Temperature Check

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For the past year or more most of the world has had more temperature checks than any of us could have imagined. Every door we entered when we were allowed to leave our homes usually meant a temperature check would be required. It was a big change from when most of us rarely had a temperature check unless we were ill or suspected that we were.

Our enthusiasm for weather forecasts and weather apps suggest we pay attention to temperatures outside of our bodies as well. Most of us have a favorite forecaster we like to check in with most every day.

Of course, there is also the difficulty of determining what the thermostat setting should be for our cars, homes, and offices. It’s clear to us that we all have very different comfort levels, and they are exacerbated as we age. Invariably one spouse runs colder and wants the thermostat turned up (my hubby) and one spouse runs warm-to-hot and wants windows open and the thermostat set much cooler(me).

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Most of us have strong feelings about the temperature of things like coffee, tea, and soup as well. Most would agree there is nothing appealing about a lukewarm cup of coffee or tea or a bowl of soup.

If we are relationally sensitive, we likely check in on the temperature of the relationships that matter most to us if we sense a change is happening. That’s most true of close friends, and close family members like parents, children, and spouses. We often can perceive that a relationship has cooled without a clear sense of why and it leaves us unsettled. Other times we might sense that the relationship is steamy because of unsettled disagreements or expectations, and we aren’t always sure we are ready to engage that person if things are too hot and have the potential to explode.

But what if the temperature is so neutral that you can’t tell? That can leave many of us feeling at sea as well. A tepid, lukewarm relationship has little appeal to any of us, but it can happen if we leave that relationship unattended, take it for granted, or get our attention drawn away from this one we care about.

What is the temperature of your relationship with the Lord? Has it changed since you (I) first loved Him?

Before any of us answers too quickly, maybe we ought to assess a bit more carefully. Have our own times of quiet and devotion with Him become somewhat routine going from one devotional to another or reading a prescribed reading without much thought or connecting spark with the Lord’s heart? Are our times with our faith community more ritual than relationship, things we almost routinely do certain days of every week?

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Life can become routine and if it is comfortable, relationships can begin to change without much notice. We think we still care, but we don’t spend time with that person as we once did. We don’t share the intimate details of our lives that only someone very close to us used to hear. We get consumed in our own stuff and don’t consider our value for the person or theirs to us. It may not be intended, but it happens, nonetheless. And guess what? It not only happens with our human relationships but with the Lord as well. Our love life with Him begins to dim even though we believe in Him and go through all the routines that have become habitual for us perhaps.

…”we lose touch with the elemental, personal, and essential glories of God and our own terrifying needs. We become like the Laodiceans: neither cold nor hot but a comfortable and civilized lukewarm.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

Who were the Laodiceans? They are included in the seven churches’ letters that are addressed in the Revelation of John. Where would we have found them?

Laodicea was an ancient city located in the Lycus River Valley of Anatolia, near Hierapolis and Colossae. Archaeologists have learned that it was a consumer society, center of banking, fashion, and medicine of that time. Compared to many places of the time, it sounds like a good place to live. Could it have been too good?

“As the years went by, a terrible thing happened to the Christians of Laodicea. They became more influenced by their affluent culture than by the Cross. They became consumers. They began to treat Christ as a consumer item. They invested in religion the way they invested in the financial market. They shopped for religion the way they shopped for clothes. They used religion the way they used medicine. They treated Christ with the cool calculation of consumers.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

And as a result, they appear as the one church in Revelation that does not receive commendation. It was a city where it had not been too dangerous to be a Christian, so freedoms were taken for granted. And with that freedom came love that turned from passion to cool connectedness. But this does not work! Being believers is not a spectator sport.

“We cannot be lukewarm spectators before such a Christ. We can only be passionate participants or ice-cold deniers.”

Eugene Peterson in The Hallelujah Banquet

Paul warned about this possibility in his second letter to Timothy:

“They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!”

2 Timothy 3:5 (NLT)

None of us will be able to stand in the storms we face if we are not pursuing a vibrant passionate relationship with the Lord in the easy times.

Is it time for a temperature check of a different kind than we have experienced for over a year?

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The Sacrifice of a Father

This weekend we pause to pay tribute to our fathers. We remember them through the lens of our childhood and all the years after that. The lens may color those memories in all shades and colors because none of our dads were perfect. They were first of all men, born with a blend of each of their parents, seasoned with the family life they experienced, and mixed with their own skills, gifts, personalities, and interests.

Depending on how those things were stirred and combined throughout their lifetime, they became the dad we knew. We may have idealized them or berated them for the ways they disappointed us, wounded us, or abandoned us. We may never have even known them except through the stories and eyes of someone else.

Nevertheless, they became one who influenced our own selves and who we are today, whether good, bad, or somewhere in between.

My own father was born as the youngest of six children in 1910, one of only two boys. His older brother could have been his father since he was nineteen years older than he. In many ways, he became a model for my dad because his dad, my grandfather, died when my dad was only five years old. He was so young that he didn’t have any real memories of his dad.

He grew up on the farm where the family lived with a keen awareness of how hard his older brother, four older sisters, and mother had to work. He grew up with those values and that kind of work ethic. He also grew up with a considerable appetite for learning and education as well as a commitment to the Lord.

At age thirteen, something happened that changed the direction of his life forever. His older brother fell from the barn roof one day and was killed. With this tragedy came two very difficult things. My dad was needed at home to step into the role of his older brother to handle the farm and he would need to leave school and his love of formal education behind.

Since the farm he grew up on (as did I) was adjacent to farms of his uncles, they stepped in to help mentor him in the things he needed to learn for the survival of the farm and his family. His sharp mind and courageous heart soon became a hallmark of his character. Not only did his own family and extended family respect him, everyone in the community did as well.

His social life centered around his church and “the Grange”. I have more than a few memories of the stories he told about them and how he met my mother and postponed marriage until he could stop using his beloved team of horses to help him farm and purchase a tractor.

Even though loss had marked his life early, he never showed anger or embitterment. His gentle voice and quiet ways gave glimpses of the heart shaped by the Lord’s love for him who became the only father he would ever really know.

That heavenly Father would stand with him through the death of his first child a day after his birth. He would be there when his second son was born with several handicaps and disabilities. He would walk with him through job loss and the shame that clung to him because of never being able to finish high school.

Yet all these things he suffered forged his character and values that went deep into the soil worked up and fertilized by the Word he read daily. They created the unwavering commitment for me to be educated and go to college even when there was no evidence of financial provision to do so.

His life was marked by his focus on his faith. His legacy is remembered as one of great integrity, sacrifice, and considerable faith.That heavenly Father would stand with him through the death of his first child a day after his birth. He would be there when his second son was born with several handicaps and disabilities. He would walk with him through job loss and the shame that clung to him as a result of never being able to finish high school.

His life was marked by his focus on his faith. His legacy is remembered as one of great integrity, sacrifice, and considerable faith.

He was not a perfect man, but the One whom he trusted early in life paved the way for this fatherless boy. This One understood more than any of us can comprehend the meaning of the word “sacrifice”.

This Father’s Day I will remember his humor, the stories of an era long gone, the beauty of his singing voice as I stood beside him in church, and how he loved my mother. I will also remember the shape and feel of his hand when I held it and sought to memorize it as he lay dying more than twenty-five years ago.

It has been said that a true hero cannot be measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart.

The strength of my father’s heart grew throughout his lifetime as the Lord he loved continued to put more and more of Himself into him. That will also always remind me of the sacrifice of the Father who is perfect and walks with and strengthens my own heart each day by sacrificing his own son for my sake.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son.”

John 3:16 (MSG)
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Don’t Let It Happen to You

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It can happen so easily to any one of us. It lays in wait and catches up with us. We let the feelings and hurts, and misperceptions stay stuffed inside. Then we fall prey to the enemy’s devices. He wants to disconnect us from one another, ourselves, and God and the enemy is cunning and waits for just the right moment.

C.S. Lewis gives us a perfect example in his powerful story set in Narnia, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Life was hard in London during WW II and there was special concern for the children. So, hundreds of them were sent into the English countryside away from the relentless bombing for protection. Can you imagine being put on a train to travel to an unknown place to live with strangers without any idea of what would happen and if you would ever see your family at home again? It was fertile ground for so many taunts of the enemy.

Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy had already been dealing with the absence of their father and by now the oldest siblings had taken on a somewhat parental role. Little wonder that Edmund might chafe when Peter and Susan started giving him direction. Not unusual for that to happen among siblings under the best of circumstances.

Lucy seemed to be unruffled by that, but Edmund was trying to find his place and absent one, he was prone to behavior that showed his anger. The feelings he didn’t actually express festered in the darkness inside of him and as they did, the enemy saw his longing. Edmund had no idea who Aslan had called him to be or what lay ahead if he did not yield to the darkness growing in his heart.

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When Edmund stumbles into the winter of Narnia and discovers Lucy has not lied about this country beyond the wardrobe of the professor’s house, he is easy prey to the white witch. It might seem he is just fond of Turkish delight, but he is really looking for something more than that to satisfy the hunger inside of him to feel important, valued, and capable. If somehow that nagging emptiness had not been there, there would not have been room for the anger, bitterness, jealousy, and rebellion to grow. Perhaps then he would not have been foolish as to accept the false promises of the white witch masquerading as the Queen of Narnia offering him candy and rulership of her kingdom one day, if only he would comply with her request to bring his brother and sisters to Narnia to meet her.

The trap was perfectly suited to Edmund, and it would lead him to betray those he loved.

This wondrous tale written as only C.S. Lewis could write can quickly cause us to not feel much affection for Edmund. Perhaps we need to look closer to what moved him to take those steps and consider whether we also could be duped. Evil seduces us by appearing to be good and offer us something yummy and appealing without telling us the cost.

The seduction was easier because the children didn’t know the prophecy, had never heard of Aslan, or what the call on their lives was to be.

It’s vital for us to know the Bible and the truth that fills the pages from Genesis to Revelation and it is even more important than we may realize to teach these things to our children from the time we hold them in our arms and rock them to sleep. For it is God’s story and the most important story they will ever hear or learn. It can show them the right path, help them make the best choice, and save them from the evil conspiring to seduce them. If this story isn’t woven into the fabric of each of our stories, each of their stories, we and they can be duped not unlike Edmund.

Holding onto the hurts, misunderstandings, comparisons, judgments, unmet longings, and more can tempt us to look in all the wrong places for something to make us feel better. If we don’t know the story, God’s story, we will never know that He is the only One who can satisfy those longings, meet us in our hurts and emptiness, and do for us what only He can accomplish.

The enemy’s lies that we will never be accepted by Him if we tell Him the truth of what hides within us are meant to isolate us and deceive us from recognizing He already knows and is just waiting for us to come to Him so He can clean it all out and make us whole. Only if we have a steady diet of the words He left for us can we overcome the hunger that can be stirred in the confusing daily lives we live. He wants us to not initiate with evil and the imprisonment it brings, not to be deceived by the angel appearing as light.

What are you really hungry for?

Only One can fill the emptiness you feel.

The Truth of Our Story

Our stories are woven together one stitch at a time. Some stitches are tight, others loose. Each stitch adds a new color or shade, a new texture, or guide for the design.

Some would say that we are adding the stitches, but that would mean the patterns that develop are entirely of our own making. Some might say that others add the stitches or God Himself does, but that would mean we have no part in the creation of our stories.

Perhaps it is better said that our stories are actually an interweaving of stitches of our Creator, God Himself, as well as stitches that we also add to the fabric being created.

Though the patterns may appear random, they are made up of a collaboration of designs between God and ourselves. Some are purposeful and well thought out while others happen almost accidentally.

But all of them are important for it is our stories that we not only remember but also the stories that remember us.

We may think that others add stitches as well, but the fabric is always ours and it is our choices or lack of them that determine the weave.

Stories, true legends, begin in the midst of a setting, a context that tells us something about how the stories begin.

Some stories begin with “once upon a time”, but those are only the ones we call fairy tales, made up of imaginings.

‘Once upon a time’ stories seem always to have certain qualities and characteristics that pull us forward toward what we believe will be a certain end where the heroine of the story is rescued from the villain.

The trials of the heroine, the circumstances of birth, the twists and turns, which take her into danger, may vary from story to story, but the result we are looking for is always the same.

We look for the hero, the white horse, the one who makes all things right again.

Perhaps our own stories do not begin with those words because we have no belief, we are royalty or that a prince has already rescued us. Therein lays the snare for us all, for the exact opposite is the truth.

We are indeed royalty but have forgotten who we are (if we ever knew) or the truth has been hidden or stolen from us.

So, our stories take us on paths that are often rocky and full of danger, and we lose our way with no hope of any rescue. It is the tale the true villain of all our stories desires us to believe. It is the tragic fairy tale we come to believe is reality.

The true story is that we are betrothed to the prince, now king, who will come for us to lead us into the banqueting hall beneath his banner and celebrate his love for us and ours for him. The true story is that we will ride into battle together to defeat the villain whose lies we have believed once and for all and the end of the story will be grander than any fairy tale ever written.

Our stories are far grander than fairy tales for they are made up of real moments. Some are lavish and ornate. Some are dull and gray. Some are bold and dramatic. Some glitter and sparkle with life. Some are dark and foreboding. Some are airy and delicate. Together they become the history of us, the present of who we are, and the hope of who we are becoming.

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The Key to Trust

Photo by Pam Ecrement

Trusting can be so difficult for us.

Our life experiences oppose trust.

The reasons are many. They echo off the walls of pastors and counselors’ offices. They fill the pages of books and journals, and they are the subject of conversations over coffee between close friends.

Inside of us there are mixed messages about whether we should trust. The messages come from training and teaching about so many people or things we should not risk trusting. They also come from disappointments and betrayals that cause us to question whether anyone or anything is trustworthy.

It is very difficult to feel safe when we cannot trust.

At present, we live in a world where we feel increasingly unsafe. Terror lurks around the corner haunting our steps. Deceit and untruthfulness are common coins of the realm. Failed promises and guarantees leave us filled with doubt.

One of perhaps the hardest things is how often those we have deemed trustworthy turn out to not be. It happens with spouses, parents, bosses, companies, organizations, governmental officials, and even pastors.

As these things, these experiences, stack up, our mistrust grows as does our doubt and uncertainty. Gradually we find it difficult to trust even those we want to trust or those we need to trust.

British Columbia, Canada
Photo by Pam Ecrement

Even defining what trust is becomes foggy and blurred. 

Trust is defined as the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

As I was reading in Romans 10, I saw Paul shares some significant truth about what gets in the way of trust.

“But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted?”

Romans 10:14 (MSG)

Clearly in the context of this verse, Paul is talking about the importance of hearing the gospel and the value of being sent to preach it. Otherwise, the conflicting messages disguised as truth could result in distrust.

The key to the issue of trust begins with listening and more specifically, what we are listening to.

You see, the root word for listen and obey come from the same root word. In Latin, obey would not exist without listen.

Our heart and our thoughts tend to follow what we hear or what we are listening to. Most of us would recognize we hear a lot of “junk food” for the mind, heart, and spirit. Over time, it becomes background noise, “elevator music”, but it seeps into us and can slowly erode the truth that should be guiding us.

How can we learn to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ if what we are listening to is cluttered with static from ingesting things that are like “junk food”?

We can often say that we aren’t really listening and that might be true if we were given a quiz on the content of what we hear. The problem comes from the reality that what we hear is going through that sensory organ into our brain. Our brains can process something threatening in less than a second. Even if we cannot recollect the words or the lyrics or the music exactly, it’s all in there and potentially impacting us.

Is it any wonder that we find trust increasingly difficult?

If I am going to learn perceptive trust that helps me wisely discern what I am listening to, I need to choose a nourishing diet of truth daily that can sustain me when doubt assails me, when my world falls apart, and when I don’t know which way to turn.

It means I need to silence the voices within that have picked up lies and distortions that can play unendingly without action on our part.

We all have a tendency of replaying old tapes and these very tapes can keep us mired down and isolated from healthy relationships with others and also with God.

Listening to truth will then be what influences what I believe and act upon. It will lead me to trust wisely.

“A Lord who speaks truth to me is good and right; a Lord who listens to me is grace and mystery and glory.”

Adam McHugh

That is the key to building or rebuilding trust…listening to the One who is Truth.

Butterfly on Coneflower
Butterfly on Coneflower, Blackberry Farm, TN