He Speaks Life

Those of us who love to travel to refresh and regain perspective often prefer either the beach or the mountains even though we may enjoy both. My husband and I have enjoyed both, but we are drawn more to the mountains. We especially love the Rocky Mountains of the United States and Canada and have traveled there often in our vacation adventures.

These mountains and the trails we have walked remind us of the greatness of God and “the rock” that He is for us to stand on and build our own faith and life upon.

One of the delights of my heart as we travel in the mountains is discovering in the midst of all the rocky crags, glaciers, and forests, God tucks little pieces of color here and there through various flowers that reminds me again and again that from the beginning God speaks life! With the exception of humankind whom He handcrafted from the earth; He spoke every other thing into existence.

He spoke those wondrous mountains into existence, and He spoke the crashing waves upon the seas as well. The stars, sun, and moon above us were created with just a word from Him. Each delicate creature, plant, and organism came when He spoke life!

Death came upon the earth through evil that came in the garden when Lucifer sought to change the course of man and oppose all life.

When one of our grandsons noted recently that in 2020 it seems as if death is chasing us, it provoked more than a little thought. There is a battle going on, an unseen battle as real as any war fought by mankind. It is a battle between good and evil, light and darkness waged against God and all of his creation by Lucifer and his minions.

I love Eugene Peterson’s description of this truth:

“There is a spiritual war in progress, an all-out moral battle. There is evil and cruelty, brutality and pain. God is in continuous and energetic battle against all of it. God is for life and against death. God is for love and against hate. God is for hope and against despair. God is for heaven and against hell. There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square foot of space is contested.”

From Run With the Horses by Eugene Peterson

That may sound grim and indeed is sobering, but for those who understand and know the grand story we are each a part of it is key to remember that if we have accepted Him and responded to his election of us, we are imbued with life.

Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (MSG)

As I write this our family is saddened by someone we loved who has walked through death and the body we knew is no longer here, but he is more alive than he has ever been. The essence of this dear friend, his spirit and soul that we cannot see, lives on. Those of us who loved him miss him, but we know this was not really the end.

Some years ago, someone came to my counseling office to process her terminal illness and what she knew lay ahead. Linda invited me into her very private thoughts and feelings as a believer who knew what the months ahead would mean. It was a gift I treasure.

She introduced me to a book by Max Lucado entitled Tell Me the Secrets filled with short chapters focusing on powerful truths written so we could see through story and metaphor more of the rich meaning within them. The last chapter is entitled “The Secret of Life” and Max Lucado sets the stage by having an older man facing death and trying to explain life and death to a group of children for whom he was a mentor and friend.

Look at the words of dialogue penned by Max Lucado that the man’s wife speaks to the children after her husband has passed from this life:

“I can’t believe he’s dead, Melva.” Landon began to cry.

“Oh, Landon, he isn’t dead. He is alive. He is more alive than he has ever been. He’s just not here.”

From Max Lucado in Tell Me the Secrets

At the end of the chapter is a note from the artist, Ron DiCianni, whose artwork is a highlight at the opening of each chapter. His words add to the truths noted above:

“Probably no topic is avoided more than death. It looms as the final enemy. But on the cross Christ defeated death and Satan. And because of His victory, death for the Christian becomes merely a doorway into eternal life.

If we could see through God’s eyes, we would see wonderful things He has in store for us in Heaven – mansions, streets of gold, the Tree of Life, the presence of Jesus!

And Jesus is preparing a place just for you (as well as for your friends, if you invite them). A perfect place, tailor-made, more beautiful than anything you could imagine.”

From Ron DiCianni in Tell Me the Secrets

God speaks life! Into humankind, He breathed life!

“God is the center from which all life develops.”

From Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson

Life

As signs of autumn begin here in the northern hemisphere, we are reminded of the passing of time in that unique way a season change brings us. Nights are cooler and the days are devoid of the humidity that drenched us in recent weeks. Sunshine still warms us and only here or there has a leaf revealed its stunning fall hue to remind us of the “big show” soon to follow where crimson, scarlet, orange, and yellow will be abundant.

It can be hard to believe that autumn has arrived. When the pandemic arrived in force earlier this year, we entered a season of waiting for it to pass or end. Spring came and went without the usual highlights of things we typically enjoyed so we waited for summer. But as the last days of summer began to ebb away with some improvement for a few of us, we were aware that much of a classic summer was absent. Many items of clothing stayed tucked in our closets or drawers because most of our time was still spent at home.

We know that we need to deal with waiting often and none of us likely would say we enjoy it. The pandemic has given us a new awareness of waiting.

This week as I was reading in The Sacred Echo by Margaret Feinberg, I paused as I read these words of hers:

“…waiting is part of our stories – all of our stories. Adam and Eve waited, fresh fruit staining their faces, for God to discover what they had done. Noah waited for the first few delicate raindrops to pitter-patter on his odd-shaped boat. Abram waited for a promised son, Jacob waited for a promised wife, and the Israelites waited for a promised new life.”

Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo

How accurate she is in this statement. Even though we have read or know these stories of waiting, it can be easy to forget in the midst of our own times of waiting.

It can seem as if we are at a standstill when we are waiting. You know what I mean – that sense you have when you are sitting at a stop light going nowhere while you wait for the light to change so you can move. And yet time is moving us forward moment by moment into the future even if we are not aware of it, even while we are waiting.

No matter what our waiting season, life seeps in and moves along. The story we entered at birth was happening when we arrived and continues when we wait and when we exit this earthly life.

Margaret Feinberg reminds her readers in The Sacred Echo of what she describes as “two types of waiting.” There is the “personal wait” such as those noted above, but there is another wait that she calls “The Great Wait.” Look at her grand description of this:

“The first is The Great Wait – that moment when the trumpet will sound and the Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey will return on a white horse. Like townspeople in an ancient city, we wait for the return of our King who will bring with him redemption, restoration, and reward. We will celebrate wildly at the wedding of the ages – that great feast in the banquet hall of heaven that God has been preparing since the beginning of time.”

Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo

What it can be harder to remember is that God is waiting too and waiting with us. Can we possibly fathom how eager He is to have us all together around that table?

If our gaze remains focused on what surrounds us, holding fast to what we see, we will miss the glorious unseen that is more real than what we can touch, hear, taste, and see now.

So often we measure our life in milestones. These are significant markers along the way that represent accomplishments of some kind, but as we grow in wisdom and years, we come to recognize what we most often hold dear are the moments etched in our memories on days not appearing in special frames or other memorabilia.

How important it is in the midst of waiting – whether for a “personal wait” or “The Great Wait” – not to miss the moments in the middle.

One of our grandsons commented this week that during 2020 it seems like death has been chasing us. His observation came from not only the stories of the pandemic but also of the deaths of several people in his life from non- pandemic causes. For these ones, the “personal waiting” is over. Their perspective is quite different from our own. They enter eternity and all the mysteries it holds and yet they still wait “The Great Wait” and that glorious trumpet sound and wedding feast to come.

Maybe one thing is especially central for each of us in whatever waiting season we experience – what will we do in the waiting? What will we do with the moments that have been gifted to us?

Eugene Peterson offers one possibility for us to consider:

Called to Stand

Have you noticed how easy it is to be caught up in the stress of always striving, seeking to accomplish something?

It represents struggle or fighting for something. And there is no question there are more than one or two principles, values, and causes that are worth fighting for or on behalf of, but in our Christian experience have we balanced out when we are to cease from that?

Everywhere I look struggles are in abundance. So much in our lives and world is being shaken. We can easily be thrown off balance and our natural instincts kick in and we either flee or fight.

The key we must not lose goes to the foundation of our Christian walk and what informs the decisions we make as we live in the world while seeking to be not of the world as God’s sons and daughters.

I often hear that we need to stand in the midst of all that swirls around us. We are reminded our foundation is not to be on sand, but on the Rock which is Christ, the Lord.

It reminds me of one of those books I read long ago, the little gem by Watchman Nee entitled Sit, Walk, Stand, that focuses on truths from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

In less than 65 pages, he lays down the foundational principles Paul lays out as succinctly as anything I have read. If you have read it, you know what I mean. If you have never read it, put it on your book list.

Our difficulty of standing in the midst of challenge and trial is perhaps because we have not first learned to sit as Watchman Nee makes clear. Standing suggests we are in conflict or warfare and we cannot consider warfare unless we have first learned to truly rest in Christ, in who He is, and what He has done for us and already accomplished on the cross and through resurrection.

When we can sit and rest in that truth, we have greater clarity on the reality of the victory that was already accomplished and yet will be accomplished for the rest of all time.

That gives us the beginning of clarity on what it means to cease striving. If we get caught up in constant striving, I am not so sure the enemy is not gleeful when he senses we are not certain that Christ’s sacrifice has counted for much of anything.

Have we also lost sight of the Holy Spirit within us to lead, guide, comfort, and empower us?

I am not suggesting there are not attacks of the enemy from a broad range of options available to him, but rather if we rightly discern what is an assault from him and what is a consequence of some poor choice or failure in our own lives. Our discernment is key

Nee makes clear that if we have a solid understanding of our position with the Lord that we will be able to learn how to walk with Him before the world. In Ephesians Paul makes clear we are to put on the whole armor of God so we can stand against the wiles of the devil. Paul doesn’t suggest at that point that we are to march into battle, but rather to stand. Am I, are you, remembering why Paul exhorts believers to do that? (It is key to the foundation that leads to cessation of striving.)

Watchman Nee puts it this way:

“The word ‘stand’ implies that the ground disputed by the enemy is really His, and therefore ours. We need not struggle to gain a foothold on it.”

From Sit, Walk, Stand

The weapons Paul writes about in Ephesians 6 are by and large defensive except for the sword that can be used both defensively and offensively. That gives a metaphor for the truth that we have the ground because of Him.

We are not, I am not, trying to get the ground if He dwells within us or me. Jesus took the war to the enemy at the cross and defeated him there. That is what allows us to know and be assured that we can stand. Additionally, it tells us that the Lord is counting on us to stand with the help of the Holy Spirit and not be shaken as the world around us starts to come apart.

Consider Paul’s words:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Ephesians 6:10-12 (ESV)

Is what the Lord has called us to do easy? Absolutely not!! But He has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit and we are to depend on Him. And that is as it should be.

Our Stories – More Than We Think

It can be easy to think we know our stories – at least for the most part. We can start through a timeline from the time we were born to the present and list various key things to share depending on whom we wish to tell. And over the years we learn more about ourselves, things that don’t go on a timeline and gain from lived experience and what we discover along the way.

Part of that discovery is growing to makes choices about what will define us despite all the other people and forces that want to shape us. It means discovering who we were meant to be. Even though we thought we knew at big event markers like graduations, jobs or professions, weddings, etc., the quest is truly to become who we were meant to be.

Patti Callahan Henry describes it this way in one of her novels:

“You see there are moments in life when the smallest action leads to the biggest changes. We don’t know – none of us – when those moments are happening. We understand only when we look to the past, and sometimes not even then.”

From The Perfect Love Song

It’s only later, looking in the review mirror, that we can get glimpses of the unseen moments, things, places, and people who have influenced those actions.

When we are very young, we believe we are the ones making the choices independently and that leads to the temptation to take the credit or the blame without seeing the complex interplay of so many pieces of the puzzle that is us.

One of the challenges in so many of our relationships is that we often only know that person in the now or recent years. We miss all the things that have shaped this person and the deeper understanding of who they are as well as why they are who they are. What a treasure to have even a few relationships where we can know such things. How much we could gain if we knew the before.

As I was reading and considering this, I was fascinated by what Eugene Peterson wrote about this:

Apart from the before, the now has little meaning. The now is only a thin slice of who I am, isolated from the rich deposits of before, it cannot be understood.”

From Run with the Horses

How profound a truth Peterson writes in this quote! Even when we are older and have perhaps been married for a long time as my husband and I have, it would seem we know everything and yet we discover little slivers of things even now.

Just a bit later, Peterson fleshes out that statement:

The before is the root system of the visible now. Our lives cannot be read as a newspaper reports on current events; they are unabridged novels with character and plot development, each paragraph essential for mature appreciation.”

From Run with the Horses

But the priceless truth is there is One who knew me before. We see that clearly in Psalm 139 when the psalmist writes these words:

For you formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them all together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it! How thoroughly you know me, Lord!

Psalm 139: 13-14 (TPT)

Do you see? God knows me – God knows you – in the before. He knows each of us before the timeline we can recite. He knows things we cannot even begin to fathom because He created us for a part, a special part He is inviting us to play. When we are born, we arrive in the midst of a story that is already going on. It is not only the story of our birth and family of origin, but God’s story.

Yes, we have choices, but He has created each one of us and when we enter the story and the role we play is special indeed.

Once again Eugene Peterson expands our perception as he writes:

“Before it ever crossed our minds that God might be important, God singled us out as important. Before we were formed in the womb, God knew us. We are known before we know.”

From Run with the Horses

And then this…

“The story into which life fits is already well on its way when we walk into the room. It is an exciting, brilliant, multi voiced conversation.”

From Run with the Horses

If we can remember this, it can begin to give us a glimpse of God’s perspective, even though we can catch only a glimpse as the created ones as compared to the One who has created the whole story that unfolds moment by moment into eternity.

What Signs Do You Follow?

Photo by Mark Neal on Pexels

Signs. Every day we are bombarded by signs. They point us to something, someplace else. They give us information. They seek to persuade and influence us to desire things – food, cars, vacation spots, insurance companies, coffee shops, and more.

Once upon a time signs would have primarily told us street names, when to stop or watch for curves, or how many miles to the next nearest cities, but then it wasn’t long before advertisers discovered billboards could be used along major highways to draw us toward whatever they wanted to sell us.

Our family will never forget our first trip west on one of the northern routes. We began to see signs meant to intrigue on the long trek across the Dakotas. All of them were pointing to some little drug store in a place called Wall, South Dakota. One sign we saw often asked the question, “Where in the heck is Wall Drug?” Others would tell us how far it was to Wall Drug or spoke about ice water and ice cream.

We hadn’t planned on a stop there, but as the signs made it clear we were getting closer our interest was thoroughly aroused. The signs had succeeded in enticing us to locate this little dot on the map and guess what? From that trip onward, every time we headed west, and we were anywhere near South Dakota, we made a point of stopping there because this is definitely not your typical drug store and there is a great history connected to all the signs and culture around Wall. If you have trekked in that area of the United States, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, you have another adventure ahead to explore.

Beyond all these signs along the road we look for signs that don’t come on street corners or billboards. We look for signs of spring, summer, fall, and winter. We see evidences in nature that every farmer recognizes that guides him or her when it is time to plant and when harvest needs to be finished.

Our calendars serve as signs as well and we dare not miss the signs that now show up on every media device we own, but we call them commercials.

There are also placards everywhere promoting one cause or another and political signs that promote candidates and divide neighbors.

Make no mistake about it – signs are meant to influence us in one way or another. They show up in us when silver streaks our hair and wrinkles are no longer smile lines, announcing to the world that we are getting older whether we feel or admit that or not.

But from the beginning of recorded time we see there were other signs meant to point to bigger happenings, things we shouldn’t miss. You have read about them – a flood, a rainbow, a burning bush, a sea parted, and a singular star that a group of magi followed to locate the birth of a future king.

Photo by Egor Kamelev from Pexels



On that last one, that special king’s birth had been prophesied about for hundreds of years, but when the time came no one was quite prepared because it didn’t appear he was a king even though wise men from hundreds of miles away brought grand gifts and believed the prophecy.

Sometimes seeing is not always believing and sometimes we don’t see the most important signs meant to bring hope in the midst of doubt, light in the midst of darkness.

2020 has been a troubling time for much of the world. It has been easy to be caught up in the tragic challenges caused by the pandemic affecting people in every corner of the world. What we once knew as “normal” seems to have disappeared. Lawlessness in diverse places has added to uncertainty for many. But it hasn’t stopped there. Every manner of disaster has been happening at the same time – earthquakes, floods of epic proportions, hurricanes and typhoons, fires and droughts.

Have we forgotten to look a bit beyond these things and consider how many news stories don’t appear on the evening news, or media news feeds, or all the places we get our news? Or just maybe we have stopped looking at the news because none of it seems good and hope is hard to come by.

Could it be the very things upending our lives are signs of another prophesied event? Have we considered what the prophets of old told us and Jesus pointed to during the years He walked the earth?

Our hope will invariably be disappointed if we put it in the wrong place. It will never quite match up if we put it in our idea of an ideal world or candidate or movement. Our hope, our very best hope, is in the One who created us, the earth we stand on, the very air we breathe. He has not forgotten. What has our heart looked to for hope?

Consider the words Eugene Peterson uses to translate a portion of Romans 5 in The Message:

“There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. “

Photo by Rob Blair