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November 20, 2004

Tiles

Heidelberg, Germany

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” ~Philippians 4:11b, 13


I had the opportunity some time ago to visit the Sistine Chapel in The Vatican City inside Rome. Michelangelo’s amazing work is displayed across the ceiling and droves of visitors enter the chapel’s doors every year to gaze upward at this marvelous wonder only later to leave in desperate need of a chiropractor.

But I had determined years before that I would take a significant amount of time to look upon the artistic tiling of the chapel floor. Think of it – unknown, unrecognized, yet very talented artisans spent hours upon hours on their knees laying these tiles in beautiful patterns. There was incredible thought and creativity put into their work and incredible skill only to have millions walk upon it and never notice while gazing at the “greater” and “more significant” work above.

I began to wonder what kind of tile I would like to be if in fact that was my purpose for existence. The Sistine Chapel might be nice for setting – but not so nice in the fact that I would not only be stepped on by disinterested patrons – but completely ignored! But perhaps worst of all would be a tile on a dirty bathroom floor, or perhaps in a dark closet or a forgotten room. No – I would rather be a tile in a ballroom where there is music and dancing and celebration, or even better, a tile at the foot of a king’s throne where knights are given honor and kings are crowned; where laws are decreed and mercy is granted.

But tiles are a curious thing. Regardless of their shape, size, or placement, a tile’s function is the same: to provide a hard, secure surface in order to provide a strong support for all who enter the space. If even one tile is missing in any place, be it a closet or the finest of rooms, it is missed, and the owner quickly seeks to replace that tile.

And so it is in our lives as men and women created in God’s image. We are made to glorify God by our very existence and enjoy His presence. God places us in different places – some more prominent than others, but our purpose is still the same, and it is never diminished. If I were lifted from the closet floor ad placed in a royal throne room, my purpose has not changed nor has the King’s delight in me! Even so, if the King chooses to take me from my place of comfort and place me in a darker corner, it is for His delight and for His purpose and our purpose is still the same – His Glory!

Rejoice in the place God has placed you, and be content with little or with much!

“My God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be Glory for ever and ever. Amen.” – Philippians 4:19, 20

November 11, 2004

Wild Olive of Tuscany

Tuscany, Italy

"Just as you recieved Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, standing firm in the Faith and overflowing with thankfulness." ~Colossians 2:6-7


I have returned again to one of my favorite places on Earth - Tuscany. Last year about this time, I met met a farmer and his wife down the road who pastored a local congregation of evangelical believers. Giovanni and Grazie spoke great English and quickly invited me into their home to share a meal and friendship. I stayed with them for a couple of nights and helped them harvest their Olive trees along with friends and family that came in from around the country. Throughout the evening at mealtime, the dining room resonated with life and laughter and high animation as each person dramatized every phrase and story with increasing enthusiasm one more vividly then the next: each an actor competing for the stage. They shared their lives; they shared their harvest; they shared their home.

This year, my good friend Max and I set out again to the farm to be with them a couple of days during the harvest. Last Thursday, before we began the work in the morning, we sat around the table with bread and coffee and read Scripture. Of course I could not understand the words, although the spirit of our Lord was evident in the spirit of their hearts and their passion to know our Savior more. Then as we headed into the grove, Giovanni lead the way singing hymns and teaching at any opportunity. The day was full – but relaxing to me. The olives were plentiful and the views spectacular. From the top of the trees, it was dreamlike to look across the Tuscan countryside and see the small villages, and villas with columns of spruce along winding lanes, and to hear the towers chime out the toll of the passing hours.

At the end of the day, Giovanni invited us to follow him to the "special tree" in his grove. We walked deep into one corner of the olive grove until we came to a tree. We stopped and as we looked at it he asked me to describe anything that was different about this olive tree. It was obvious that both the leaves and the olive fruit were smaller in size than those on the other trees. Then he said, "Out of all my thousands of cultivated trees, this is the only wild olive tree I have. Yes – the leaves and fruit are smaller in size, and even if I graft a branch from this tree into a cultivated olive tree, the leaves will never change in size or the fruit became larger." What do you think this means?

I suddenly was reminded of Romans chapter eleven where the Gentiles are described as the wild olive. My heart was warmed as I realized how that all of Paul’s readers would have realized this to be the case that the wild olive was different in this way and the significance it held in the text of Romans eleven. Then I replied, "God is more interested in the fact that we belong to the promise and are nourished by the root of Christ than he is interested in the size of our fruit. Or maybe better said – we do not gain acceptance or approval from God based on the size of our fruit, but rather that we belong to Christ.

Giovanni explained that a grafted wild branch would flourish and grow and continue to bear fruit and be harvested along with the other fruit of that tree. What is interesting as you look out at the vast acreage of cultivated trees is that the grafted wild branch is not necessary at all. The only reason it would be engrafted in the first place is that the landowner would have chosen to do so and for no other reason than for his own good pleasure for the wild olive is not a sweet fruit and on it own its oil is bitter.

I realized myself at that moment – that I was merely a wild olive in Tuscany called to belong to God in Christ, not because I could be a great fruit-bearing branch, but simply for God's good pleasure and glory. God’s Word becomes clearer and clearer to me about His Sovereignty in my salvation, and I am overwhelmed by His love and purpose for my life – to love Him with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and love my neighbor as myself. God has called us to belong and in that flourish and grow and yes – bear fruit. But the harvest and the sweet oil of goodness and grace are ALL in the work of the Lord of the harvest.

May you be encouraged as a chosen wild olive engrafted into the promise of God’s Grace and Love.