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

A Name – A Priceless Reminder

My name is one given by my parents and as I recall, it is one my mother saw in something she was reading and liked a great deal. I don’t know if she knew anything about its meaning or source when it was chosen for me, but I do know my paternal grandmother did not approve of the choice. She refused to call me anything but “baby” until she died a few months after my birth.

My name seemed to be unique at the time I was growing up and going through school. No other girl in my classes had my first name and I confess that I sometimes wished I had one of the popular names at that time.

Later on, when I was curious, I looked up the meaning and found this:

“The name Pamela means All Honey, Sweetness, and is of English origin. The name was invented by Sir Philip Sidney for a poem entitled “Arcadia” in the 1580’s.”

I rarely use the name, Pamela, as it seems so formal to me. I can easily see myself sitting in a garden at a formal tea party somewhere when I hear or read it. As a result, most people call me Pam instead unless there is a very formal reason why my given name is appropriate. (I used it when I repeated my wedding vows.)

I am not sure we always think a lot about a name, any name, as much as once was the case. Most of us think of it most often when a new baby is born and named or perhaps how we feel about the name we were given at birth.

But I believe names are important. We see how often they were noted as significant and rich with meaning when we read Scripture.

Sometimes names appear to be intentionally chosen for their meaning (either etymology or whom we have known by that name) and other times it seems parents choose a name randomly. We all know that certain names are popular at different times and then fade from use after a few years. Other names stand the test of time and we discover those are some of the names we see in Scripture and used throughout the generations since then.

Naming is important and becomes something we learn to do at the outset as our parents tell us the names of people, places, and things. The significance of our first breaths on earth are marked by being named. That should remind us of more than what the name means or how we feel about it, however.

Look at how Eugene Peterson widens our lens on the importance of names:

At our birth, we are named, not numbered. The name is that part of speech by which we are recognized as a person. We are not classified as a species of animal. We are not labeled as a compound of chemicals. We are not assessed for our economic potential and given a cash value. We are named. What we are named is not as significant as that we are named.”

Maybe some knowing within us about that is why we tend to cringe at labels and sometimes nicknames. Labels are less personal, more abstract, and lump us with others who may be quite unlike us in more ways than not. Labels also confine us, box us in, and set us up for stereotypes and biases that go along with those labels. And that creates dissension and division, implying the label is all of who we are and anything that we are that doesn’t fit must be eliminated.

Such thinking loses so much of the meaning that a name, my name or yours, says. You are a certain person and not anyone else even though you may have characteristics that are similar to others in your family or any other number of categories.

I fit into many categories that I can list – wife, mother, daughter, grandmother, friend, teacher, homemaker, counselor, writer, author, and more. Those labels tell you information, but they don’t really tell you who I am. None of them say the uniqueness of who I am in each of these categories or labels.

Names not only address what we are, the irreplaceably human, they also anticipate what we become. Names call us to become who we will be. A lifetime of growth and development is announced by a name. Names mean something. A personal name designates what is irreducibly personal; it calls us to become what we are not yet.”

Eugene Peterson

Scripture speaks in many places about who we are to be and how the Lord refers to us. One example that fits with what I have written above are these words of John in The Message:

But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him – and in seeing him, become like him.” 1 John 3:2

We are named and that starts the process of becoming that continues as we discover over time, a lifetime, who we are and what we are called to be in the Lord’s design and purpose. We are ever changing and not yet complete (except in Christ).

The Lord calls us his children, but we are not just a child or a combination of genetic material from our parents. Each of us will become who we are “with who God is and what he does” (Eugene Peterson).

In another hour, another day, we will have changed. We are in the process of either becoming more or less.” Eugene Peterson

I am fascinated by the passage in Revelation 2:17 (MSG) in the words to the Church in Pergamum which reads:

Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’ll give the sacred manna to every conqueror; I’ll also give a clear, smooth stone inscribed with your new name, your secret new name.”

Can you imagine what it will be like to hear the Lord call you by your secret new name?

How do we discover the meaning of a name, of who we are?

It can only happen to the fullest extent our Creator has in mind in relationship with Him.

Photo by Abby Kihano from Pexels

He Said It Again

“I love you,” he said. And the first time he said it, I was so surprised. I had never seen myself as very lovable to anyone, so it was hard for me to believe that he told me this as we said goodnight at the dorm on the college campus where we met.

This man of such character and fewer words than many, said those same words to me this morning when he woke me up – “I love you.” I heard them before we went to sleep, and I could not count the number of times he has said them in more than 55 years of marriage and 57 years of knowing each other.

But he didn’t stop with the words. That first fall on campus he celebrated my nineteenth birthday by taking me to a play and sending a dozen red roses to me at my dorm. His acts of kindness and service would make an extremely long list, but he never stops saying the words that impacted me more than he could have guessed that first time.

Despite growing up in a Christian home and being in church throughout my years of growing up there, those words and their meaning somehow didn’t sink in or perhaps were not said very often to me (the one whose love languages are words of affirmation and quality time). There were evidences of my parents care for me, but perhaps what didn’t allow them to stick was that my Christian experience seemed more focused on information, behavior, performance, and obedience than a love relationship with the Lord.

You see, I don’t think hearing those words from anyone creates quite as much certainty as when we hear the Lord speak them to our heart and discover He wants a relationship with us.

Too many believers somehow miss that. It shows up in their prayer time when the words can sound like they are speaking to a distant being rather than a tender Father who longs to hear our hearts and share his with us as well.

Clearly God’s Word speaks of his love from Genesis to Revelation, but even then, we can miss it on a personal relational level. That is even truer if we don’t see the many other ways He speaks.

Throughout Scripture God speaks through kings and queens, princes and prophets, poets and pilgrims. He speaks through weather patterns, barnyard animals, and even the stars in the sky. God is not only creative, but he is persistent in getting our attention and communicating with us.” Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo

All of that is so true and the list can be even longer than Margaret lists in the quote, but why can those words “I love you” seem to be missed by so many. If they are not missed, too often they slip out of our attention as we get caught up “in the affairs of life” and all of the doing.

Perhaps those words are so powerful that the enemy of our souls would use anything in his arsenal to muffle them, distort them, or block them from our awareness. I think he knows that IF we really hear them and BELIEVE them, he will have a much harder time trying to rob the Lord of us.

“Why use sixty-six books and thousands of years of history to say three simple words? Because “I love you,” is not just a piece of information or one-time revelation but an invitation to transformation.” Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo

It’s true that He loved us so much that He chose to come to earth and die for us on a brutal cross to demonstrate those words missed for so many years before through all the laws and sacrifices. He did it not only to save us, but because He wanted an unbroken relationship with us that was lost in Eden through the power of sin.

Our studies of the Bible are excellent and needed to learn more about Him, but too often we see these only as sources of information.

Information is good, but relationship is transformative.

All these ways to point to Him are not meant to be bytes of information to add to a hard drive, but an invitation to experience God’s love on a personal, relational level each moment of each day. He doesn’t want us to just know about, read about his love. He wants us to experience it even as my dear husband reminds me in numerous ways each day of our life together.

I experience God saying “I love you” when I sense it in a whisper as I sit after time in the Scripture or prayer. I experience it when He gently convicts me of an attitude or choice that does not reflect Him. Love includes correction because He wants the best for us.

When we read Scripture, we are reading stories, the grandest of stories, but our story is unfolding now in real time and experience. He wants us to experience/know intimate relationship and love that is no less personal than when my husband says those words – “I love you!”

Nothing is more powerful than God’s love for us. Little wonder that too often humankind is deceived and miss or doubt it.

No matter where you are or what is happening in your life today, the Lord wants you to hear those words, “I love you.”