So Many Diversions

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How easily we can get upended or diverted on our way to somewhere. It would be lovely if it happened rarely, but that would not be true for many of us. It can happen going from one room to another, one task to another. We don’t even need to get into our cars and type in the address on our GPS to get lost. It seems to happen for dozens of reasons and sometimes no reason at all that we can discern.

For some of us it is a bane to our existence, but others of us either go with the flow or gave up on purposefulness a long time ago after too many detours with no forward movement.

“What seems true is that something in life, on the highways or in our hearts, is always being installed, or being repaired, or being torn down for the next installation. Or the mess of the repair or tear-down is being cleaned up and cleared out.”

Anne Lamott in Small Victories

These sorts of things disorient us, and we find ourselves diverted. Even without such significant things as those Anne Lamott writes, phones ring, people need us, illness strikes, and the long list waits to sabotage us the next day despite all our good intentions. Of course, there are the things that are inside of us that do an equally good job.

How often do these words resonate with you? – But I really meant to… (No show of hands needed.) Our good intentions will never be enough because rhythms get upended and life keeps happening.

“Here is the one tiny problem with intentions: There are always uninvited voices and obstructions, nattering and nipping and whining and tugging at you. Always.”

Anne Lamott in Small Victories
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Perhaps we have forgotten that all of this natural world is made up of patterns and rhythms that may seem to be disrupted and yet go on. They are so common that if we lose sight of the wonder of many of them and what they might reveal about life itself were we to tune in to the Author of Life.

Some nights, some times of darkness, can be so intense and daunting that we cannot grasp the reality of a daybreak or a movement toward light. Yet every morning reminds us of how light chases after darkness to defeat its hold on us.

“We never get used to it. Daybreak is always a surprise. There are times, of course, when we fail to respond. But when that happens we instinctively know that it is due to a deficiency within ourselves, whether from disease or depression. If the repetitions in nature are never boring, how much less the repetitions in God.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

But that points to the issue, doesn’t it? Are there repetitions in God in our life? Is He a footnote to our day, week, month or even year or is He the heading from which each of those begins? Do we oblige to what we think is important on one day of the week or do we recognize He is life itself moment by moment?

The answer to those questions will reveal a great deal about how prevalent diversions upend us.

The life of Christ gives us a glimpse of purposefulness that was often interrupted. Yet those interruptions were also purposeful on behalf of others in ways that highlighted the truth of who He was and is. Christ knew well his mission and goal and was not diverted but was never rigid about his moments spent here. His priorities never wavered. His movement was ever forward and upward toward the Father’s purpose.

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Long before Stephen Covey identified the habits we would all need to know that would help us grow and develop toward effectiveness, Christ understood. He began with the end in mind and put first things first. We falter on that time and time again. Even when we think we are good at long-term planning, most of us look at the next level academically or professionally or even retirement as the “end in mind.” And we hear that from financial planners across the board whose advice is not poor but fails to recognize the more eternity focused the end is and should be. What would happen if we changed that?

“Here, then, is the clue to our erratic life patterns, our inconstancy, our unfaithfulness, our stupid inability to distinguish fashion and faith: we don’t rise up early and listen to God. We don’t daily find a time apart from the crowd, a time of solitude and silence, for preparing for the day’s journey.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

And there you have it – the key to the long view toward eternity lived out each day – daily time apart with God. That long view takes into account there will be unplanned interruptions along the way, things we had not seen when we mapped things out. That long view will undergird our choice of that time apart each day as a requirement for the journey of that next moment or day because it will provide provision for what we do not know we will even need.

Is It the Right Word?

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Words bombard us every day from the outside world as well as within us. They are what help us make connections with God, ourselves, and others, but they can also be the source of disconnection just as easily. They can be tricky for extroverts as well as introverts and any type of the popular enneagram. They can come easily to us or we can struggle to find words, but no matter where we fit in all this – they matter.

Sometimes we wish they mattered less than they do, but we cannot escape that they are major players in each of our lives and they matter to God as well as is evident in scripture:

“And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.”

Matthew 12:36 (NLT)

If that verse has never given you pause, I would be surprised because it does me each time I read it or read through the book of Matthew and bump into it. If you want an even clearer picture, try reading it in The Message:

“You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.”

Matthew 12:34-37 (MSG)

These were the words of Jesus spoken to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, but are words for us all to heed.

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Often when we look for just the right word when we are writing something or for a specific occasion when we are seeking to be precise. Sometimes seeking the right word has self-seeking purposes so we can persuade someone according to our wishes or designs. Most of us know how to be persuasive if we choose or need to be so. And I love Mark Twain’s thoughts on choosing the right word.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word, said Mark Twain, is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. A single word, if it is the right word, can illuminate and strike fire all at once.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

How true! Those with words that spark lightning are the orators, authors, and great preachers of old that stirred the hearts, minds, and spirits of so many and echo today. But there are also words that are almost right used by charlatans, dictators, and false prophets that can seduce us to follow dark paths that destroy us.

You see, the right words are significant, but only if they are the truth.

Spurgeon’s words remind us that lies too often come quickly from our mouths and ears and often we listen and give a home to them before we ever determine if they are the truth. How evident that is in the scene in the Garden of Eden where Eve is seduced to eat the apple by the serpent’s almost right words full of deception. Such words are so palatable that we imbibe them and relish them much the way we do ice cream over spinach without considering the consequences.

Lies work on us. They always have. And they are used by children as well as parents, students as well as teachers, laity as well as preachers, citizens as well as governments, and lovers of all types seeking to gain our favor.

In the process of all this and more, lies spoken as almost right words lead us into bondage. Truth, however, brings freedom.

“We live on the gossip of the moment and the rumors of the hour. It is not as if we never hear the truth at all, but we don’t realize its overwhelming significance. It is an extra aside. We have no sense of continuity. We respond to whims, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Then Scripture if placed before us. Words are assembled and arranged, and powerful patterns of truth become visible.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

How truly Peterson writes and holds a mirror up to help us to see more clearly. How wise the path that uses Scripture as the compass to set the course, measure the merit of the words we use or hear. But we are inconsistent at best in doing so.

We can start out with the best of intentions, but then the almost right word distracts us. It sounds like it’s right, sounds reasonable, and away we go following it along without checking on its veracity and those who mean to seduce us know that very well and count on it, but Scripture isn’t about seducing us.

“Scripture’s task is to tell people, at the risk of their displeasure, the mystery of God and the secrets of their own hearts – to speak out and make a clean breast.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

Ah, there it is! The goal of truth is not our ease or comfort. Often it is used to incise our hearts to remove what is not like Christ so we can grow and develop as He intended all along and allow the gifts, abilities, skills, and design of his making to flourish.

Like apples of gold in settings of silver, is a word spoken at the proper time.”

Proverbs 25;11 (NASB)

So the right word is evidenced by it being the truth.

“Honestly written and courageously presented words reveal reality and expose our selfish attempts to violate beauty, manipulate goodness and dominate people, all the while defying God.

Honest writing shows us how badly we are living and how good life is. Enlightenment is not without pain. But the pain, accepted and endured, is not a maiming but a purging.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
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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)