Resolve Versus Renewal

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Resolve is a characteristic needed for pursuing nearly any goal in any area of our lives. It relates to determination and resilience that then provides something akin to a three-legged stool from which we can lay out a path. They are similar, but not exactly the same if you tease them out a bit.

Resolve is the decision I make to set my alarm to get up in time to have my quiet time, eat a healthy breakfast, and exercise. Determination is what helps me not hit snooze and get up as I resolved to do. Resilience is what helps me recover from messing up and hitting snooze one day and not making it a habit or it’s what keeps me going with the difficulties I bump into to pursue the healthy goals I have resolved to achieve.

Throw in a healthy portion of self-discipline along the way and we have a formula that can serve us well with getting our day started, pursuing excellence in our education, and competence in our chosen profession or occupation. But each day we inevitably have things that come up that cause us to shift our priorities, some are outside of our control. And when that happens it can be far too easy for the three-legged stool to crumble.

None of it sounds easy or fun. I know that well. A decision to change anything is a complex goal that has lots of little components that can upend us even when we start out with a great deal of resolve.

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I am a pretty self-disciplined person, and it has served me well in more than a few areas of my life, but it isn’t a quality that extends across all the areas of my life. And it is in those areas that I know I need more than a little accountability with someone else involved to help me stay on track to do better than I would do on my own. I am guessing that might be true for some of you as well. Without much thought you can identify some of those areas because they tend to be persistent over time, whether that is related to our preferences or some aspect of our abilities, skills, or giftedness. Maybe it is a combination of all of them with a few other ingredients thrown in.

One of mine is the area of exercise. As I was growing up, I learned to be pretty task-oriented. Based on how I was parented on a small farm meant an abundance of tasks did not allow for a great deal of time for leisure activities. I didn’t feel very coordinated and playground games and physical education classes confirmed that to me year-by-year. But age reminds you that your body is shifting in ways that show passage of time.

Resolve to exercise was spotty at best so before I retired, I hired a personal trainer for about seven years to assure I would attend to this deficit. That taught me that my body and abilities could change, but when retirement came and that was not an option that seemed open, my resolve was spotty again. So, about a year ago the resolve got kicked up a notch with some of my husband’s health issues and we both joined a program and eventually hired a personal trainer to help us.

I know some of you LOVE to exercise via some sport (if not the traditional workout) and I applaud you. My husband had a friend when he was on active military duty who loved to run and even if the training that day was exhausting and involved a long run, this friend would often come home at the end of the day and run another five or ten miles. Amazing to us both!

All these concrete physical goals are not the only areas where the three-legged stool is needed. They are essential for our spiritual lives as well.

The idea of a resolve to have a quiet time consistently each day is not something we will disagree with, but it is one of the things that can be more easily upended than we ever imagine. Interruptions happen – not only from outside of us, but from inside our own heads. The enemy of our souls understands that because he knows we need an absolute foundation in prayer and the Bible to withstand the devices he sets up to seduce us.

“It is not enough to remember; we must hear it again. Prayer is the act in which we hear it again. It is not enough to carry memory verses around with us; we need daily encounter with the resonant voice of God. Prayer is that encounter. Situations change. Does God change? We pray. We listen. God speaks his word again – the same word! – and we are restored and renewed in our commitment.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

I have lived a full life and much of it has kept my calendar overcrowded at times. Even in retirement I have discovered that there is much to do that can fill a day pretty quickly, but one thing I have learned is if my resolve to have my quiet time in the morning slips away, the essential restoration and renewal I need does not happen.

Over time I have had days where that did not happen because I allowed the dailyness of this life to press in or an early morning appointment interfered, but experience has taught me the value of determination to fight for the time. Why? There are many reasons, but the evidence I know is that I am much more likely to accomplish a long list of “to do” if that time happens first and without that, restoring renewal doesn’t happen to sustain me with whatever life throws at me.

“Life is moving and dynamic, changing and growing. The world challenges and attacks. The word of God does not change and my call does not change, but the relationship is under constant assault and must be renewed constantly. Resolve is essential but not enough. In prayer God provides renewal. Prayer is not so much the place where we learn something new, but where God confirms anew the faith to which we are committed.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

An Old Fashioned Value

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When my father was growing up life seemed so much more straightforward and simpler. There were many things that marked that timeframe during which he was growing up in the early twentieth century. Men knew most of the other men they did business with and that included their reputation and character. There wasn’t a need many times for a lengthy legal document to outline the terms of a deal or commitment. Sometimes the deal was sealed with a handshake because you knew the person was trustworthy.

When handshakes are thought to have started back in the fifth century in Greece, they represented a symbol of peace because it demonstrated the other person was not carrying a weapon.

The pandemic over the past year has eliminated handshaking broadly for everyone as too risky a behavior in passing along the virus to someone else, but the value of the handshake as a mark of character and trustworthiness was already diminishing. It was “common” for anyone and everyone to do and it seems no one thought much about its meaning or if it even had a meaning beyond a simple gesture.

I don’t think fist bumps and other popular ways of greeting one another in recent years offers much true symbolism. I am an old-fashioned girl who is proud of the integrity of my father who I still hear spoken of in our community as one who was such a man of high moral character even 25 years after his death.

A man’s (or woman’s) word was his (or her) honor or bond back then. Breaking it (with or without a handshake) was noted as a thing of disgrace. Perhaps that was because there was an inherent understanding of a principle that we stopped heeding long ago: if actions or deeds do not match the words, trust the actions rather than the words.

Too often words are used to try to convey something that will make us look good or gain some privilege or favor from someone else. From childhood onward we learn how we can use words for our advantage, but we don’t always learn the consequences of false promises or using words to gain something without ever intending to keep the promises we have vowed. It’s part of the habit of wearing an invisible mask to keep the truth of who we are hidden. Sadly, long before masks were mandated it became common to keep much about what we exposed about ourselves concealed. Little wonder that the depth of relationships also has eroded as well.

“The first requirement in a personal relationship is to be ourselves. Off with the masks. Away with the pretense.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

Little wonder that we have lost whatever moral compass we once had. The modern era we live in finds us doing business and making deals with people and businesses owned and run by men and women we have never met. Even if we were in a room and could do a handshake, we wouldn’t have the same amount of information to know if it were a trustworthy enterprise.

Integrity between persons, businesses of all kinds, institutions, and governments are often rare. The name of the game is to “get ahead” and “look good” or “climb the ladder” and do whatever it takes to accomplish it.

“Integrity means continuity. The word itself comes from the Latin word integer, meaning ‘entire,’ or ‘whole.’ It means coherence, unity, soundness. With integrity, things are not ambiguous. There is clarity, morally or otherwise. To have integrity means to have an absence of duplicity. In ethics, it means to have consistency of character or uncorrupted virtue. A man of integrity has his words and deeds integrated, with no sunlight in between the two.”

Charles Causey in Words and Deeds: Becoming a Man of Courageous Integrity

This is a very powerful description from Charles Causey from his book that I reviewed in 2018. It is clear this U.S. military chaplain understands well the moral center that should guide our lives.

Why have our priorities changed, our values shifted?

It’s likely that we made one little compromise so long ago that we cannot even recall. Over time, compromise became a habit we barely noticed and with it the trustworthiness of our words began to erode. Meanwhile we failed to notice that others noticed that our words were often meaningless, self-serving, and not indicative of character or integrity at all. After all, wasn’t everyone doing it? We listened to ads and then discovered they were not representing the truth. We listened to people in a wide array of positions and trusted them only to discover they had not spoken the whole truth to us.

“The setting of priorities is not a once-and-for-all act. It has to be redone frequently. Balances shift. Circumstances change. Moods swing. Is it still God, in fact, with whom I have first of all to do, or is it not? Prayer is the place where priorities are reestablished.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

Jesus makes clear the value of words and deed matching in a parable in Matthew:

28 “Tell me what you think of this story: A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, ‘Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.’ 29 “The son answered, ‘I don’t want to.’ Later on he thought better of it and went.30 “The father gave the same command to the second son. He answered, ‘Sure, glad to.’ But he never went. 31-32 “Which of the two sons did what the father asked?”

Matthew 21:28-32 (MSG)

The famous molder of children’s character, Mary Poppins, spoke of the peril of making pie crust promises. You may recall that she told the children they were ones that were easily made, but easily broken as well.

Maturing should mean no longer making pie crust promises and remembering the value of our words. They can slip out easily but can leave a trail of chaos in their wake. It’s long past time to consider the values and moral compass guided by words and actions matching, no matter who is saying them or how much we want to believe them.

Curious – Yes or No?

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Curiosity, a desire to know or learn, seems to come as a part of our DNA from the outset. If you watch an infant moving through development into toddlerhood, you observe it over and over again. It seems to be what propels the baby to learn to do everything that we take for granted as adults. And for the whole of our lives, it can play a significant role in what paths we take and how far we travel along them.

But along the way this innate part of us can be encouraged or stifled. Some of us are encouraged to explore within the context of our family and early education, but some of us are overly protected so that exploring and learning new things become things we believe are risky, so it never develops fully. If the latter is true, learning required in school can be something we do not like to do because it requires we step outside of what we know.

I am not sure I was encouraged to be curious as I was growing up since generally my parents tended toward being overly protective. Nonetheless, I seemed to be curious about all sorts of things, somehow believing there were exciting things out there to discover and know.

A standing joke in our adult children’s homes is to retell some random tidbit of information I shared on a recent visit that seems not to fit anywhere in the course of a conversation that I had read or heard and found fascinating. One common one has to do with the water level of the Dead Sea, and I cannot even tell you now how long ago that incidental piece of information piqued my interest.

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Some of us are curious about how things work, what makes things tick, or how to solve a puzzle. That can propel us into our hobbies or our career path as researchers, engineers, physicians, mechanics, and more. These types of persons are the ones we enjoy having in our home or circle of relationships because when something doesn’t work right or directions are not included, he or she can always sort it out for us. My husband is a lot like that.

Others are curious about less tangible things such as how interactions and relationships function and impact us or others. We find people – who they are, how they think, what drives them – intriguing. As a result, we often enjoy history and the people who made it as well as how we function together as humankind.

Curiosity can nudge us to take risks that are harmful when wisdom, discernment, and maturity are not there. When we are young, we touch hot stoves, jump off places that are unsafe, play with matches, and more. A bit later we may be curious about the magazines that someone hides under the bed, what an alcoholic drink tastes like, how to smoke, or what drugs make you feel like or if they are really harmful.

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Curiosity can also nudge us into habits like being nosy about others so we can feel better about ourselves by having some morsel of information that might reveal our pettiness as we relate with others. Our intrigue with people may take us off on paths pursuing poor models because they are popular, successful, or rich. We can get caught up in talking about people instead of talking “to” people.

Is it possible this curiosity and a desire to “know” come from that first bite of the tree in the Garden of Eden? Is it also true that whether the course it takes in our lives is for good or evil depends on the choices we make with what is presented to us from the very beginning of our lives?

If it permeates us in so many areas, I wonder how often we spend a lot of time talking about God without ever talking “to” Him and coming to truly “know” Him instead of “know about” Him. Could that be one of the sources of our weakening faith, our fearful anxiousness, and despair?

“Prayer is the act in which we approach God as a living person, a thou to whom we speak, not an it that we talk about. Prayer is the attention that we give to the one who attends to us. It is the decision to approach God as the personal center, as our Lord and Savior, our entire lives gathered up and expressed in the approach. Prayer is personal language raised to the highest degree.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

Our curiosity about the chaos and darkening world can tempt us to take rabbit trails seeking an answer “now” for what is going on and what to expect. Sadly, too many rabbit trails lead us away from God rather than toward Him. The age of “instant information” we fell in love with turns out not to be so lovely after all when we are bombarded with things that leave us uncertain and unsettled about so many areas of our lives.

What we need is more conversation “to” God to hone our focus and be with us in the midst of the storm.

“Our compulsive timetables collide with God’s leisurely providence. We tell God not only what to do but when to do it. We take him seriously – why else would we be praying? – but we take ourselves more seriously, telling him exactly what he must do for us and when.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

Most of us likely feel that pinch just a bit, but I am also reminded of something a precious woman whose journey toward death I shared wrote in her journal that she left for me to have following her death.

“Storms and boats! Ever been in a storm? The waves are crashing, lightning flashing; the boat is rocking! Feel alone? Well, we aren’t! Jesus has promised to be in the boat with us! He’s promised to bring calm to the waves. At times though, I sure feel alone! But God’s promised – He’d never leave us; never forsake us! (Heb. 13:5) Jesus has promised to calm our storms! (Mt. 8:26)

We think He’s not even in out boat – yet He’s there…

We try to ‘calm’ our boat.

Have you ever stood up in a boat? Just our standing up makes us rock the boat all the more! Yet, if we wait and trust in Jesus – He is sure to calm our storm, steady our boat and keep us from drowning!”

Linda Koon (12/27/49-2/11/99)

Insidious Inconsistency

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Here we are halfway into a first month of a new year and for too many of us, the goals or “resolutions” we set out at the very outset are already not quite on track. Whether it is to change an exercise or diet plan, alter attitudes, or settle into a consistent daily spiritual life, the edges of those are being nibbled at by a host of things. We are hopefully stalwart in what we desire to pursue and are even now recommitting to the goals, but as we have discovered so many other times before – it is not easy.

To accomplish what we determine as goals requires consistency and we know that, but the polar opposite inconsistency dogs our steps. The way it pursues us is insidious. That word is defined as “proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects” and it is a perfect description of what happens when we draw a line in the sand to set a new goal to lead us into healthier habits of any kind, to mature and develop into a “better.”

Inconsistency produces dissonance in our lives and though it starts within us, it soon becomes evident to those who are observing us. Even though consistency sounds boring and stuffy, we crave what it offers whether we admit it or not. What it offers is good and the enemy of inconsistency has a toolbox full of devices to sabotage that. Some of the tools are so subtle that we miss them at the outset, but they work.

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We know we need to exercise to lose weight, gain strength and flexibility, age better, and look better. We have books, videos, gyms, and groups aplenty to guide that goal, but most of us don’t naturally enjoy it. We set the goal again and again, but we miss the alarm to get up to make it happen. We recommit and don’t take into account we need to get into bed earlier the night before in order to not miss the alarm or hit snooze, so we miss it again.

The same pesky tool works with healthier eating, working on more positive attitudes, and a long list of things including that consistent time each morning to spend time connecting with our Creator to set in motion the best possible outcome for whatever the day holds for us.

Discouragement jumps in next and depending on how many other puzzle pieces come into play, we may give up on recommitting. Consistency is hard and one of the things that has upended us during the past year and continuing into the first weeks of this new one has been the lack of the consistent rhythm that our lives seemed to have prior to the pandemic. Nearly every part of our lives (if not all) changed and it left us unsettled at best and undone completely at worst.

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We have been living this way for enough time that we ought to be doing a “better” by now, but the uncertainty and inconsistency have left us weary and brought challenges in one way or another that haven’t gone away. It seems as if the world has gone mad and perhaps it has in so many ways. In reading Anne Lamott’s book, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, she writes this: “But I will remind you now that inconsistency is how experimenters regularly drive lab rats over the edge.” Could it be true?

Most of us have read about experiments where lab rats are greatly impacted when something changes and what has been the norm for them is switched. Could it be that is what has happened to us as well over the past year? Though we may love spontaneity, when our usual rhythms of our days and weeks, our relationships and holidays, our worship experiences and government policies become unpredictable, what happens inside of us?

We likely have tried various ways to handle it, read more than a few tips, but with inconsistency still the norm we are not content to hear about “a new normal” and may have lost hope along the way because the sources we believed would have fixed this by now – researchers, medicines, political leaders, governments, etc. – have not.

“it may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.”

Wendell Berry

Perhaps we have forgotten (if we ever knew) that there is only one sure hope and the path to it is not an easy one.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”

Romans 5:3-4 (NLT)

God never promised we would not face incredibly hard times where every aspect of our lives felt like it was swaying beneath our feet. Every generation before us (no matter where we live) have faced such times. How short-sighted of us to believe it would not happen to us! How foolish of us not to learn from history and learn how those who went before us walked through such times and how it shaped them.

“Life is ambiguous. There are loose ends. It takes maturity to live with ambiguity and the chaos, the absurdity and untidiness. If we refuse to live with it, we exclude something, and what we exclude may very well be the essential and dear – the hazards of faith, the mysteries of God.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
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Popularity Can Be Enticing

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Our relationship with popularity started early for most all of us. It’s hard to say where it began, but perhaps it started with whatever new toy was “the rage” of the day. Everyone had one and we were sure we wanted one as well. Depending on your current age, you likely have a few items come to mind right away. Perhaps it was a hula hoop when they were first popular or a slinky that bounded down our stairs one at a time. There were those Matchbox cars that were collected and Barbie dolls to get and games that were popular certain years.

By the time we were off to school we started looking at what clothing was popular and pleading with our parents that we “just had to have” whatever that item was despite the cost and whether or not we already had other items that took care of that need. We wanted to be like everyone else. Often shoes were the ever-changing landscape of our quest. Saddle shoes (also known by some as oxfords) were the absolute “in” and just about the time you managed to get a pair, they were “out” and maybe penny loafers were what everyone else was wearing.

Some of you are too young to recall some of those quests. For you it as more about the kind of gym shoes you had to wear and how you could possibly persuade your parents to agree to pay the price the store was asking for them.

Growing up on a small Midwest farm meant I was usually at least a year behind the current trend (if I ever got the trend at all). My parents insisted that saddle shoes were not practical with those white toes to get scuffed and tramped on, so they never became a part of my life until the trend had gone on to something else.

Unfortunately, we became convinced that having certain items that were “in” meant we would be part of the “in” group as well because it was pretty clear to us at an early age that peers tended to either be in the “in group” or “outsider” group. And it didn’t take very long for us to be convinced that once we were labeled in one group or the other that it was unlikely, we could ever shake that category.

The right bike was also a big deal for many as a kid and before long we began to equate having something popular with being someone who was popular. To be popular meant we wouldn’t feel isolated on the playground and we wouldn’t be the last one chosen when our class divided up on teams.

When we “grew up” and became adults we were supposed to have put aside those wonky ideas about popularity, but what was sadly true was that we often still were seduced into considering the worth of something (or someone) based on popularity. It made us open to choosing what was popular over what was true or right.

“What is wrong is to evaluate the worth of words and deeds by their popularity. What is scandalous is to approve only what is applauded. What is disastrous is to assume that only the celebrated is genuine.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

To fall prey to the things Peterson notes is to look at the outward appearance and what is popular versus the inward character of the person that is what really matters and makes the difference over a lifetime. We easily get caught up in the short view versus the long game. History will show the worth of the words, the deeds – the person. Perhaps that is what tempts us to avoid studying history or to prefer to cherry-pick what we decide is true if we do look at it.

It’s likely that the Old Testament prophets were some of the least popular people of the day. They were called by God to speak the truth when it wasn’t popular, when it hurt. One of those I have spent a good bit of time looking at in recent months was Jeremiah (thanks in part to Eugene Peterson’s book looking at his life and character).

“Jeremiah’s task was to challenge the lies and speak the truth. Why do we so easily swallow the lies? Why do we find it so difficult to accept the truth? Because we are looking for bargains. We want shortcuts. There are no easy ways. There is only one way. If we are going to be complete human beings, we are going to have to do it with God. We will have to be rescued from these despotic egos that reduce us to something less than human. We will need to expose the life of self-centeredness and proclaim the truth of God-centeredness.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

We live in a time where more information is thrust at us in a nanosecond than was thrust in a week during certain eras, but that does not mean we know more. It just means we have more to sort through in order to determine what is true versus what is popular. It can be too easy to leave laying out that information before God in making that decision for discernment and wisdom because that is the long road, and we are so bombarded with information that we want the latest digest or article on the subject without knowing or even looking to see if it is a sound source upon which to make our decision.

That brings to mind Paul’s words to Timothy:

“always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

2 Timothy 3:7 (NIV)

Growing up poor in the backwoods without proper schooling along with an awkward gawky appearance never drew people to Abraham Lincoln, but his character and his courage in the midst of unpopularity left a mark on history beyond what those who were popular in his day could never have guessed. What would Lincoln advise about popularity?

“Avoid popularity if you would have peace.”    

Abraham Lincoln