Notes from Italia – Finding Our Way

I got lost for the first time in Italy today. A momentary panic and then I realized the town I’m in now is only about 9,000 people. How many side streets and alleys can it have? Ninety minutes later I spot an internet cafe I’d seen 87 minutes before, and I paused… just down the sidewalk was the Esso station our team had gassed up at last year. (If you know Ken Berkey, you can ask how many Americans it takes to work an Italian gas pump — nine, but only because that’s how many were in the van at the time.)

At least the Esso station was familiar territory and I was back at our temporary flat in five minutes. (For math experts, that means I turned an eight minute walk into ninety-five.)

I have heard a lot about comfort zones in the past few months as we have prepared for missions in Italy. It doesn’t take a nine hour flight to Europe to shake your comfort zone, however. It could be a ninety second conversation with someone you don’t know who needs truth.
Your monolingual friend, Rick


Fruit Sweet

Who doesn’t want joy in his or her life? Or fulfillment? Perhaps even a sense of effectiveness? For one who longs for things of the Spirit, maybe a sense of rightness before God?  An unlikely place to find answers is along the rows of grapevines.  But Jesus did just that with his best friends one day.  He was near the end of his time physically on the planet (he would experience the worst death, and then conquer same death, in literally hours) and, sensing the tenseness in this followers due to a sense of the climactic in his ministry, took them for a stroll… through a vineyard.

He took them back to some really basic ideas in order to assure them life as they knew it was not really tottering on the brink of disaster.  The basics of being with God is a good place to return if tottering is in one’s life. Maybe some of what Jesus said can be seen as A-B-C’s…

A – Abide. Not really a word we use these days, but it means to live within the space of something.  Italiano is “abitare” and includes things like flats, houses, etc.  We really don’t stay in one place very long these days.  My wife told me that, since we have been married (22 years ago) we have lived in sixteen different “homes!”  We move a lot.  Perhaps, this is an important “basic” for us all.  God is bigger than where we live, or what we call home.  And though we may move from house, to flat, from city to country, from one continent or time zone to another — God is bigger, and He is there.  Find your home in God. Abide in Him. Abide in His love.

B – Befriend. This one did not translate well into Italiano.  Perhaps it means make friends, be faithful as a friend, keep friends close.  Jesus put it like this: love one another just like I have loved you.  Share life like I have shared my life with you.  When we live in His love, His love comes out in our lives, and spills into our friendships.  If friendships are hard for you, make sure you are first living in Christ.  Then, step out of the zone of the familiar and risk the first steps of making friends. Here’s a cliche – friendship is spelled t-i-m-e.  Quaint, but true.

C – Carry. He said at the end of his vineyard lesson that he would not leave his friends (and by extension, his friends today) alone.  God is not just Jesus; He is also Spirit.  And the best thing Jesus could do was leave, so He could send the Spirit.  He would carry to His followers the remembrance and assurance of who he is; and he would give his friends the right words to say so others could find God.

Abiding includes what the ancients, and generations of seekers call, Disciplines of the Faith. Prayer, worship, Scripture study, fasting, meditation, quiet time, etc.  But abiding is more than a brief time with one of these disciplines.  It is an all day, here-I-am-listening-and-honoring attitude.

We can get fully engaged in projects and our desktops, virtual and otherwise, can get cluttered and out of control busy. Remember that people come first before the projects.  Make points in your day that are all about others. Befriend others instead of taking on extra alone-time work.

And if you are in transition in your spiritual life, seeking wisdom on how to proceed and how to seek God.  Perhaps you have counted years of walking with God, but it’s a new time for you to take it all deeper and fresh.  Read the Gospel of John chapter 15 all the way through a few times.  Especially the verses about pruning and cutting away. As I write this, all around my village of Torre Pellice are snipping away all the branches from the main trunk, and getting ready for the year’s harvest. Cutting off what would be in the way of what really matters.  Sounds painful, I know, but necessary to make room for the best life you’ll ever have.  Give him back something that has stood in the way of your love for him. Honor God by giving him more space in your life.  The results? Joy, fulfillment, effectiveness, and a sense of rightness before God.

Ciao — for the Journey!