It’s Human to be Thirsty

It’s a human thing to be thirsty. And it’s not unusual to hear the words, “Can I have a drink?”

We did from a small Haitian boy. He had been watching our group of West Texans at work digging a well in his impoverished country. Haiti is a nation surrounded on three sides by water. And yet, 70% of its population does not have access to safe, drinkable water.

Our small Haitian friend wanted something cool and clean to relieve his parched throat. So he came to our well. He came thirsty. And he asked, “Can I have a drink?”

You’ve known thirst too. Maybe during an athletic outing or even as a couch potato watching an athletic event. Maybe you’ve even said, “I’m dying of thirst” when you really weren’t. It’s a human thing to be thirsty.

Jesus knew about thirst. He asked for a drink by a Samaritan well in John 4. He needed a physical drink. But the woman he met needed a spiritual drink. He told her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water.”

Later in John Jesus takes the mystery out of his teaching by the well. A religious crowd had packed the streets of Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles. The people would live in makeshift homes in honor of their wandering ancestors. They would reenact the miracle of Moses striking the rock and getting water. Every morning the priest would fill a golden pitcher with water from the pool of Siloam. He would pass through the people, enter the temple, and pour water around the altar. On the seventh day of the Feast he would circle the altar in the same way seven times.

There was a lot of water being poured.

But there were a lot of thirsty souls present.

It could have been at this very moment that Jesus stood up and cried out: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.”

Jesus knew about physical thirst and spiritual thirst. So John alone gives us this cry from the cross, “I’m thirsty.” Jesus, like us, knew what it meant to need a drink. And whether it is difficult to believe or not, what John is telling us is that Jesus experienced the human things that we experience. And when he was thirsty he asked for a drink for himself.

But he uttered the words “I’m thirsty” for us too so we would know he understands what it is we are going through in this life. When we endure suffering we wonder if God “gets it.” The answer from the cross is “he does.”

And Jesus uttered the words “I’m thirsty” for us. He had a physical thirst for water and a spiritual thirst for us to thirst for him. Our souls thirst and we seek hydration. Often we look in the wrong places. We thirst for other drinks that promise relief: another lover, another drug, another book, another song, another church. When we do, Jesus’ thirst for us goes unquenched. Unless we hear his words and answer his invitation: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

If you are part of the “anyone” you can drink. You don’t have to be rich or famous or together or beautiful. Just do what he says. Stop going to your other watering holes. Jesus tells you where the well is found. “Come to me” he says.

And drink. The word is present tense which means, “Don’t just take one sip. Don’t just stop with one round. Drink and keep on drinking.”

Too many of us are like my little Haitian friend. Surrounded by water that isn’t fit to drink and searching for one that is. Your search for a soul quencher may end by beginning with the very words of my friend which were also the words of Jesus: “I’m thirsty.”

Your thirst for him will quench his thirst for you.

Question: What is your soul thirsty for?

 

For When You Feel Abandoned by God

May 21, 2008 was one of those “before & after” days for the Chapmans. The kind that you mark time by “before” the event happened and “after” the event happened. (You can read the moving story in the book found here.)

The event happened when one of the Chapman sons, Will, was coming up the driveway to their house. He had been to an audition at his school for a musical. His little 5-year-old sister Maria saw him coming. She had been playing on the playground and wanted him to help her get up on the monkey bars so she ran towards him.

Sitting up high in the SUV he was driving he did not see her. The car struck Maria. Paramedics came quickly and she was airlifted to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. The paramedics were unable to revive Maria. She was pronounced dead on arrival.

Steven Curtis Chapman said that the accident made the family question their faith in God. In one interview about the day he said: “My son said the other day that, you know, ‘Yeah, we are family.’… But we’re a family with a lot of questions…But that’s what faith is. It’s living with the questions. That doesn’t mean you have the answers. That’s exactly what faith is.”

Maybe you’ve had questions too. And maybe you’ve had a “before & after” day where you wondered where God was. You’re not alone. Count in that company Jesus. On the cross he was experiencing a day like that. And since he knew the Psalms, he pulled one out to help him give words to his experience: “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni ?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

The words come from Psalm 22. Unless you have a habit of reading the Psalms you may not be familiar with Psalm 22. But we need to be familiar with it if for no other reason than that Jesus was. Jesus knew the Psalm. And he knew the experience. And so he pulled himself up on the nails and took as much of a breath as he was able and he spoke the first line of the Psalm.

It was the custom of the Hebrew people to memorize entire parts of Scripture, in this case entire psalms. Then, the way they referenced a passage was to quote it, especially the first verse. So when Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he expects the hearers to think of the entire psalm. And as they did, these words would come to mind: “I am … scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads…”

Sound familiar? Psalm 22 is a fairly detailed account of what has been happening to Jesus on the cross. Does he feel abandoned? Surely he does. Haven’t you? Haven’t you had those “before and after” days you questioned where God was and felt alone?

  • The doctor calls you in to discuss the test results.
  • The company decides to downsize and you are a casualty.
  • The elderly woman sits alone in her room at the nursing home.
  • A young wife watches as her husband walks out the door for another woman.

You’ve lived long enough to have had a “before & after” day where you wondered where God went. And that’s why you need to become familiar with Psalm 22. Because if you know the first line you will learn these lines: “For he has not despised or abhorred the torment of the oppressed. He did not hide his face from him but listened when he cried to him for help.”

Jesus cites the first verse of the psalm to bring to mind all of the psalm. It is a psalm that teaches us one can cry out the feeling and the experience of abandonment within the hope of a God who will never abandon us. Even on the cross Jesus is our “Rabbi” or teacher. Teaching us that when our lives are the darkest to have faith that God will hear our cry.

I have days I need Psalm 22. It reminds me that in this life of faith there is hope of a dawn after the darkness. Of a God from whom nothing can separate us. Of a Shepherd who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death.

If you haven’t already, get familiar with Psalm 22 today. Let it sink deep into your being. There will be a “before & after” day where you’ll need it.

Question: When have you felt abandoned by God? How did you deal with that experience?

 

Open Your Family to Those Who Need One

Moms and sons have a special relationship.  A national survey of nearly 1,200 adult children over age 40 were posed this question: If asked to make the choice, which parent would they choose to move in with them?

You already know the answer, don’t you?  2/3 of the respondents chose mom because she would be more help with cleaning and cooking, could help with the kids, would be neater and a better listener.  Dad?  Well, Dad would be messier and more of a couch potato than mom.  He’d have worse hygiene and say inappropriate things and want control of the TV.

Dads, don’t get too upset.  70% of the respondents said that they’d rather not have either parent move in with them.  But mom…it’s you if one of you does.

Mothers and their children, especially their sons, have a unique relationship. And whose is more unique than that of Mary and Jesus? It began with an angel. Gabriel shows up, tells her she is “favored by God,” only to find that means she’s going to have a baby before she gets married to Joseph. She’s a bit confused by this: “How can this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” But she gets an answer: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

She lost him once when he was twelve years old on a trip to Jerusalem. She pushed him as an adult to make wine at a wedding. She even went to get him one time when she thought he was out of his mind.

But the greatest scene for Mary with her son came at the cross. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.”

A flood of memories from Gabriel through childhood—to now having to watch her son suffer through this gruesome ordeal—cascade over her heart. If there ever were a time she would desire to hear the word “mother” it would be now.

Instead she hears, “woman.” What is clear in the Greek and even in the English translation is the contrast between what Mary may have expected to hear and what she instead received: “Jesus said to his mother, “Woman…”

The word is not impolite. It was a simple, courteous address. But the word was important. With it Jesus redefined family. Jesus is helping his mother see that family ties are not as important as ties between the teacher and his disciples. She needs to be on mission with Jesus’ mission.

As do we. A word from the cross to Mary and John— “the disciple he loved”—is a word to us about finding our identity in Jesus and a new family. We don’t neglect our biological family. But we do gain another one that helps, supports, encourages, and lives on mission together.

So we do what families do. We eat together. We spend time together. We help each other. We give counsel and support. When we do, we follow in the footsteps of the first Christians: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). We bring others in who have no family.

When we do, we do as John did. Eusebius lived in the late 3rd and early 4th century. He was the bishop of Caesarea and was an historian of the early church. He wrote about the traditional belief that Mary lived with John. He took her with him to Ephesus and was present with her when she died. Each year pilgrims travel to a house a few short miles from the center of Ephesus that some believe to be the house where Mary lived until her death. Jesus’ family became John’s family.

The third word from the cross is a word of devotion. Jesus is devoted to us to the point of death on a cross. Even there he is thinking about his family. Mary. John. You and me. It’s a word of devotion we are to have for each other.

The only choice he made was to include all of us.

Question: When have you experienced “family” outside of your biological family?

It Matters a lot Who You’re With

I was in a jam and needed help. We were living in Denver and I saw a notice that the Christian Booksellers Association was going to be held that year at the Colorado Convention Center. Being surrounded by the best and latest books would be a bit like paradise. But I couldn’t get in. You had to be a member of the Association and I wasn’t.

Time was running out when I got a call. Lexa had been in my youth group when I lived in Texas and was in Denver and wanted to see us. She was in town with a publishing company that had a display at the CBA Convention and wanted me to meet her there.

I explained to her the problem and she quickly countered, “That’s not a problem. I’ll leave you a name tag at the registration desk.” I made my way to the Convention Center, found the front desk, and heard a voice.

“Rick, over here!” It was Lexa. The next few moments brought reunion hugs, “how are you?” greetings, and a name tag. When we approached the security guard at the top of the escalator Lexa looked at him and said, “He’s with me.”

One minute I was at the end of my rope. The next I was in the middle of a heavenly array of books. My drooling was a bit embarrassing but I didn’t care. I was in. Not because of anything I could do but because of who I was with.

It matters a lot who you are with. Especially when you are hanging on a cross. Most likely he and his partner in crime are there because they are insurrectionists. They’re guilty of similar crimes. They’ve been beaten. They’ve been put on a cross. But they aren’t the same.

One sees an opportunity to be a part of the group and joins in on the ridiculing of Jesus. The other sees his own guilt and Jesus’ innocence. It doesn’t look like he’s got a prayer, but a prayer is his only chance so he offers one. He pulls himself up on the nails in his hands as he pushes against the nails in his feet and with a gasp of air lets out his request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

He knows “Jesus” means “The Lord is Salvation” and hopes it is true. He merely asks to be “remembered,” which means “keep me in mind…think of me so that good may come to me.” It’s enough to get Jesus’ attention and he responds: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

“Paradise” was a well-known Persian word in that day that referred to a beautiful garden where one could find relaxation, refreshment, and delight. Jesus offers that to him that day, the day of his bodily death.

Could you use some hope for a place of rest and refreshment and delight? Then sit down with this criminal and ask him about the hope of Paradise. He’ll tell you it’s not the final destination, but it is the first destination after death. He was with Jesus, and that is Paradise.

Paul said, “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think…” The criminal would agree. And he’d tell us: “Listen, I merely asked Jesus to remember me, to think some good thoughts my way. And he said that instead I would be with him. And I asked him to remember me at some unmarked time in the future. But he assured me he would remember me today. And I asked about his kingdom, something I didn’t have a clear picture of. And he promised me a place in paradise, something I understood and needed desperately.”

And if we could ask him today what we should ask of Jesus, he’d smile a “from one side of the face to the other” smile and say: “Ask big. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, just ask Jesus to remember you. And be ready to be surprised.”

I was. I was happy to just get in and see all the books that were coming out that year. Understand, this was pre-Amazon days. But I not only got to see them, I got a free copy of a book I coveted before it was released at the Convention because of who I was with. Not because of anything I could do.

The same is true about Paradise. You won’t get in because of anything you can do, only because of who you are with. You might want to start that relationship today. It will pay off in the future.

Question: How can you take a step to that relationship today?

 

 

 

Forgive, Roll Down all the Windows, and Crank Up the Music

Every week we get the Kleenex ready, put Hulu on our screen, and watch the latest episode of This is Us. I admit I’m usually the one who has a tear form first. I don’t even try to hide it. You can revoke my “man card” if you want. I’m one of those that gets into a well-written story. In this case, it’s like I’m somewhere in the room with these people as we walk with them through life.

You can only imagine the blubber fest when Randall is at his biological father’s hospital bed knowing it is his father’s final moments. Randall’s Bible is open. Already he’s lost a lifetime with this man. Now, after getting to know him in a rushed kind of way, he is about to lose him.

William took the oxygen mask off his face and began to speak. He gave Randall a collection of poems he had written for him. The aged cover page read, “Poems for my Son” by William Hill. Randall says he can get his wife and daughters to the hospital in a matter of hours but William responds: “I said goodbye when they were laying down. I want them to remember looking up at me, not down. Up.”

Then he repeats advice he had given him earlier. “Roll all your windows down Randall. Crank up the music.” His dying words were ones his son could live by.  [you can see a clip of this scene here]

Last moments are holy ones. You may have experienced some in your life. Truth is, someday we will be the ones uttering final words. Can you imagine what will they be? It seems as if our last words are words that reflect what our life was about.

At least that is true for Jesus. What he says in his dying words we see reflected in his life. The first words uttered from the cross were these: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He had preached forgiveness from the start of his ministry. “Pray then like this…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

But his final pulpit was his most powerful. On the cross he could ask for forgiveness because forgiveness was part of his being. Listen carefully to his words.

“Father.” The Greek word is “pater” but Jesus would have uttered an Aramaic word, “Abba.” It was a first word learned by young Jewish children, like our children learning to say “dada” or “mama.” But it was not just a word for young children. By Jesus’ day it was used by adult children to speak of their fathers. It was a term of intimacy and security and simplicity.

It was common to refer to your father in this way, but it was not common to refer to God with this word. And yet, Jesus did. There are seventeen unique prayers of Jesus in the Gospels and each one begins with “Father,” “Abba.” Jesus had a special relationship with God.

Because he had a special relationship he could ask his Father to act. He asks his Father to “forgive them.” The Greek word “aphiemi” can mean to “let go/send away” as with crowds. But here the meaning has the sense of “pardon” or “forgive.”

Jesus is able to ask for forgiveness of those who have wronged him because he sees them differently. “…for they don’t know what they are doing.”

And neither do we. And neither do the ones who wrong us. These dying words of Jesus are words to live by. He forgave us and expects his followers to learn to forgive others. In Matthew 18 he tells a story of a man who was forgiven much but turns around and refuses to forgive someone who owes him little. The point of his story? You will forgive in direct proportion to the amount of forgiveness you understood you have received.

So how do we become people who forgive?

  • We listen intently and let Jesus’ words become part of us.
  • We begin to see people as he did, people who don’t know what they are doing.
  • And we do as he did, we ask the Father to forgive them.

And when we can’t, we at least learn to “desire to have the desire” to forgive.  James Martin writes: “…wanting [to forgive] is a good start, because true forgiveness is a gift from God. It’s a grace. Moreover, to paraphrase St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, even if you don’t have the desire to forgive, if you have the desire for the desire, that’s enough. God can work with that.”

Jesus wants us to remember looking up at him. On the cross. Forgiveness frees us and the other person to roll down the windows and crank up the music.

Question: What do you want your final words to be? Will they be life-giving words?

 

 

How Your Work is One Way You Love Your Neighbor

The millennial generation aged 18-35 gets a lot of attention these days. We are told that more than anything they are searching for jobs where they can make a difference. And so we read about workplaces like Warby Parker—a popular startup where for every pair of glasses purchased, a pair is distributed to someone in need. Think about the difference you would feel you were making working at Warby Parker.

But it turns out that millennials are not the only generation that desire their work to make a difference and have purpose. So do older generations. A recent global survey of all ages revealed 74% of candidates want a job where they feel like their work matters.

Did you know it matters to God? It does. When writing to the church in Thessalonica the apostle Paul wrote in the context of “brotherly love” to “aspire to live quietly…and to work with your hands.” Some in the church had stopped working. Some were out of work but were forming a habit of letting others take care of them. And others were finding patrons to support them which threw them into the business of promoting their patron’s name. The problem with that was they found themselves in compromising situations, like attending business deals at the pagan temple.

So Paul tells them to “work with your hands.” It all goes back to God. In Genesis 1 we find a repeated theme: “And God said…and there was evening and morning, the first day.” This goes on through the six days of creation until we turn the page to chapter two of Genesis where we read, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.”

Everything we read that God did in chapter one is called work in chapter two. And in case you think he stopped after creation, note these words of Jesus: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” God works.

It should be no surprise then that God gave humankind work. Before he gave Adam a wife or before he gave him children, God gave Adam work. In Genesis 1:26 we discover God’s plan for humankind was to have “dominion over…all the earth…” Then in Genesis 2 he “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” God works and, because we are made in his image, we work too.

That means when you get up in the mornings and you get dressed and you show up for whatever job you have, you are doing so because it is God’s image in you to work. You’re not working just because you have to in order to pay the bills. You’re working because it is in your DNA to work.

And so Paul will not allow people who are made in God’s image to freeload off of other people. That is one of the problems he encountered with the church in Thessalonica. He also believed laziness would be a bad witness to the unbelieving culture around them.

Your work makes a difference. And maybe you haven’t seen it quite this way, but your work is spiritual. How? First, if you are a follower of Jesus you work as if you are working for God and not man (Colossians 3:23). Your work may at times be difficult because of your employer, coworker, or the demands of the job. But you approach it differently because you go about your work as God would want you to. God is at work with you because God is at work in you.

Secondly, you view your skills differently. You acknowledge that what you have to offer is something from God. He has skilled you in ways to be utilized for the benefit of others. Like Bezalel in Exodus 35 who was given skills to construct the Tabernacle, God has given you gifts to be used for the benefit of society.

Paul says when you work in this way, you are loving your brothers and sisters. You are providing something for them without needing them to provide for you. So if you teach, teach as God would have you teach. If you drive a school bus, do it with the care he would give it. If you outfit construction projects with electricity, do it with the precision you would if God were watching over your work.

He is, you know. He is because God works. And he has given you work to do. So do it today with a different perspective. And know that your work makes a difference.

Question: How can you approach your work differently to where it makes a difference?

When You Come to a Fork in the Road Go Towards Your Calling

Maybe you remember an ancient TV show called Friends. (Can you believe the last season of Friends was in 2004?) There was an episode where Monica asked a friend with whom she had started having sex, “Can we still be friends and have sex?” His answer? “Sure. It’ll just be something we do together—like playing racquetball.”

That notion has morphed today to the phrase “friends with benefits.” Greg Boyd has stated that sex today in our culture is seen as a “morally neutral recreational activity, essentially no different from racquetball.” Our culture has deemed it perfectly okay for sex to be enjoyed recreationally and that best happens outside of marriage.

The idea of setting sex apart only for marriage is a strange idea in our culture today.

The idea of setting sex apart only for marriage was a strange idea in Paul’s first century Greco-Roman culture too. F.F. Bruce writes in his commentary of 1 and 2 Thessalonians:

“…various forms of extramarital sexual union were tolerated and some were even encouraged. A man might have a mistress who could provide him also with intellectual companionship; the institution of slavery made it easy for him to have a concubine, while casual gratification was readily available from a harlot. The function of his wife was to manage his household and be the mother of his legitimate children and heirs. There was no body of public opinion to discourage porneia [the Greek word for sexual immorality], although someone who indulged in it to excess might be satirized on the same level as a notorious glutton or drunkard. Certain forms of public religion, indeed, involved ritual porneia.”

There was a lot of sex in the city of Thessalonica. Many—if not most—of the Christians that Paul is writing to came out of a pagan background where sexual promiscuity was the norm and widely tolerated.  They had to learn a new way to walk.

To followers of Jesus’ way in that culture Paul writes: “abstain from sexual immorality.” What Paul is teaching to most people in America or Europe comes off sounding ancient and out of touch. But it is part of what he says is God’s will for them. It is part of their sanctification, the way God has set them apart for his purposes.

Then and now culture says, “Go wherever your body leads you.” Paul teaches to “go wherever your calling leads you.” Their calling was found in his words:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter…” (1 Thess. 4:3-5).

He is saying that marriage is to be based on something more than just sexual attraction, although sexual attraction plays a part in a marriage relationship. There is to be a sanctity about the relationship that honors the marriage and keeps the sexual act within that relationship.

This view of sex and marriage was new to the pagans coming to Christ in Thessalonica. We can guess that many would realize that they had sinned in regards to this teaching. They couldn’t go back and erase their steps.

That’s where the good news comes in. Paul greets them with these words: “Grace to you and peace.” It’s a reminder. It’s a reminder for anyone who hears God’s call and wants to meet him that his path is paved with grace.

And for those who desire to avoid sexual immorality, remember this: when you come to a fork in the road walk towards your calling, not your culture. Culture will often pull you away from God. But your calling will draw you towards him.

So follow God’s plan for marriage. And play racquetball with your friends all you want.

Question: How strong is culture’s pull on your life?

 

 

 

Review the Directions to Get to Your Destination

When my sons were young I decided they needed to learn how to read a map. We’d go through the basics: find your starting point, find your destination point, trace the options you could find between the two points, decide on your route, and drive. Usually these teaching lessons would be met with this reaction: “Why do we need to know this?”

Looking back now they had a point. Little did I know that by the time they would start driving and taking trips there would be such a thing as a smart phone and an app called Google maps. It does most of the work for you. I know. The boys had to teach me how to use the app. As long as you know where you want to go you don’t even have to log in your starting point. It already knows where you are.

When someone calls you and invites you to a destination spot that you are unfamiliar with, you can just use a map app to get there. And when God calls you to a destination, he will help you get there too. Your destination? Sanctification. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

“Sanctification” is a big word that you and I don’t use very often in day-to-day life. It can also be translated “holiness.” But we don’t use that word often either and even less when we think of ourselves. (Although sometimes, when I look in the mirror first thing, I exclaim “Holy Cow!”) We picture a holy person as someone in a robe living in the desert or somewhere no one else wants to be.

So let’s de-churchify the word for a minute. Sanctification, or “holiness,” simply means “set apart.” If something is holy, it is set apart from something else. Imagine some evening Karen is driving home from work. I’m at the house preparing a gourmet dinner. (I said “imagine.”) I’ve got her on speaker while I’m cutting up tomatoes when she tells me, “By the way, that new family from church is coming over. I invited them. We should all arrive in about five minutes.”

In my panic I twitch and slice my finger. At first I don’t notice the bleeding since I’m slicing tomatoes. But then I feel it. And when I look I see that I’ve sliced off the tip of my finger. I dig through the cutting board full of tomato slices and find it. I lift it up and I say, “This is sanctified. It is cut apart. It is holy.”

There you have it. That is what “sanctified” or “holy” means. God is holy because he is set apart from humans because he is set apart from sin. In just one of a multitude of examples, Leviticus 20:26 records God’s command to Israel: “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”

It’s a succinct passage that reminds us that God is holy and therefore, if we are following in his ways we are to be holy too. Paul is helping his readers know what direction they are walking in life. That direction is towards God’s holiness.

The problem is we sometimes forget where we are going, don’t we? Before we were taught Google maps Karen and I were walking in Rome on our 25th anniversary. We were enjoying the sights until we realized it was getting dark and we didn’t know where we were in relation to our apartment. We had to pull out our map and look like tourists which makes you feel a little more vulnerable to anyone that might want to take advantage of you. Now, you can just pull out your iPhone, stare at it, and look exactly like everyone else who is staring down at their phones when they could be looking at something like the Vatican or Coliseum.

We had to look at the map to remember our directions. Paul says the same, that when you need directions, remember. Paul reminds his first readers and us, “for you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus…” He is saying to go back to their roadmap, the instructions that told them how to walk. But they will need to remember they have those instructions to keep on walking toward God’s calling of them towards sanctification.

And we will too. Wherever you are right now you can journey towards God’s destination for you. Just pull out the instructions you’ve been given and remember your destination.

And start walking.

Question: When you are confused about your direction in life where do you go for help?

 

 

 

 

You Can Make a Quiet Difference in this World

Our world is one that wants to get noticed. You need only look on Facebook where it seems everyone has to comment on everything, stream live what they are doing, and make themselves look as witty and wonderful as possible.

Or go to Instagram. People leaving pictures of themselves in exotic places or on a beach in their best bikini. The women, not the men. Sometimes younger people who are trying to get noticed by someone somewhere upload selfies they’ll wish they could unload someday.

Or move on to Reality TV. People who don’t do much of anything getting filmed so we can watch them not doing much of anything. Like a crash that is about to happen many cannot resist watching them. Which is exactly what they want us to do.

It’s a loud day we live in. People clamoring to be noticed using our modern-day connectedness of social media, streaming TV, and the internet to make themselves heard. People work hard at getting noticed.

It’s the way of our world today. But it wasn’t the way for the early church in Thessalonica, a city that was home to Greek gods as well as the Roman imperial cult. An oath of loyalty to Caesar would be administered to its people. It was also home to Jews. By the time the Apostle Paul arrived we can be sure there were Jews in this city living under the threat of worshiping a God other than Caesar.

Paul entered their synagogues and preached that “Jesus is the Christ.” “Christ” means “anointed one.” That title belonged to Caesar. Preaching that “Jesus is the Christ” caused an uproar. The city got real noisy. Paul had to sneak out by night.

Later, Timothy reported to Paul that the Thessalonian Christians had undergone more persecution and suffering. They were just hanging onto their faith. So Paul writes, “…aspire to live quietly.”

“Aspire” originally had the sense of “the pursuit or love of honor or distinction.” A person would work hard at promoting the spread of their name. They would do this through acts of benefaction or by getting their name inscribed on columns or in pavements. It was the first-century form of Twitter.

Paul tells his friends to do just the opposite of the culture. “…aspire to live quietly…” has the paradoxical meaning of “to work hard at not working hard.” He is not telling them to not work. Just don’t work hard at being noticed.

That was a countercultural message then. And it’s a countercultural message now. We live in an age where the one that gets noticed is the loud one, the humorous one, or the extroverted one. Now you not only have to sell a product. You have to sell yourself.

Paul says not to. And that’s good news for people who don’t fit that mold. When you’re told to “do big things for God” but you struggle to juggle all the plates you’ve got going in the air and just get through the day, you may wonder if God can use you.

Turns out he can. We don’t have to be obsessed with pushing ourselves into the public eye. We can be content to be unknown and unnoticed if that is the Lord’s will. We can make it our ambition to not be ambitious about getting noticed. We can be quiet and affect our world.

Rosa did. On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, a public bus pulled up to its stop in the early evening and a woman in her forties, dressed nicely, walked up the steps, entered the bus, and sat in the front row of the “Colored” section. The bus filled with riders and the bus driver asked her to give her seat to a white passenger.

This quiet, introverted woman inadvertently started a civil rights movement with one word: “No.” When Rosa Parks died in 2005, obituaries called her “soft-spoken, sweet, and small in stature.”

Want to make a difference in this world? Don’t start a riot. Just be quiet.

Question: What are some “quiet” ways in which you can make a difference?

 

 

How a Weighted Blanket Can Warm a Life

Johny is a new friend of mine. At least through email and Facebook. She wrote me to tell me about a great cause she is involved in. I thought it would be make for a great story for you to read.

Johny took an early retirement a year ago. (I had to ask for forgiveness right away as that line made me a bit jealous.) But she did not want to just sit. Instead, she wanted to give something back. But with many outstanding organizations to choose from where she could volunteer her time that decision was not easy. ­

At least not until she realized there was a specific group that tugged at her heart. Her youngest child is in Junior High and has had friends through the years with siblings who were autistic. Social interactions with these families created an awareness of the daily struggles these families encounter.

Knowing what to do when other opportunities to “give back” had presented themselves had been easier: making sandwiches to give to the homeless, gathering clothing for a women’s shelter, or assembling care packages for a teen crisis home. But how would she go about helping families with autistic children?

That’s when prayer can open your eyes to something right in front of your eyes. That’s what happened for Johny. She had been involved in her church’s prayer blanket ministry and at one point in time had made a blanket for a grandmother who was raising a grandchild who had Autism. That grandmother came to her and asked her if she could make a weighted blanket for her grandson.

What happened next is exciting. Johny conducted a lot of research to make him one. Along the way the process evolved, eventually finding a better way to make them than other options that were available. Word was sent out to organizations and families who could benefit from these special blankets as research shows that weighted lap blankets provide a calming pressure for those needing help with sensory processing.

After getting positive feedback and photos from families that were helped, she enlisted the prayer blanket ministry at her church to help produce the weighted blankets. Now, not only do families not have to pay to receive a blanket, they get one custom made for their child. Better yet, it’s been prayed over by many loving hands. Hands with a heart for these special children.

Imagine what it would be like to hear from a mother who tells you, “My child can finally sleep at night.” And imagine what it would be like to find yourself in the middle of this story.

You can, you know. Maybe you’ve wanted to do something too to give back but you didn’t fit traditional ministries at church or in the community. But you can sew. Johny says, “Anyone who can sew a straight line can learn how to do this and in turn, can start making these for their community.”

Or maybe you know a family that could benefit from these blankets. They may not see this article, but you have. You may be the “thread” that connects them to a resource that could have a warm effect on their lives.

And one last way this may help someone: Johny has received her first request for a blanket for an adult with PTSD. There is significant research that shows that weighted blankets put on soldiers who have PTSD is calming and helps them sleep.

So, if you can sew or you know anyone who could benefit from a weighted blanket, or if you would like more information, just write to weightedwonders@outlook.com. You’ll sleep better knowing you helped someone else sleep better. And that’s a good night for everyone.

Question: What can you do to give back today?