When the God of Relationships Calls You, Answer the Phone!

Sometimes relationships come out of nowhere to change our lives. “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God… (Exodus 3:5-6, NIV)

I have always thought that the way God introduced himself to Moses was revealing, which makes good sense because He is and has always been the God of revelation. In this case, He also identifies Himself as the God of relationships — the God of Moses’ father, and of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The Bible is the story of how God has revealed Himself to man, and how He has engaged in relationships with us. Here in Exodus He revealed himself to Moses when Moses least expected it. Does He still reveal himself to us? On this earth, we encounter the Lord on his terms, not ours. Moses grew up in a land with many gods, so it had to be somewhat of a shock to him to encounter the One True God.

If you think of it, however, we are all in Moses’ sandals, and some point we are all called to step out of them. We have all grown up surrounded and tempted by many gods—celebrities, material things, success, ego, power, lust—and the real question is, have you ever met the One True God? The introduction to Buell Kazee’s Faith is the Victory contains one of the greatest statements about God I have ever read: “God creates man in his image, and man creates God in his image. It depends on who is doing the creating as to what kind of being we have in either case. Man, left to himself, will always have a god, and that god will always be like man himself. Because man is confused, he will make for himself many gods, but they will all be like himself. The conflict of the world is between the One God, who arises from beyond man’s realm of knowledge, and the many gods which he has created out of his own heart.” (Faith is the Victory, Intro, page 9) This world is full of many gods (with a small “g”), man-made idols that people may not even realize they worship. When God reveals Himself, it is surprising to most folks that there is actually only one God, and that He is offering them a choice.

The way God identified himself to Moses is significant, and at the risk of a bad pun, it is also revealing. He didn’t say to Moses, “I am the great cosmic all powerful God of the universe.” He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” In essence, he was telling Moses: “I am the God who loves people. I am the God of relationships. You can know me personally, just as your forefathers did. Look at the people who have walked with me, and you will see who I am and what I do. Look for reflections of my character in those who have no earthly means to possess it otherwise. Accept my revelation of who I am, and you can walk with me just as they did. Ignore the many meaningless gods that clamor for your attention, and walk with me.”

Stop and take a look around your life. There are indeed still meaningless gods who clamor for your attention. Somewhere amidst all the material things, the celebrities, the agendas, the politics, the cell phones, the incessant ads, the sports, and the intrusive pervasive media, the God of relationships is revealing Himself to you. Don’t miss Him.

In Egypt, gods were everywhere--
An idol here, a temple there--
Worshipping idols was the style:
They worshipped cats! The Sun! The Nile!
But Moses in the desert ran
Into the God who said, "I AM".
"I am the God of Abraham,
And Isaac and Jacob, too."
Moses didn't doubt and scoff;
He stopped and took his sandals off;
He knew this was a holy place 
And so he stopped, and hid his face.
This relationship with God was new,
Changed more than how he wore his shoes--
Changed everything that Moses knew,
His life, his plans, his point of view!
If God introduced Himself to YOU,
Tell me, then what YOU would do:

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Tour de Roma

The guy handing us our bikes at Topbike rentals in Rome looked at our group, calculating the odds, and he seemed to give an unconscious shake of the head… He was about 25 and looked like he could bike the Apenines without breaking a sweat. Our group was made up of fifty and sixty something retirees, empty nesters and grandparents who apparently did not appear to be regular cyclists. “Perhaps you would like the motorized bikes? Ha ha, I am only joking!” Others in the office laughed conspiriatorially, trying to appear like they knew he was teasing, but coming off as young and fit and somewhat concerned for our safety. The very people who stood to make money conducting our tour seemed to be trying to give us a way out! Maybe they were concerned that when several members of our group did not return, it would damage their reputation. I asked, “will you be our guide?” He paused, and then spoke rapidly in Italian to the girl in the office. They seemed to be disagreeing on something, and he seemed to be protesting; then I heard them say something about Simone, and he turned to me with a big smile on his face. “No, unfortunately I have another tour today. Simone will be your guide.” Reading between the lines, I sensed that Simone was late coming in, and had drawn the short straw. We were his penalty for being late. When Simone arrived, he too looked us up and down…. “You realize that this tour is over bumpy roads, yes?” we nodded. And you realize that you will be on the bike for 6 hours, over 40 kilometers, yes?” Our entire group put together had probably not been a bike six hours in the last 3 months combined, but we all said yes. Simone looked skeptical. “And you know the roads will be the cobblestone-ahs, yes?” as we nodded, he said, “we will go to the parking lot across the street and do the skills test, and learn the ways of the bicycle. Then we will go, ok?” Amazingly, we passed our skills test, emerged from our practice braking unbroken, and were able to proceed. Simone was possibly late thirties, maybe early forties, but he is a lean, tanned, good-looking man with attractive features and striking salt and pepper hair. Since he bikes 50 miles a day, his legs appear strong, tanned and muscular, unlike any other man’s legs displayed within the group he is guiding. Starting out, he seems thoughtful, but then I realize he seems to be doing more calculations than a CAD computer executing a 3d design. He suddenly announces that he knows a shortcut that will not only give us an amazing view of the City wall, but is flatter and shorter than his usual route. (for all we know, he has redirected us from riding through DaVinci’s front yard and is now taking us via an alleyway instead, but then he did use the magic words flatter and shorter). Having said that, he doesn’t really have to sell us on this idea. We begin, pedaling along at a leisurely pace. Today is May 1, National Workers’ Day, and because it is a holiday, light traffic conditions give him some options. I think he figures he will need them all to help us complete this bike tour on the Appian Way. Simone stops often to show us details and give us lessons on history and background of what we are seeing. (I’m not sure if he is really explaining something important or just giving us multiple opportunities to rest.) We seem to pedal forever, leaving the massive City wall behind, and after what feels like an eternity and the beginnings of saddle sores, we see a street sign that clearly says “Appian Way”. We are cheered by this until Simone says, “Ok. Now, we can begin.” I was thinking we were hopefully about halfway through until this, and checking my watch I realize we have only been gone about 25 minutes. This group of grandparents is game, though, and on we pedal. We do get to make a pit stop at the Catacombs of San Sebastian, and it is amazing to see the care and effort taken by folks to deal with the remains of loved ones. Uncertainty about eternal life is a powerful motivator, and we see signs of that effort displayed poignantly in the tombs of babies and children, extravagantly in the eternal dwellings of the wealthy. If I have learned one thing in Rome, it’s that even as it relates to eternal life, money is still considered as a means to an end. Or THE end, in this case… People have been hoping to buy or work their way into heaven for centuries, when all they need to do is discover Grace…
Our intrepid group remounts the bicycles, sobered now by viewing all those burial plots, and even more sobered by the cobblestone-ahs and the off-road alternative. After bumping along for awhile, we ask Simone how far we are from our wine and cheese stop. “Is not far. Ten minutes.” onward we ride. We hop curbs into dirt paths along the Way, or we bump and stutter over the ancient Roman road. To think that Paul and perhaps Timothy may have once walked this road! If they did, they were certainly more comfortable than we are on these bicycle seats! This change of pace does not daunt our group, although poor Buddy is stricken so badly with hay fever that his primary means of transport has become sneezing down forcibly to propel himself along by the force of the sneezes alone. We have a couple of accidents while negotiating terrain, and there are several bumps and bruises among our riders. After a scrape with some rocks, Cindi’s leg looks like it has been put through a meat grinder, but she is one tough cookie. The ladies help to clean up the blood, and Simone breaks out the first aid kit, and onward we go… As the lean, attractive guide helps to bandage Cindi’s wounds, I swear that some of our other ladies are calculating the risk-reward factor in crashing just so that Simone would have to bandage THEIR legs! We keep riding. “Ten minutes” has stretched into an hour, and still we pedal. Our reward is to see the amazing Roman aqueducts, which run alongside the Appian way. (There is even one that is still in use today! ) Seeing how people lived 2000 years ago is interesting. What is fascinating, though, is seeing how people live TODAY. For the Holiday, it seems that every family in Rome has come out to this park to cook out, to gather with friends and family. They have beaten down little patches of grass, parked under sections of the aqueduct, and filled every conceivable space with family and fellowship. There are impromptu soccer games, parents doting over their bambinos, women talking animatedly in small groups, small children running and playing, and people gathered for fellowship everywhere, as far as the eye can see. They are flying kites, playing pickle ball and bocce ball, smoking cigarettes, playing foot-ah ball, and enjoying being together. If we had wanted to get a glimpse of life in Rome, this is a perfect place to start. Simone tells us that if he were here by himself, he could just ask anyone cooking out and they would give him a sausage from the grill, but since there are nine of us, it would be too much to expect. We totally understand, but that doesn’t keep us from eyeing every grill with a bit of longing as we head towards our wine and cheese… As we dodge happy children at play, and pedal through family reunions and barbecues, one thing is clear: in Italy, the family is still alive and well! The entire park is a testament to multi-generational love, and to the resilience of Italy’s families. When we reach the farm, we are charmed by the ancient, rustic surroundings (the large building there is being renovated, and the signs illustrating the project say it was to be finished in 2011. It looks barely started: Italy!), and we enjoy the hospitality there. Buddy is still suffering, but he’s a fighter, and coming back; Cindi is bandaged but chipper. I am so impressed with our group’s toughness and spirit. There at the farm, our hostess Anna shows us how they make cheese, and we drink our wine. We are given some fava beans to try, and Simone says that should help us on the way home by providing us with some gas-powered jet propulsion! A family group connected to the farm somehow is sitting nearby, having a private cookout as well. They are grilling lamb, and we are famished. As lovely as our wine, bread, and cheese are, that lamb smells GOOD! When we compliment the cook on the aroma, he says something to his party, and then brings our battered little band of bikers a few slices of freshly grilled lamb. It gives us true refreshment– not just from the protein in the meat, but from feasting on Italian generosity. We managed to complete our bike tour, and carry with us indelible images: The City wall, the sights along the way, the Catacombs, the aqueducts; for some, Simone’s tanned Italian good looks; and for all of us, the scene of thousands of Italian families living and loving, and the generous Italian spirit, and the satisfaction we got from spending seven hours bumping along the Appian way.

From Pompeii to Cortona

I couldn’t imagine a more perfect evening. We have arrived at Cortona after our whirlwind Roman Holiday, and the change of pace from Rome is astonishing. There are birds singing, and the pale azure sky is accented by wisps of cotton scattered lazily across its vast, comfortable canopy. The temperature is utterly appropriate, and makes it possible to feel completely at home by the pool on grounds that are lovely as any I have ever walked upon. Flowers are celebrating the Italian Spring, and the smell of rosemary and jasmine resound like a nasal aria wafting over us in the very gentle breeze. Francesco and Christian are in the kitchen cooking our evening meal, which we will eat on the terrace in the courtyard, listening to the soothing, cheerful melodies that baptize us with pure joy. Good wine and good company make this a wonderful day to be alive.
I’m sure there were days like this in Pompeii before Vesuvius erupted and buried the city under tons of ash. There were beautiful days of sunshine and blessing. People were laughing, talking, eating, playing, and then– sudden disaster. They were caught and trapped in their homes, buried while attempting to escape, frozen in hot ash and a moment in time. On our tour of Pompeii the other day, there were molded images of their distress on display, bodies outlined from having been smothered under the falling volcanic debris. The bodies are people of all ages, shapes and sizes, grandparents and children, frozen now for centuries in their ashen state. The terror of sudden demise is expressed in their body language, and relentless time has turned them into morbid statues that we tourists gawk at with sympathy and relief.
So, what does Pompeii have to do with Cortona? Or more accurately, why am I sitting in this perfect evening at Villa Laura, thinking about death and destruction in Pompeii? Well, first of all, I think I appreciate this day more, having seen the unfortunate results visited upon those poor, ashen forms… And I should not only appreciate this day, but every day as a blessing and a reason to celebrate. The contrast between Pompeii and Cortona is a reminder that life is short, and we need to embrace the day at hand. Don’t waste it. Finally, we should be grateful for the life we have, because it is a blessing to be savored and appreciated. I shouldn’t need a perfect Cortona evening to inspire such gratitude, but I do intend to carry this evening forward with me as a permanent reminder that today counts. I hope you will too.

What’s the most important word in the English language?

I first considered that question in 1978.  It was posed by Oscar Thompson, a seminary professor who happened to be dying of cancer, but for some reason was full of life, love and enthusiasm in spite of his circumstances. The class began to blurt out the logical answers: “Love!” “Money.” “Time.” “God!” “Eternity.” “Words, Language”– Oscar would say, “Nope, that’s not it; no, not that–without the word I am thinking of, none of that has any relevance”, or “that word is meaningless without the word”, and we spent several minutes trying to guess, reaching further for answers but coming up empty. “I’ll tell you the most important word”, Oscar said. “The most important word in the English language is relationship. Without relationship, love is meaningless– how can you love all by yourself? Money has no value except in relationship to exchange for goods or services, time is merely the way we try to track the relationship between events or thoughts or bodies in space, God has no place in our universe unless He is relating to us, eternity is empty without it, and words and language are only the relationship of letters to sounds to words to thoughts that enable us to express ourselves. Why, without relationships, we could not even use language or communicate. Without the word relationship, that very communication would be useless indeed!” Yes, my friends, I challenge you to come up with a more important word!” I have thought about Oscar’s premise now for 35 years, and I haven’t come up with a better “more important” word. And yet, very few of us think about the central role relationship plays in life or, if asked, would even choose that as the “most important” word…  I have asked that question of groups dozens, even hundreds of times, heard hundreds of responses, and not only has no one ever mentioned “relationship” as the most important word, I don’t think any group has ever even come up with it before I had to tell them. But I tell you this: relationship is the fabric of our lives, our medium as artists, the air we swim in (yeah I know)– it is why we are here. Oscar Thompson opened my eyes to that fact, and while it is a small thing I guess, it’s still a good thing to think about. Think about the important relationships in your life– family, bff’s, loved ones, friends… And what about God? How do you relate to Him? God is the God of relationships. He introduced himself to Moses, not as the majestic super-cosmic God of the universe, but as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why, God’s very nature–Father, Son, Holy Spirit–means that He exists in the context of relationship! Probably why, since we are made in His image, we live in that context as well. Think about your relationships. Any that need repairing? Any you need to honor more? Wow, I am so bad about some, and take so many for granted… Opportunities for application abound! Maybe today would be a good time to dust off a neglected friendship, to reconnect with someone who used to matter to you; maybe today would be a good day to send up a little prayer and renew your relationship with the One who made Oscar Thompson so enthusiastic and alive even when he knew his time on this earth was short. He knew, and I am still learning, that the most important word in the English language connected us to the most important One of all.