Monday, August 18, 2014

A Matter of Testing and Trusting


Have you seen those team building exercises some companies use where staff members line up in two parallel rows while a colleague turns his or her back to them, and then drops backward, trusting the group to catch them before they hit terra firma?

I’ve never tried this – I think the back of my head is allergic to smacking the ground. But it’s an interesting test of trust. “Do I really trust these guys to catch me before I fracture my skull?” “Will Josh say, ‘Oops!’ and let me slip through his hands because of our disagreement last week?”

This definitely isn’t something you’d want to attempt with a group of strangers you have no reason to trust. They might think it’s hilarious to watch you bonk your head. But even with people you know, it’s preferable to have a trusting relationship established before you put it to the test. Do they like you? Are they reliable? Are they strong enough to catch you?

Which raises an interesting consideration: Do you find these folks trustworthy because you’ve already put their trust to the test? Or do you try to establish trustworthiness first before testing it?

In some respects, it’s probably both. The initial time we fly on a jet, we can’t know from personal experience the aircraft will get us there safely. But we know jets do fly, and most of them do arrive at their destinations without problems. And we generally place our trust in established airlines with strong safety records. Which is why if you’re wanting to give away frequent flyer miles on Malaysia Airlines, I’m not interested. No thanks.

Marriage is another of those trust-then-test endeavors. Everyone exchanges vows with idealistic sparkles in their eyes: “He’s going to make me so happy!” “She’s going to be everything I ever dreamed!” Uh, maybe – maybe not. Months or years later, couples often think, “Sure, I said for better or worse – but I didn’t know it was going to be this worse!” They start off with unlimited, unquestioning trust, but when put to the test, it falls short of their expectations.

Faith in God can be both trust-then-test and test-then-trust. Years ago I had a skeptical friend that liked the idea of having a God he could rely on to guide his business, but didn’t assume the Bible was true. Basically, his attitude was, “God, if I’m supposed to believe in You and what the Bible says, prove it.”

Bill would arrive at the weekly prayer meeting with a list of prayer requests, usually about some project or problems he was dealing with at his company. He’d ask the other men in the group to pray for his needs, then report the following week on if and how the prayers had been answered.

Finally, after testing both God and biblical principles in how he operated his company, Bill committed his life to Jesus Christ, concluding both God and the Bible could be trusted.

This approach worked for Bill, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Only one place in the Scriptures does God authorize His followers to put Him to the test. After instructing believers to bring the tithe (God’s portion of their resources) to the temple to provide for those in need, He says, Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Malachi 3:10).

Here God invites His people to give freely, assuring them He can more than make up for what they have generously contributed for helping meet the needs of others. But in most instances, the Scriptures urge us to trust first and then discover the Lord indeed is worthy of that trust.

Years ago I adopted a passage I consider my “life verse” – Proverbs 3:5-6. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”

Over the years, more times than I could ever recount, this promise has proved true in facing a variety of personal and professional needs: Career direction, marriage and family challenges, financial struggles, health issues, unexpected emergencies. Many times I’d run out of options and had idea what to do next. At such times, often in ways far beyond my understanding, God provided direction and the answers we needed.

Another verse makes a similar declaration: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it” (Psalm 37:5). Sometimes we don’t see God at work in our lives because we’re not truly committed to Him and refuse to trust Him. That doesn’t mean He won’t respond to our needs, but when we turn to Him in trust – what the Bible calls “childlike faith” – then He eagerly responds and says, “Now watch and see what I can do.”

What – or who – are you trusting in today?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Almost Like a Hollywood Script!

Coaches, umpires and parents surround injured Tanner,
seeking to determine the extent of his injury.

As the game unfolded, it seemed to be following one of those schmaltzy, predictable Hollywood scripts – kind of like “Bad News Bears” or “The Mighty Ducks.” Only this was real life in real time, being witnessed firsthand by parents and grandparents and friends.

In the top of the first inning of a preliminary game in the 7-and-under classification of the Rick Honeycutt World Series in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., Tanner is playing the pitcher position for the Owls. (At this level, adults do the actual pitching.) Diving for a looping pop fly to his left, Tanner catches the ball, then gets up and throws the ball to third base, doubling up the runner who had left the base. He grimaces in pain, but seems to shake it off.

The opposing team, the Bats (you know they have to be good hitters, right?), proceeds to score four times, taking an early 4-0 lead. In the bottom of the inning, Tanner bats second, hits a single, then runs to first base. Reaching the base, however, the young fellow doubles over in pain. His left hip is hurting badly, and trying to run seems to have aggravated the injury.

After about 10 minutes of trying to comfort Tanner, it’s obvious he needs to go to the dugout and get off his feet. The umpire allows a pinch-runner, and Tanner is carried off the field by one of the coaches. The problem is the Owls are already short two players and removing Tanner from the game would necessitate a forfeit.

Perhaps inspired by their hobbled comrade, the Owls rally for five runs and take a 5-4 lead heading into the second inning. Tanner and Colt, the catcher, swap positions to enable Tanner to simply stand behind the batters and remain in the game. His parents, feeling it wouldn’t do further harm, allowed their son to continue playing.

After the Bats go scoreless in the top of the inning, the Owls score the youth league maximum seven runs in the bottom of the second, building their lead to 12-4. Tanner does bat and hits the ball, but being unable to run out the play, is thrown out at first. No problem, right? The Owls are up by eight and seem in command.

The Bats, however, have other ideas. They score seven runs of their own in the top of the third, tightening the score to 12-11, and the Owls go three up, three down, failing to score in their half of the inning. Tanner doesn’t have to go to the plate this time around.

In the top of the fourth the Bats, true to their nickname, score seven runs and take a seemingly commanding lead, 18-12, with just the last half of the fourth to go as the 60-minute clock is winding down.

Awakening from their mid-game snooze, the Owls get their own bats into action and start whittling away at the Bats’ lead. Five Owls cross the plate, closing the score to 18-17, and another single sends the tying run home.

Once again Tanner is carried
off the field, this time in victory.
The score is tied, 18-18, with one out, a runner on third base, and the batter coming up is…Tanner. Gamely taking practice swings, he shrugs off the pain and smacks the ball into the outfield. Determined, Tanner shuffles to first base ahead of the throw, but it doesn’t matter – the Owls’ 19th and winning run has already crossed home plate.

Fans erupt with cheers on both sidelines, applauding the courage and perseverance of little Tanner. Parents add some proud tears. A coach carries him off the field, this time with the thrill of victory. The agony is gone, at least momentarily.

If this had been a movie script, chances are it would have been immediately tossed into the “Not a Chance” circular file. But the story is true, proving sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

Not to over-spiritualize, but this seems a great metaphor for the apostle Paul’s declaration, “…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize…” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Young Tanner played through his pain and proved to be a very unlikely hero. His teammates, the Owls, overcame adversity of their own after losing a big lead and then trailing by six runs with just one at-bat remaining. They all forgot what was behind and pressed on toward the goal to win.

It would be nice to say they all lived happily ever after, but of course for these seven-year-olds there’s still lots of story yet to be told. One thing for sure – they’ve already had the opportunity to learn a very important lesson. Even the Bats, who in this game found themselves cast in the role of co-stars. Maybe next game for them.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Perspective Makes All the Difference

Viewed from above, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
looks almost like a storybook village.

Recently I heard about a man visiting New York City for the first time. The mass of people walking down the sidewalks in front of the towering buildings, and the cars and taxicabs jostling for position on the streets, seemed chaotic and confusing. “How can anyone get anywhere, or get anything done, in this place?” he wondered.

Then a friend invited him to go up the historic Empire State Building and view Manhattan from the 86th and 102nd floor observatories. From those vantage points the tourist gained a very different perspective of the activity below. Traffic seemed to be moving in an orderly, controlled manner, and people (despite appearing no bigger than fleas) were following their respective courses unimpeded by the surrounding crowds.

Below, the brick streets might present an intriguing
pattern, but lack the grandeur seen from above.
Over and over I’ve realized the view from above makes things look strikingly different, as I discovered years ago while visiting the picturesque city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany. Below, shops seemed quaint and pleasant. But from atop the courthouse in the centrum, this community sometimes called the most photographed city in Europe took on a much greater scope and more impressive grandeur.

Life has a way of being that way, too. When we’re caught up in the muck and mire of everyday living, life often seems to be lacking any sense of order or purpose. And when we encounter inevitable adversities – family issues, work challenges, health problems, financial struggles and unexpected calamities – we become convinced that pointless chaos reigns.

At such times it helps to take a step back, if possible, to gain a better perspective. Sometimes that “step back” is achievable only with the passing of time. But often we discover the turmoil we are enduring – or have endured – had “rhyme and reason” we couldn’t comprehend at the time.

A job we thought perfectly suited for, only to see it offered to someone else. The baby arrives with problems requiring the little one to remain in neo-natal intensive care for several weeks. The air conditioner quits working, right in the most dogged days of summer. The annual checkup with the physician reveals a condition you didn’t suspect, demanding immediate attention. And so it goes.

In the moment, these crises seem overwhelming. They suddenly thrust your life into turbulence, like a ship wandering into the midst of a hurricane. How do we keep from sinking?

For people of faith, the response is usually a mixture of prayer, perseverance – and panic. Why don’t disasters give advance warning, put themselves on our calendars weeks in advance so we can adequately prepare?

Most times these crises do come to an conclusion and then – and only then – we might be able to get the “view from above,” perspective that was lacking as the storm was swirling around us.

Someone once put it this way: It’s like we’re the ground troops during a battle, while God is flying a helicopter, viewing and guiding the conflict from above.

We’ve heard it said so many times, it’s seems trite, a cliché. But it’s true just the same: Romans 8:28 states, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

In the midst of whatever trial we’re facing, all we can see is NOW, the immediate. The what’s and why’s of things happening are lost to us since we’re too busy reacting to whatever circumstances present themselves at that instant. But God has the overhead view, the Empire State Building vista, where believe it or not, things aren’t as random and chaotic as they seem.

As He promises in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” The Lord is saying He understands we can’t make sense of hardships and pain we’re currently experiencing, but He’s working and using them for our ultimate good.

The next time you encounter a situation that seems beyond your capacity to handle, think of yourself as standing on 5th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. All around you are throngs of people, cars and taxis. Craziness seems to reign. Then envision yourself transported atop the Empire State Building, gazing down at the now almost serene-looking scene you just left. That’s God’s perspective, the one that matters.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Spiritual Sponge Principle


One of the simplest, yet handiest tools known to man is…the sponge. Everyone’s got at least one. Sponges have always fascinated me. I’m not talking about little, living creatures found primarily in oceans. I’m referring to the household variety commonly made from cellulose wood fibers or foamed plastic polymers. At least what my “sponge” search online told me.

OK, end of science lesson. What strikes me about the sponges we have in our homes is they sit quietly, waiting on a spill or for someone to make a mess, and then they’re ready to help with the cleanup. (As a matter of fact, I just used one – our 16-year-old dog apparently has a digestive issue. As teenage girls would say, “Eeeewwww!”)

Sponges like this one are great tools - until
they become saturated. (Photo-Wikipedia Commons)
Anyway, the curious thing about manmade sponges is they soak up and soak up some more, until they’re saturated. Then, however, they’re useless. They can’t soak up another drop. So we throw them away, right? Of course not. We squeeze them out, eliminating as much of the absorbed liquid as we can, and they’re ready to go back to work.

The reason I’m “sponging” this concept off on you is because just as the sponge principle is to soak up, saturate, squeeze out and begin soaking again, I’ve long thought there’s a “spiritual sponge principle” as well.

Today people with any interest in Christianity, religion or spirituality have more resources available to them than ever: Christian bookstores sell Bibles, books, CDs, DVDs and products of every kind, on every topic. Christian radio broadcasts 24/7, along with religious TV programming, catering to a wide range of theological bents. The Internet provides more spiritually oriented content than anyone could ever absorb. Some regions of the country are considered more “religious” than others, but no matter where you live, if the urge strikes to go to church, there’s one not far away. And every weekend, if so inclined, you can take in some Christian-oriented conference, workshop, seminar or retreat. There’s no lack of information.

But if that’s true, I’ve often wondered, why does this nation with such a strong Judeo-Christian heritage – and the people in it – show decreasing evidence of God and sound principles of the Bible in their everyday lives?

I think one reason is because, like spiritual sponges, we tend to soak and soak and soak up biblical information, but rarely bother to squeeze out our “sponges.” As a result, we’re beyond the saturation point, but don’t know it – or don’t care. A preacher described it this way: “The sit, soak and sour syndrome.”

The Bible repeatedly warns against this, a tendency world evangelist Luis Palau called “the lust of the mind.” One translation of Jesus’ declaration in Luke 16:10 expresses it this way: "If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities.” In other words, if you’re not willing to use and apply what God has entrusted to you, why should you expect Him to trust you with more?

Addressing one of his younger protégés, the apostle Paul wrote, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ” (Philemon 6, NIV). The apostle wasn’t speaking just about evangelism with nonbelievers. We can also share our faith in conversation with fellow believers, offering what we have learned and what it means to us – and learning from them as well. We also share our faith when we live out what the Bible teaches. When we do this, putting our faith into practice, we gain a fuller understanding of what we know about God – and about ourselves.

Presenting His so-called “parable of the talents,” Jesus taught about some servants and their stewardship of what their master had entrusted to them. Upon his return, the master reviewed what the servants had done on his behalf. To the devoted, enterprising servants he said, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” (Matthew 25:21).

In effect, Jesus was teaching the “spiritual sponge principle”: Once we have absorbed what God provides for us, don’t keep it to yourself. Squeeze the sponge by sharing it, putting it to use, applying it in your life in ways people can see – showing the reality of Christ in your life.

As someone has said, “If you were put on trial for being a follower of Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Monday, August 4, 2014

One Thing the Internet Can’t Teach Us


I never cease to marvel over the vast and ever-growing storehouse of knowledge the Internet offers to us. Years ago, when doing research for a book or an article, I’d usually jump in the car and drive to the nearest library. I have nothing against libraries – they’re fun places to visit – but thanks to the Internet I haven’t needed to go to a library for information in several years.

Just about anything we could think can be found on the Internet: biographies, famous quotations, recipes, summaries of books and films, health information, do-it-yourself tips (not that I’d have any interest in those), sports statistics, weather forecasts, phone numbers, map and directions. You name it, it’s there.

My wife and I recently marked our 40th anniversary, so out of curiosity I looked up the year 1974 on the Internet to see what was going on then – it was too long ago to remember! I found out Richard Nixon was in the midst of the Watergate scandal; 24-hour a day radio news coverage was just starting; “Happy Days” was beginning its 11-year TV run; Peter Benchley’s book, Jaws, was published; Barbra Streisand was singing “The Way We Were”; and somebody named Woody Hayes was coaching the Ohio State football team.

We'd all like to be wise as the proverbial owl.
But where and how does the owl get its wisdom?
You can find anything you need to learn online. That is, almost anything. One thing you can’t learn from the Internet is wisdom.

True, you can learn the definition of wisdom. The one I like best is: “the ability or result of an ability to think and act utilizing knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight.” Another defines wisdom as “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.”

We can even find out what other people have said about wisdom. I never thought of the late great rock guitarist and vocalist Jimi Hendrix as a fount of wisdom, but he observed, “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” Must have come from one of his more elucidating LSD moments.

Author Aldous Huxley asserted, “Experience is not what happens to you; it's what you do with what happens to you.” There’s considerable wisdom in that recognition. Sounds like the voice of experience.

Philosopher Socrates once stated, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s occurred to me that the older you get and the more you think you know, the more you discover you don’t know yet.

Revered Chinese philosopher Confucius pointed to the reality of wisdom’s attainment when he said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

President Calvin Coolidge gave a similar view when he commented, “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. It may not be difficult to store up in the mind a vast quantity of facts within a comparatively short time, but the ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity.”

The Internet truly is a bottomless well for information and knowledge, and we can learn a lot about wisdom, but you’ll never gain wisdom solely through mental exercise. It is, as Huxley commented, what you do with what you get. And there’s no substitute for time and experience.

But there’s one more source of wisdom we too often disregard entirely. The Scriptures tell us where to find it: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).

James 1:5 says wisdom can be ours just for the asking: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” But there’s a caveat to such a request, as the next verse points out. “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).

Later in the book it states, “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). That sounds like something worth having.

True, much of wisdom comes through the everyday grind of life’s hard knocks. As someone as said, the way to get wisdom is through experience, and the way to gain good experience is by making mistakes and having bad experiences. But if we can tap into the wisdom of God, maybe we can avoid having to endure some of those bad experiences brought about by foolish mistakes. I’ve already made more than my share of those!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Trying to Run on Empty


What’s your dream car? A Mercedes, or a BMW? If you’re into sports cars, it might be a Porsche, Jaguar, or Maserati. (I’ve never seen one of those, other than on TV, much less drive one.) Maybe you imagine driving a Rolls Royce. I had a Rolls once – a “rolls-hardly.” My mechanic spent more time with it than I did!

Some time ago a friend and his wife went to a furniture store to buy some things for their home. While they were there, he registered for a drawing the store was having, then forgot all about it when they left. A few weeks later he received a call informing him they had won the grand prize, a new, right out of the showroom Cadillac! I’m not sure if that had been his dream car before, but it proved to be their perfect car for years.

Just as drivers stop periodically to refill the fuel tank
in their cars, we need to stop and "refuel" ourselves.
There’s one common reality, however, about all “perfect cars”: Without gas in the tank, they won’t take you anywhere. You can sit in them and enjoy the new-car smell, fiddle with the buttons, and even move the seats back and forth. But when the fuel gauge is stuck on empty, they transport you nowhere.

The same holds true for us in everyday life. Many of us spend our days running so hard and so fast we practically pass ourselves on the highways. Moms transporting their children from school to one activity after another. Men and women fighting rush hour traffic to get to work, pouring themselves out for eight hours or more, then rushing home again so they can rest – and repeat it all over again the next morning. Families desperately filling their leisure hours in search of fun, wearing themselves out in the process. Then one day we wake up to discover our physical, mental and emotional tanks are sitting on “empty.”

In Europe it’s traditional – at least for those that can afford it – to go on holiday, taking as much as a full month off from the daily grind. Talk about luxury! They might have the right idea, but I often find myself feeling guilty taking one week off from my regular work activities. How could I possible handle taking four weeks off at a time?

Nevertheless the principle remains: Unless we judiciously and intentionally take time for rest and restoration, we’ll be like the beautiful car without a drop of gas in the tank. We might look good on the outside, but we’re never going to get to where we want to go.

No wonder promising employees suddenly lose their luster and cease being the shining corporate stars they once were. No wonder high hopes disintegrate into grim realities. No wonder marriages start to struggle, moving to the brink of failure. And no wonder once healthy individuals suffer sudden and unexpected physical calamities.

So what’s the remedy? If we don’t find it natural to take necessary pauses during the course of the day, the week, and the year, we need to schedule those times. We need to devote time for thinking, planning, and relaxing, as well as basking in our victories rather than bemoaning our inevitable defeats.

The principle of rest and restoration appears repeatedly in the Scriptures. In Psalm 46:10 God instructs His people, “Be still, and know that I am God.” In an earlier passage we’re warned against the tendency to plunge full speed ahead, thinking that perpetual activity will ensure achievement of our goals. It says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…. Wait for the Lord and keep his way” (Psalm 37:7,34).

The opening of the well-known 23rd Psalm uses the shepherd-sheep metaphor for affirming the importance of rest, of taking time to refuel our physical, mental, emotional – and spiritual – tanks. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul”  (Psalm 23:1-3).

In the gospels we find Jesus Christ, the Son of God, setting aside time to pause and regroup despite the urgency and brevity of His earthly ministry. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). After performing one of His miracles, Jesus dismissed the assembled crowd, sent His disciples ahead of Him and then, “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray…” (Matthew 14:23).

At the end of the creation account, it states God the Creator found it important to take a break in the action. “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (Genesis 2:2). To underscore that concept, one of the Ten Commandments God gave to His people instituted a day for Sabbath rest (Exodus 20:8-11). Unfortunately, today even devoted followers of Jesus tend to treat the Sabbath as just another day for frenetic activities or for catching up on work not yet completed.

God didn’t establish the Sabbath to be restrictive. Rather, like a car manufacturer that knows how best to operate its car, God knows how we function best. And it’s not by burning the proverbial candle at both ends and the middle at the same time. We need to pause, rest, reflect and restore. When we refuse, we do so at our peril.   

Monday, July 28, 2014

‘Make Yourself at Home’

Do we approach our spiritual life as guests passing
through, or as permanent residents?

We all like to be hospitable – or at least perceived that way. So when guests arrive at our homes, we typically encourage them to “make yourself at home.” By that we mean we’d like them to feel comfortable, and if there’s anything they need, just ask.

But what if they did – they proceeded to really make themselves at home? Imagine this scenario: They march to your refrigerator, survey the contents, and start fixing a meal without clearing it with you first? Or they take a look at your living room and commence to rearrange the furniture? Or decide to tear off the wallpaper that was designed specially for your dining room?

Suppose they go into your yard and start yanking out the flowers you just planted, stating they don’t like the colors. Or they call a crew to start digging a huge hole in your backyard, since they’d really like to see a pool there. You did tell them to make themselves at home, correct?

You’d be more than upset. Speechless. Horrified. Nonplussed even. Because while you wanted them to feel at home, you didn’t want them to act as if they owned the place. There’s a difference between being a guest and a resident. We want them to feel welcomed and at ease, but not to go overboard. (Actually, if you had a houseboat and they arrived to be your guests there, you might want them overboard!)

Yet this is exactly what God asks us to do. And He means what He says. He wants us not only to feel at home with Him but also to remain, to reside there. In fact, Jesus was explicit when He said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). He invites us to take full advantage of everything He has to offer to us.

The Scriptures use words like “abide,” “dwell” and “remain” to describe the relationship God desires with His children. These terms don’t refer to a quick visit or a stopover for a casual cup of coffee. We’re invited to abide in Him, enjoying His presence both now and for eternity.

Earlier in the passage Jesus draws a metaphor to a grapevine or the branch of a fruit-bearing plant, declaring, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

The psalmist had a clear handle on this when he wrote, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” (Psalm 27:4). Later it says, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (Psalm 91:1). Sounds comforting, doesn’t it?

Many people proudly refer to themselves as “Christian,” and yet if one were to observe their lives and compare them to those of people who have no church or spiritual affiliation, too often we’d see little if any difference. Their behaviors, attitudes, even their conversations aren’t discernibly different, and they don’t seem to be experiencing the peace and rest that abiding – establishing our home in Christ – promises.

Could it be that even though God has invited them to “make yourself at home,” they’ve chosen instead just to make occasional, brief social calls, or at most treat it like an overnight motel stay, rather than fully embracing the invitation to abide – to remain as permanent residents?