic power. Not just strength athletes have. But the notoriety that comes with it. Pictures all over the sports page. Endorsement deals. Billboards with their faces on it.
  • Power can be gained by good looks. Some are powerful in this world simply because they are beautiful or handsome. It’s a burden I’ve had to carry since birth.
  • Power can be yours if you are intelligent. Einstein was not known for his looks or athletic ability. But his gray matter mattered.
  • Power can come to the famous. With the growth of social media and reality TV some are famous for just being famous. They don’t have to contribute much of anything to society other than a tweet about where they are eating for lunch.
  • And power is in the hands of the rich. If you can fund your own political race you can run for president. You can get noticed.

That’s the way the world works. Unfortunately, that’s the way the church in America has worked too. It thinks:

  • “If we can just get our athletes to speak up for God, then we will look powerful.” Don’t believe me? Would you rather sit down with a refugee who has faith or with Tim Tebow?
  • “If our preachers and staff look healthy and have megawatt smiles we can attract more people.” Churches would never admit it, but look at staff pages on the web. Some try to outdo each other in looking good and witty and fun.
  • We think: “If we can be the ones who have the Scriptures all figured out and have all the right answers then power is ours.” Some position themselves as the ones who understand the Scriptures the best and are here to uphold the truth.
  • “If our leaders are known on the speaking circuit or have authored books or released a CD then we feel much better about ourselves.”

We see the desire for power most when we look at our American politics. The Christian base gets nervous if someone who does not fit into the Christian mold appears to be the front runner. Fear sets in and hope fades. When it does we want to grab any power we can.

Power is the way of the world. And we want it.

Jesus says the way of his kingdom involves sacrifice. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

When Jesus talks about “whoever loses his life” he meant die. Dying does not look powerful. Jesus did not look like he was the one in power as he carried his cross to Golgotha. The Roman government looked powerful. The religious system of his day looked powerful.

But Jesus practiced what he taught. He denied himself and lost his life for the sake of the kingdom. And you know how the story ended. After three days he rose. His lost life was “found.” And last time I checked his kingdom is still going strong.

Maybe we’ve got this whole “power” thing backwards. The church has always excelled when it was in the margins. Whenever it looks like it has power in the world’s sense it usually loses its way.

But when the church is depleted of the world’s kind of power it looks to the source of ultimate power. And according to Jesus that power is found in sacrificial love.

You won’t find your life by holding onto it. Let go today and live.

Question: How can you exhibit sacrificial love today?


Your Answer to this Question Makes all the Difference

Stanley Shipp was an original. Tall and thin with a bright twinkle in his eyes, Stanley loved life. And he loved people. I’m not sure he ever met a stranger. I embraced the few times I got to be with him for a few days. I watched him as he interacted with people. He told great stories and I hung on his every word.

One time he was with our church in San Angelo, TX. I had just begun youth ministry and had promised the church I would stay at least three years. They had suffered through three youth minister turnovers in the previous four years so I gave my word. Stanley was trying to entice me and a friend to join a church planting team to the northeast and explaining why.

“People will give money to missions before they will ever walk across the street and get to know their neighbors,” he said. My friend and I were quiet, letting the words sink in and secretly acknowledging the shoe fit us.

“People in our cities are hungry to know about God.” Stanley would get a tear in his eye when talking about lost people. He went on to tell about a time in St. Louis he and some younger people from the church went out to a restaurant together. They were talking about life and because Jesus was a big part of Stanley’s life you’d always wind up talking about him too.

A couple sitting in the adjoining booth leaned around and asked, “Are you talking about Jesus?” Stanley said, “Yes, we are.” The young woman said, “Would you mind if we joined you?”

Stanley pulled up two chairs and invited them over. Introductions ensued and small talk began. Finally, the young man said, “I want to ask you what does Jesus say about two people living together who are not married?”

Stanley paused the story. He looked at us and asked with a wry smile, “What would you have said?” Neither one of us wanted to answer because we knew whatever we said would not be as good as what Stanley said to the couple. So we pulled out a trick we learned from Jesus and threw a question back at him. “Hmmm…we need to think about that for a moment. What did you say?”

He said, “I looked at them and did what you just did…I asked them a question. I asked, ‘Well, let me ask you first: who is Jesus to you?’”

“Who is Jesus to us?” they responded. “Why are you asking us that?”

“Because,” Stanley said, “who he is to you makes a big difference in whether or not it matters what he says about two people living together before they are married.”

“Who is Jesus to you?” How would you answer that? Have you answered that? There is no shortage of answers people give. George Barna asked Americans “Who is Jesus?” and got these answers:

  • 92% believe Jesus was a real person.
  • 56% believe Jesus was God. 26% say he was only a religious or spiritual leader like Mohommed or Buddha. 18% aren’t sure he was divine.
  • 52% believe Jesus was human, like us, and committed sins while he was on earth.
  • 6 out of 10 say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus. But only 46% of Millennials have. And only 53% of those making over $100K per year have.
  • And many adults believe they will go to heaven because of their good works, not their relationship with Jesus.

Who is Jesus to you? It is the most important question you can answer. How you answer it makes a world of difference in whether what he said makes a difference in your life or not.

Try a Yeast Free Diet for Greater Faith

When you have a question about yeast, who do you go to? Dr. Oz. You find out more than you want to know when you go to Dr. Oz. Things like how your intestines are lined with all kinds of bacteria. Some is good. Some is bad. When the balance gets out of whack yeast can take over. And when yeast takes over all sorts of mayhem can ensue.

A few of the problems when yeast takes over include many chronic illnesses and symptoms like allergies, chronic inflammation, joint problems, mood and brain disorders, digestive symptoms and more.

The good doctor even lists ways to fight the overgrowth of yeast: Cut out yeast, use probiotics, and combat yeast directly.

You need to know about yeast. Not just because America’s Doctor says so. But because the Great Physician says so. In talking to his disciples Jesus warned them, “‘Be careful! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’ His followers discussed the meaning of this, saying, ‘He said this because we have no bread.’”

The disciples understood yeast because they liked bread. Bread was a staple of their diet. That’s why when a crowd appeared in the “desolate place” and were hungry they found five loaves and two fish that they could share with five thousand men, plus women and children. They brought what they had to Jesus, he blessed it, and they passed it around until everyone was fed. They even had twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left for themselves. The word for “baskets” is a word for a lunch-pail-sized basket. A kophinos.

It would be hard to forget that experience, wouldn’t it? Especially when it happens again. A mere chapter later another crowd has formed. This time there are four thousand men, besides women and children. Same thing happens. This time they have seven loaves and a few small fish. And when it’s all said and done there are seven baskets left over. This time “baskets” is spyris, a larger basket than before. It’s man-sized (see Acts 9:25 where the same word is used).

Then Jesus gives his warning about yeast. The disciples think Jesus is talking about the fact that they forgot to bring bread. But Jesus is talking about faith. Specifically, “little faith.” “O you of little faith” he says to his disciples. He wants their faith to grow.

But sometimes unfaith grows instead. Jesus warned his followers of the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Their “yeast” is unfaith. Disbelief. Already the crowd is shrinking from five thousand to four thousand. It took less to feed more the first time around. Now it has taken more to feed less. Disbelief can spread like yeast. Jesus says to “be careful.”

So how do we “beware” of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod? Following Dr. Oz’s advice about yeast might actually help us be careful and beware.

  • Cut out yeast. When you spend more time around unbelief than you do environments of belief you may find the yeast spreading. When you see the yeast of unfaith spreading in you get away from it immediately.
  • Then use probiotics to build up good bacteria, or faith. Faith fights unfaith. The early church gives us a prescription for probiotics: spend time receiving teaching, share, break bread and pray with others, meet together, and share meals. They praised God and were liked by all the people. Time with places where faith exists builds up faith.
  • And third, combat the yeast directly. Remembrance combats the yeast of unfaith. Throughout the Bible God has always had his people do things to remember: sing, set up stones, pray, take the bread and cup. We need to remember because we are prone to forget. Remembrance combats yeast directly. Remembrance reminds us of who Jesus is and what he has done.

When that happens the bad yeast will take a backseat to the good. Your spiritual health will improve. Your faith will grow and spread.

And bread will have never tasted so good.