Who Are You Following?

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As children one of the games we learned to play may have been “Follow the Leader.” There was even a song that some sang about following the leader and it was one of those rare games where you didn’t need to have a special skill to take your turn being the one leading. (I was one of those.) One of the other bonuses was that it didn’t result in as much comparing ourselves with one another as so many others did. You could be silly, klutzy, overly serious, or the best athlete and everyone could just enjoy trying to follow whoever was leading.

Then it wasn’t long before categorizing started. There tended to be two groups – leaders and followers – and it seemed that leaders were the ones who were lauded the most for all the characteristics that resulted in the label. Many times, someone who was simply a “follower” could be seen as “less than” by some.

Those labels often shadowed us all through school and well into adulthood. Some would call a person “a natural born leader” and other times other descriptions would be used. I wonder which you identify with. As for me, I was seldom considered to be a leader so far as I know and usually preferred to follow someone else I thought knew more than I did. That may or may not have been true, the person may have not known more, but somehow the label influenced me and many others.

I think God might look at that differently. A quick scan of people whom God has used or is using includes many who would be considered “least likely” to be chosen to lead. No one would have suspected Rahab would be chosen to guide the spies from the children of Israel to safety. Yet she not only led, she is listed in the lineage that would result in the birth of King David and Jesus.

In all of this we can be tempted to get drawn down so many rabbit trails as believers when it comes to our view of “calling” and what that means or might look like in someone’s life. If we are not in some recognized leadership role, it can tempt us to question if we have a purpose or calling at all.

“Living in a God-speaks-greatness-into-everyone environment can lead to shadows of self-doubt when God isn’t speaking to you.”

From The Sacred Echo by Margaret Feinberg

When that happens, we forget what “calling” means and what it looked like when Jesus started “calling” people during his earthly ministry. When He “called” his disciples, do you hear a defined statement of what that “call” meant for each of them? We get some direction with Simon (a.k.a. Peter), but not the others.

The call” was simple – “Follow me.”

How releasing to know it is that forthright and direct! But the catch for us is that it isn’t clearly mapped out. He is asking us to follow Him and trust Him with what that means, looks like, and where it takes us. That is a good time to recall the words of Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

A number of years ago I read a marvelous book entitled The Divine Embrace by Ken Gire. He begins the book using a metaphor of a dance to describe our relationship with the Lord. He describes what it would be like to be in a ballroom and have the Lord come and invite us to dance, noting we would be unsure of ourselves, wishing we had dance lessons to feel as if we could accept his invitation. That is a good image of what it can feel like to be chosen by Him, called by Him.

“There are places he wants to take us on the dance floor, things he wants to show us, feelings he wants to share with us, words he wants to whisper in our ear. This is what the divine embrace is – an invitation to a more intimate relationship with Christ, one exhilarating, ennobling, uncertain step at a time.”

From The Divine Embrace by Ken Gire.

Perhaps we look at who we are following or trying to determine what our “calling” is, we need to go back to the basics and first accept his invitation: “Follow me.”

“Don’t be distracted by what others are doing. Don’t worry about the speed, productivity, or efficiency of others. Don’t be concerned with people who look like they’re running in circles. Stay the course. They have their lane and you have yours.”

From The Sacred Echo by Margaret Feinberg

The first disciples chose to follow a man from Nazareth, not someone who looked like the king they expected.

What will you do when he simply says, “Follow me“?

Your answer, my answer, will make all the difference in his call on our lives.

It’s Personal

Photo by Pam Ecrement

It can be so easy to get caught up in trying to see around the bend farther down the road. Somehow, we can have this crazy thought that if I know what is out there ahead, I can prepare for it, be ready, avoid things, or rise above things.

Sometimes the Lord gives us a glimpse of that bend. He certainly did that with the prophets in the Bible when He sometimes looked much farther into the future, but most of the time our steps happen one at a time with enough light for that step, enough grace for each moment.

Our relationship with the Lord is personal and the path He has in mind is as well, but that doesn’t mean that we are called to be an island or walk out this life in isolation. Each path is personal because He is using each of us in a specific way, place, and time for how He is building his kingdom, his church, his bride. We are being fashioned as part of the design and only He can see the “big picture” and the call that is ours.

We might be thinking “but” or “what if, ” without considering that He knows us better than we know ourselves whether we are prone to look more deeply into ourselves or prefer to take life as it comes. And because we do not know ourselves fully, we can operate in our relationships without a deeper awareness of others.

“Most people don’t want to see inside a person’s soul. They judge by what’s on the outside. It’s easier to look on the outside than to really look on the inside.”

From The Promise of Jesse Woods by Chris Fabry
Photo by Muriel Bachtel

How much we miss as a result of that small view from the outside! But the Lord isn’t like that at all. Even though He clearly sees the outside of each one of us, He (as no one else) looks into the deepest part of us, sees our soul in whatever condition it may be and calls us anyway. He looks down the path we are on and sets a new direction with clarity about the destination and the purpose beyond our limited view.

It’s clear that the Lord chooses those most of us would pass over because we are looking at the outside.

“For it is one of the most extraordinary aspects of the good news that God uses bad men to accomplish his good purposes. The great paradox of judgment is that evil becomes fuel in the furnace of salvation.”

From Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson

Some of those “bad men” (or women) are transformed in the process.

Some of those transformations are obvious like when Saul gets stopped in his tracks on the road to Damascus where he was heading to persecute new Christian believers. He is physically blinded so he can discover he has been spiritually blind all along despite his zeal and study of the Torah.

“Jesus never hesitates when it comes to getting personal with his followers.”

From The Sacred Echo by Margaret Feinberg

And that is true before we choose Him as well as after we do. Don’t forget He chooses us first. We are the ones slow on the uptake. And don’t get too much in a twist about what He sees in us. He knows what He is getting from the very beginning.

Photo by Pam Ecrement

It is not unusual for us to look out at someone else or pick a biblical hero and see that, but I think He would have us know that it is no different for you and me. He knew us before we were known, before we arrived on the scene we are in. He had the scene set for us.

Those famous disciples of his… Look at how each was unique and so often considered to be the least qualified. Who would have chosen the rough and rowdy Simon (a.k.a Peter)? Yet the moment his brother, Andrew, introduced him to Jesus, Jesus changed his name to Peter, long before He worked on his character. He saw what no one else saw – the rock He would use to establish the church when He ascended into heaven knowing then that Peter would understand the foundational rock was Jesus with whom he had spent three years following after he gave up fishing and became a fisher of men.

And what about Matthew, the tax collector everyone hated, who would have guessed he would be called or be shaped into the man who wrote one of the gospels?

If we look beyond some of the disciples we might hear about the most, have you ever considered what Jesus saw in Nathaniel? He brazenly asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” But when Jesus called him as a man whom He sees as not having any guile, He told Nathaniel that He saw him under the fig tree. We have no information about what Jesus saw or what was happening or when that scene took place under the fig tree. Jesus knew him before he was known, before he was called because it’s personal.

“Some of the disciples found Jesus on their faith journey; others discovered Jesus by listening to someone else’s faith journey. In every instance, Jesus was incredibly personal.”

From The Sacred Echo by Margaret Feinberg

Don’t you see it is still the same with each of us?

“Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Hebrews 13:8 (ESV)

I love that He is personal with me (and you). When we really tune in and listen to his voice, move beyond reading about Him and enter into relationship with Him, the relationship becomes like no other.

“He says things to us that might be meaningless to someone else, but for us they make all the difference. They make God real and remind us that God is near. When a spiritual truth comes alive in my heart, it transforms me.”

From The Sacred Echo by Margaret Feinberg

“God does not send us into the dangerous and exciting life of faith because we are qualified; he chooses us in order to qualify us for what he wants us to be and do…”

From Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson
Photo by Pam Ecrement from Stowe, Vermont

The Power of Choice

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What a gift we were given at Creation! It follows us to the present day in each one of our lives. Each day each of us makes dozens and dozens of choices – many without thinking about them.

We love the freedom that choice brings and can be tenacious about anyone or anything that would try to take that freedom away from us. Too often we fail to consider the responsibility for the choices we make and that is truer when the choices seem small or inconsequential to us, but that is a blind spot if we take that route.

You see, our choices add up, even when they seem small or automatic.

“Life is about making good choices, Matt. One after another. They pile up day after day. It’s only when you look back that you can see what the choices led to. What you’re able to stand on.”

From The Promises of Jesse Woods by Chris Fabry

Think for a moment about the choices you have made so far today. Even when you thought you didn’t have a choice about a responsibility or something you were urged to do, you still did choose to either submit, obey, or reject or rebel.

As I write this and consider my own day today and how I am feeling, Chris Fabry’s wise words echo into my thoughts. I woke up today without a heavy agenda for the day and felt well rested for which I am grateful, but that relates to the choice I made last night about what time I went to bed, where my thoughts were focused when I went to bed, the temperature I set for the room I slept in, and on and on. Dozens of small choices set me up for a greater likelihood of a good night’s sleep. No, it wasn’t guaranteed, but those choices last night laid down the foundation for my day today.

And it didn’t stop there. I made a choice about how quickly I got out of bed (not something I do very well if I don’t have to), what I would wear for the day, what I would choose to do first, what I would eat and drink, whether or not I would get caught up in the headlines or let my mind, heart, and spirit not be distracted by things that could mire down my attitude for the day.

It’s all these little things that add up to whether I am and will be healthier physically, emotionally, relationally, mentally, and spiritually. It will impact if I recognize the warfare for its source and how I respond to it. It will affect whether I look more like Christ to those around me or more like everyone else out there.

The older we are, the more likely we are to recognize we wish we had made different/better choices long ago. Now we are reaping the results of the choices we made back then. We wish we had grown to like and choose better dietary things so we wouldn’t struggle with weight or various health problems that are catching up to us. We wish we had not just exercised when we were playing sports or doing fun things, but also when we weren’t so that our bodies were not weakening as fast or as much. Most of those choices seem to be little things. We may recognize something isn’t a good choice at the time, but so easily brush it aside.

Even looking at these things which don’t fall into the usual “sin realm” (things we could add), we have a choice again now. God knows the measure of our times and seasons, and I love the words J.R.R. Tolkien wrote for Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” That’s the key, isn’t it? What will we each decide to do with the time that is given to us? Each day we make choices/decisions propelling us to the tomorrow we don’t yet see.

“Will I dig in, making the most of what I have been given for however long I have been given it, or will I pull back, afraid to make promises that I simply can’t keep.”

From The Sacred Echo by Margaret Feinberg

When I was working as a teacher I had a poster in my classroom that read: “We all make mistakes. That’s why God created erasers.”

Prayer is one of the keys to making better choices even though those little choices are not often specifically prayer targets. We can still submit our day to the Lord and ask Him to awaken us to the path He would choose for us and to empower us to make his best choice. He would not have us give up, give in, or choose to sit on the bench. He always wants us in the game, on the field, trusting and relying on Him, and beating back fear.

“For if we are going to live in God’s image, alive to all that is God, open to all he is doing, we must trust in his word, trust what we do not see. And if we are going to live in the world, attentive to each particularity, loving it through all the bad times without being repelled by it or afraid of it or conformed to it, we are going to have to face its immense evil, but know at the same time that it is a limited and controlled evil.”

From Run With the Horses by Eugene Peterson

To do what Eugene Peterson lays out requires us to choose that path. We may list a great many things as reasons why we cannot trust and live as he writes, but that would also point to our failure to depend on Him to do in us what only He can do and allow Him to redeem the past as He did on the cross when we chose Him as a result of Him choosing us.

And Jeremiah would remind us what makes those choices each day possible:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)
Photo by Rob Blair

Have You Tasted?

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It all started when I was having coffee with a close friend at our favorite coffee shop. She and I have one of those close relationships where we can span a broad array of topics over a leisurely two hours sipping our favorite brew. And on this morning, she began to share about a friend of hers who has a fig tree.

I was surprised to hear about a fig tree growing in the Midwest state we all live in, but she explained it is in a large pot that sits on a wheeled cart and in the warm months it is rolled outdoors and in the winter it is brought back in to keep it growing and blooming with figs.

As she was explaining all this to me, she added that there were hundreds of figs on the tree and told me how delicious they were. I responded that I had never tasted a ripe fig. They don’t show up in produce departments here and I have not been enthusiastic about dried figs. I recalled learning about that in Taste and See by Margaret Feinberg where she devoted an entire chapter to figs.

“Once plucked from the tree, a fresh fig has only an eight-to-fourteen day window to be enjoyed. Many grocery stores refuse to sell ripe figs because of their high perishability.”

From Taste and See by Margaret Feinberg

That said, my friend said I really had to try some and the next week when we planned to meet, she would bring me some. I was game for that after hearing her talk about how scrumptious they were. I was also immediately reminded of places in the Bible where figs and fig trees are mentioned and that there was significance to them.

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Many of you may have been enjoying delicious ripe figs all along, but this was going to be an adventure because you can’t really learn about how a fig tastes by reading about it.

A little reading about figs and fig trees will give you a greater appreciation for them (minus the actual taste). You see, they are unique among fruit trees. In my part of the Midwest where apple, pear, plum, and peach trees are common, we look forward to mid-to-late summer when they will begin to ripen for that year. But with fig trees it is a different story. They are multi-cropping and harvested several times during a year. In ancient Israel some fig trees were known to produce three times during the year giving them almost year-round access to these delights. Figs are not only delicious, but great nutritional sources of nutrients we need.

And consider this: statistics on how many figs can be produced on one fig tree range from 10,000 to as many as 75,000 figs per tree. That is truly being fruitful!

“Not only does the fruit taste scrumptious, but each fig contains more potassium than a banana, more fiber than a prune, and more calcium than a glass of milk.”

From Taste and See by Margaret Feinberg

That gives perspective on what we read in the Gospel of Mark:

13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.”

Mark 11:13 (NIV)

Clearly, Jesus expected to find figs and how much more so when we learn there was not just one short season of harvest for figs. The passage from Mark goes on to show us Jesus cursed that fig tree for its lack of fruit.

The Bible often tells us to be fruitful in both the Old and New Testaments. How much God points us to his desire and plan to be fruitful! But whether an apple tree or a fig tree, delicious fruit doesn’t appear without time, tending, and good conditions to produce a rich harvest. And that is true of us as well.

“Spiritual fruit is the result of being rooted in relationship with Christ. Any fruit – including love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – provides evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit.”

From Taste and See by Margaret Feinberg

With a fresh review of what I had learned about figs from Margaret Feinberg, I was even more eager for my next coffee date with my friend to finally taste a fig for myself.

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And I was not disappointed! The fruit was delicious, sweet but not too sweet, and it filled my mouth with the scrumptious juicy pulp of the fig. It was perfectly ripe, and I shared a few with my husband who also had not tasted a ripe fig before now. (He agreed they were yummy.) As we finished off the last one, our mouths were wishing there were more to taste.

One taste of a fresh fig will definitely leave you looking forward to another taste and another after that. That’s how it is when you really taste something so that you ingest all the goodness of the thing being tasted.

You long for more of it.

Many read and even enjoy God’s Word, the Bible. They know a great deal about the stories and some of the truths captured in all 66 books it contains, but it will never really produce fruit until we actually taste it, ingest Him, not just the facts and stories about Him. Only then will we truly know Him and trust Him, desire to abide in Him, and produce the fruit of his likeness.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

Psalm 34:8 (NIV)

The Lord doesn’t just want us to know about Him, He wants an ongoing relationship with us. Many in the Old and New Testaments missed that. Too many still do today. He loves us and made that clear when He sacrificed Christ on the cross so we would not need to be separated from Him.

“One of the beauties of the fig is that, once planted, the tree will continue to produce fruit for eighty to a hundred years. That’s Christ’s vision for us: that we will continue to yield the fruit of Christlikeness and find our satisfaction in him long after gray hairs sprout and crow’s feet nestle near our eyes.”

From Taste and See by Margaret Feinberg

Have you tasted Him?

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Not Just Talk

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No matter who you are or what your personality type, you and I are all bombarded by words more than ever before. They come at us from every direction and every device and whether we have a love for them or hate them, they influence us even when we don’t plan on that. Sometimes we fall prey to their persuasion while other times we shut down our minds and hearts to the cacophony of them.

I have always been a lover of words and that gets confirmed by one of my primary love languages. That may be true of some of you also, but even if it isn’t the case few would deny a longing to hear words of love, encouragement and affirmation. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all like to know that we matter in some way to someone.

One of the risks we face is that sometimes we are so hungry for the words that we get caught up in them without clarifying there is substance beyond the words themselves. That theme is front and center in The Idea of Love, a novel by Patti Callahan Henry, where the characters get caught in telling their stories as the people they would wish to be versus who they are. The enchanting story shows how each begins to enjoy the false persona and love starts to appear between two main characters that is based wholly on fictional portrayals.

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We seem to be drawn to a good love story whether it is in a movie, book, or the real life of someone we know. We also long for such a story to be one where we have the leading role (even if we don’t admit it).

The challenge in that is not that it is a bad thing, but that it rarely happens like it does in the movies or your favorite novel or love song. Maybe because those focus more on “the idea of love” than what we recognize.

This isn’t something new to this generation. We have always longed to hear what we want to hear across the broad spectrum of our lives. Perhaps that was behind part of the reason Eve fell when she listened to the words used to seduce her to break the one command she was not to do in the perfect world God placed her in.

There is no question that words have power – sometimes for good and sometimes not.

They not only impact our love relationships, but our spiritual lives we well. Paul write about this to Timothy and notes how prevalent it will be as the time for the Lord’s return draws near.

“For the time is coming when they will no longer listen and respond to the healing words of truth because they will become selfish and proud. They will seek out teachers with soothing words that line up with their desires, saying just what they want to hear.”

2 Timothy 4:3 (TPT)

So how do we deal with this and determine what is genuine, authentic, and true? With the increase of technology available today it can be easy to get lost in a world of smoke and mirrors meant to cover the intent of the one saying the words or writing them.

An old idiom many of us are familiar with points the way:

“Actions speak louder than words.”

The quoted idiom can be found as early as the 1600’s but was first used in the form we use today in the United States by Abraham Lincoln in his Cooper Union Address. And for whatever anyone may think about this country’s self-taught lawyer who became our 16th President, his life shows the evidence of what he believed by the actions he took.

As a retired clinical counselor, I would tell you that I often would tell the person seeking my help that if the words and actions of a person do not match, believe the actions because they are not easy to fake. A person may say many things, but what he or she does will represent more of their character.

It reminds me of the song “Show Me” in the Broadway show and movie, My Fair Lady, when Eliza sings these lyrics in part to Freddy:

“Words! Words! Words!

I’m so sick of words!

I get words all day through;

First from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?

Don’t talk of stars Burning above; If you’re in love,

Show me! Tell me no dreams

Filled with desire. If you’re on fire,

Show me!”

Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

Jesus came to earth. He was the Word. God spoke the Word, but He was and is more than just talk. He demonstrated each day that He was here the truth and reality of everything He said.

As we contend with the barrage of words in this season and how they are used to persuade, deceive, or cajole us Eugene Peterson offers us sound advice:

“If we forget that the newspapers are footnotes to Scripture and not the other way around, we will finally be afraid to get out of bed in the morning. Too many of us spend far too much time with the editorial page and not nearly enough time with prophetic vision. We get our interpretation of politics and economics and morals from journalists when we should be getting only information: the meaning of the world is most accurately given to us by God’s Word.”

Eugene Peterson in Run With the Horses