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

The Ploy


How easily we succumb to the temptation one-by-one! It is not unlike an avalanche that can begin with the smallest unstable thing that begins to tumble down creating and attracting other unstable things. Gradually it becomes larger and moves faster creating more and more destruction in its wake.

Century after century Satan uses his wiles in the same pattern. He uses ploy as his most effective strategy.

By definition a ploy is “a cunning plan or action designed to turn a situation to one’s own advantage”. There is no need for him to alter his strategy because it has proven effective time and time again no matter how erudite we may think we are.

Any of us can name specific wiles and wickedness he produces as a result of the ploy, but if we look at the ‘big picture” we must come to grips with his ultimate desire and that is to divide.

First, he would seek to divide us from the Lord for nothing would please him more than to rob Him of us, His trophies won on the cross. Second, he would seek to divide us from one another weakening and destabilizing one and then another. Whether the result is our worship of him in fact matters little to him so long as we forfeit our commitment to the crux of our connection to Him and one another.

Daily life provides Satan with the fodder he needs. Nearly any situation or circumstance can be used to distract us from our focus on the Lord and who He has created and called us to be. ANYTHING. I know it and you know it. I have experienced it and you have experienced it as well.

Inevitably one of the results is to become anxious or fearful because things are not under our control. What any of us does next will determine how successful the ploy will be?

If we quickly recognize it for what it is and turn our focus back on the Lord, our faith and trust is strengthened and he loses the skirmish. If we do not and let’s face it, none of us do so all of the time, then he nudges us to try to take control ourselves in more ways than we can even count or want to admit. (I don’t want to give him credit by listing them here.) He can be effective in this because he has duped us into allowing fear to become larger than life and larger than God.

We lose sight of the key words and principles we are called to live by.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

1 John 4:18 (ESV)

Okay, none of us love perfectly or perhaps even come close to it, but God does love perfectly. He loves us perfectly. He shows us that in countless ways despite our fallibility, our station in life, or our current circumstances.

If the ploy causes us to doubt that and the truth that such love will always be faithful in providing for us, we will quickly look to what John Eldredge calls “less wild lovers” to rescue us or provide for us. Those “less wild lovers” can come in many forms, sizes, and disguises. They can include any and all addictions, self-protection, staying in a victim mode, operating in self-righteousness that belies the truth of our pride, looking to someone who will agree with us whether they speak truth or not, and more. They can include relying on organizations, institutions, or any other entity instead of the Lord.

These then open us to the second punch of the same ploy. We start to fear and distrust others unless they agree with us and support our shaky position. Our fear of others points to the downfall of not loving others as ourselves.

The end result of the interweaving of this two-pronged ploy is increased division. If we, His children, are one body destined to live with Him in one Kingdom then when we fall prey to the ploy, we exemplify what Jesus taught in Matthew.

“But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”

Matthew 12:25 (NKJV)

In the end of all time and all things, scripture makes clear that what we will be judged on will be whether we have loved the Lord with all our heart, mind, and soul and if that has brought forth His character in us so that we demonstrate that by loving one another. That is the litmus test each of us faces.

At present, it would seem the skirmishes in the two-pronged ploy are succeeding with too many of us so that we find ourselves arrayed in battle one against another while proclaiming we are a part of the same Kingdom.

Our rhetoric has shifted from eloquence based on Kingdom truth to empty rhetoric replete with hateful, fear mongering words and tones whether our position has merit or not. I might think we are in danger here of not only harming whatever cause we believe in, but more importantly tearing down the Kingdom.

The ploy can be defeated.

The power of the Lord exceeds any and all that Satan can and does throw at us. The answer comes when we lay aside our sin, our self-righteousness, our pride, and anything that is not like the Lord.

The Lord showed us the principle and our purpose before He returned to His Father. I think it behooves each of us to reflect each day on what He pointed to as the foundation for our speech and our actions and we can only do it when we first submit our will to Him:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)
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Calluses We Don’t See

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Calluses are pesky things that most of us experience to one degree or another. We rarely notice what is happening as they are beginning, but ultimately wherever they form they become a problem for us and we want to remove them. Do you know what causes them?

Calluses form when mild but repeated injury causes the cells of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin) to become increasingly active, giving rise to a localized increase in tissue. The resulting hardened, thickened pad of dead skin cells at the surface layer of the skin serves to protect underlying tissues.” › science › callus-dermatology

By now you are thinking that this is not new news to you because you have had them at some of the most common places like some of the pads of your feet, your heels, or even the pads of your hands or fingers. I know. Me too, but there is another place where calluses can form that are not visible and create a bigger problem for us than we may even realize as they start to form.

Scripture tells us that calluses can form on our hearts as well. We usually see the word hardened, but Eugene Peterson uses the word callus in his Message version of the Bible, and I think it creates a picture for us that expands the understanding of what can happen to us and likely has already happened in some places of our hearts.

In the Bible a callused heart is one that has become insensitive, indifferent, and unsympathetic. Our hearts become dull and unresponsive. Not unlike our physical heart, if left unnoticed and unattended, it will no longer function as it was designed to do. It can happen so quickly in those moments where we hold on to an offense or allow that little sinful attitude or behavior to go unaddressed. We ignore the nudges of the Holy Spirit or seek to justify ourselves in one way or another.

Over time we may not even recall when the beginning of the calluses on our hearts began to form. We become desensitized to our condition and we start to lose track of what is truth and what is a lie, what is good and what is evil. And when we do that, we get lost on paths we did not intend to take. We may point out the flaws and faults, sins and failings in others, while failing to see our own.

We usually don’t ignore a callus on our feet or hands indefinitely, but our hearts might develop a callus and be left to grow in silence as we hold grudges, biases, judgments, unresolved hurts, and more. If we resist the Holy Spirit’s nudges long enough, we will hear those nudges less and less.

We may choose to only associate with people who don’t challenge us or who practice many of the same types of behaviors and attitudes as we do so that our own issues stay under the radar and no one confronts us. We can stop reading the Bible. The writer of Hebrews tells us why.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Hebrews 4:12 NIV

Recently I read a post from Tara Furman of Knowing God Ministries. In it she listed five behaviors that warn us of a heart that is becoming callused and dull. As the darkening of the world increases day by day and many ask where the church is in the midst of the darkness, perhaps we should each attend to the condition of our own heart and consider the behaviors Tara lists:

  • We begin leading God
  • Worry begins to penetrate
  • We have difficulty understanding the message or lesson when we go to church, participate in a Bible study, or have our own morning devotions
  • Compromise becomes easier and easier
  • Mediocrity becomes standard

It can happen to any of us and all of us. How often we read the words of Moses in the Old Testament on this topic of a callused or hardened heart (not just about what happened to Pharaoh), but Jesus addressed it as well in his earthly ministry. Look at how He spoke in the passage below as He also quoted from Isaiah:

“He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:

Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.
    Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
    so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
    so they won’t have to look,
    so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
    and let me heal them.”

Matthew 13:11-15 MSG

How can we begin to assess and soften our hearts to be sensitive again to the Holy Spirit so that we can be salt and light in the confusion of the growing darkness in the world?

I think it starts with humility – a quality that is often in short supply in most of us. When it is absent, we are poor listeners and do not see ourselves, others, or God clearly. Only a humble heart will kneel before the Lord. If we can do that, our prayer life can become real, more intimate, and vibrant, less cluttered with words we know we ought to say and fuller of honest words yielding to the truth. That will make it easier to go to the Lord rather than to look for the nearest fig leaves as we try to hide what He can plainly see. And that process will begin to change us from the inside out which is the only way it really works.

What Is The Goal?

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A new year is usually a time we are nudged to create new goals for the upcoming days, weeks, and months ahead. Many of you have already done that or are considering it. The goals may be related to diet, exercise, sleep, finances, time management, career options, and more. What we may not consider is what the goals reveal about us.

Sometimes the goal may be to continue growth in an area we are already working on. Sometimes it is to start on a new area we have targeted. We may even choose a goal based on a recommendation of a friend or someone we love. Perhaps we might consider a spiritual goal if we can get beyond the usual hype of “New Year’s Resolutions” that lean more to the temporal daily lives we are living.

Goals tend to suggest what is important to us or at least what we believe should be important to us. Succeeding at goals we set makes us feel good, but the opposite is also true.

Do we ever consider “big picture” goals that really have the potential to shape our character and hence our choices in every area of our lives?

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What do I mean by “big picture” goals? One example would be to be more committed in the really central roles I am called to play as a spouse, child, friend, employee, or even as a child of God. Another would be to become more mature no matter what our age may be or to be more authentic in our relationships. If we are honest with ourselves, we may want those and yet they are not often ones that sit at the top of any list of written goals.

These are much tougher because of what they require of us in order to develop these goals.

“For that to happen there must be honesty and truth. The self must be toppled from its pedestal. There must be pure hearts and clear intelligence, confession of sin and commitment in faith.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

And there’s the rub. We look for the shortest distance, the easiest path, and quickest answer despite the scripture that reminds us not to make those choices.

“Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.”

Matthew 7:13-14 (MSG)
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The Sermon on the Mount from which these verses are taken is full of rich wisdom, but that means we need to take the longer route, the narrower path, the harder journey with more difficult choices. We don’t arrive at peace within ourselves or any of our desired goals any other way and when we look at athletes, musicians, scholars, and others who appear to have reached the summits in their chosen area, it can be far too easy to be tempted to the fallacy that it “just happened” for them and not see the hours and hours of hard work and discipline that is required to attain the achievements we see being lauded and applauded.

It’s true for us in the “big picture” goals as well.

“There is evil to combat, apathy to defeat, dullness to challenge, ambition to confront.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

I love this quote from Bill Hybels as well:

“Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with.”

Bill Hybels in Who You Are When No One’s Looking

That’s the stuff of character and integrity and it means being sure the template of our lives is the only one that will get us there – the Word of God, not only read or memorized, but lived out whether we are in church, the grocery store, at a ball game, at home by ourselves, or anywhere at all.

In conjunction with reading Eugene Peterson’s book, Run with the Horses, I read through the Old Testament book of Jeremiah again. One of the things that stands out about him is his character and integrity. He wasn’t considered a leader nor one of any great significance, so he wasn’t imprisoned, hauled off in chains or executed and yet those bedrock “big picture” goals were central to who he was that causes us to read his words even today.

“We must learn to live by the truth, not by our feelings, not by the world’s opinion, not by what the latest statistical survey tells us is the accepted morality, not by what advertisers tell us is the most gratifying lifestyle. We are trained in the biblical faith to take lightly what the experts say, the scholars say, the pollsters say, the politicians say, the pastors say. We are trained to listen to the Word of God, to test everything against what God reveals to us in Christ, to discover all meaning and worth by examining life in relation to God’s will.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

That makes the path we are to choose very clear. We will need to do life each day with God, not as a footnote to our preferences, but a holy GPS to get us to the destination.

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