What Guides Your Choice?

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Photo by Pam Ecrement

Every day we make countless choices…many without realizing them. The first is often to simply decide to get out of bed when the alarm goes off, the sun comes streaming through the window, or someone nudges you awake.

Sounds simple, right? Yes, but that choice will impact each choice for the rest of the day (especially if you choose not to get up at all or get up late for work).

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Throughout the day each of us will make choices about what and when we eat, whether we exercise, whether we follow through on something we have committed to, how we respond to people who call or speak with us, and what our focus will be.

Choices (when added up) shape the identity that is ours little by little over time even when many of the choices seem inconsequential.

Our choices are influenced by a variety of sources. These include how much the opinions of others matter, how much we want to “fit in”, what we believe about almost everything, who we listen to, what we read, the people we hang out with, what has wounded us, what we feel about ourselves, and what we believe about God. And that list can be even longer.

In many of these categories we are often swayed by opinions and subjective views more than truth. That is not our intent many times, but unless our pursuit of the truth is diligent across the expanse of influences in our lives we may well be deceived.

One of the strong influencers is our culture to one degree or another. Before you dismiss that idea, pause to consider what clothes hang in your closet now and what clothes were there five or ten years ago. What music stations are cued in on your car radio or iPod? It is likely there has been change there as well even if you still groove on the 40’s, 60’s, 80’s, or 90’s channels.

Culture has changed the words we use, what they mean, and how we use them. It has determined the shows on television and the movies in the theaters. Language and topics that were unthinkable even ten years ago are common now.

Little-by-little culture has cleverly led us to accept the norms that govern the society in which we live. Culture has sometimes been so subtle that it has invaded some of our churches as well before we have recognized that it is backwards…the church is to be influencing the culture not vice versa.

Why is it important to be clear on what informs and shapes our identity?

 A simple answer: it matters to God.

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Kenny Luck clarifies it this way:

“The question of identity is issue number one to God because whatever commands your identity will, by default, command your energy – either toward or away from God’s dangerous good agenda for your life.”

My lived experience confirms the truth of that statement, and it also sobers me.

Is my identity in Christ and the truth of His Word holding a steady course in the waves of the culture buffeting against me?

Do I stand steadily for the principles I want to guide my life or do they waver under pressure from the culture of everyone and everything that I am exposed to each day?

My answers to these questions will help me understand what guides my choices and how those choices reveal the truth of my identity to those around me and to the Lord.

It also draws me back to Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:1 (NIV):

“As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

What would we look like if that were our choice daily?

What would the world look like?

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Have You Noticed?

Photo from Walland, TN by Pam Ecrement

Have you noticed a butterfly gracefully perched atop a flower or the sound of a bird’s song singing? Have you noticed the depth of the color of the sky, the gentle touch of the breeze on your cheek, or the feel of dew on your feet in the morning? Have you noted how much your eyes and ears take in of the areas around you and what incredible sensory design God has created in each of our five senses, how they serve us throughout each moment of our existence?

I am not sure of what your answer might be and if these are things you observe often or only on vacation or here and there. I miss these things at times as well and it’s not surprising that our attention gets drawn toward a hundred different things. Much of the things that grab our attention come to us on one of the devices we hold in our hand, hang on our walls, or sit on our lap or on a desk. They pull us into work, entertainment, study, and dozens of things that we need to know or want to enjoy, but they also keep our eyes focused on places that can result in us missing the beauty that surrounds us in all its many forms.

Photo of violets by Pam Ecrement

Our senses were created and designed by our Creator for so many reasons and we rely on them every moment, but one of the things I wonder if we miss is how God hopes each sensory design will cause us to pause and see beauty, see his creation, and remember Him. Beauty is something we enjoy and yet don’t often recognize how much we need to see beauty in the world around us to refresh us and strengthen us, give us hope and trust in a tomorrow and the earth reborn as it was in Eden before the fall of man. Can we even imagine what the earth was like then?

If we get caught up in the news of the day whether it is over the fence in our yard, on our smart phone, or anywhere else we will forget (if we ever knew) that we are a part of a bigger story and be weakened in hope, resilience, and a capacity to endure what the world, the flesh, and the enemy throws at us.

“The story of God should get more of your ‘attention time’ than any other media.”

John Eldredge

That statement of Eldredge’s is one we need to not just read and keep going. What does the expenditure of time look like? Most of us can see reminders on our phones and some other devices about how much screen time we have in any given week and sometimes if we look, we are shocked to see how it adds up. It’s easy to do because we use it for so many things – news, directions with maps, information we need, shopping, games to entertain us, even Bible study plans and so on. If you add up all that along with movies, phone calls, podcasts, and music programs, it adds up quicker than we might expect.

Photo by Pam Ecrement

Even if we spend specific time with God each day reminding ourselves of the God story, how much does that add up to compared to everything else? Do we recognize we are living out the God story every single day? And how easily we can forget we are not just physical creatures living in a physical world.

“Christians are designed to live in and enjoy the benefits of two ecosystems, two realities – the physical and the spiritual, the earth and the heavens.

Each world offers graces for human flourishing. The natural world is saturated with beauty, and beauty nourishes the human soul. That’s why we vacation in lovely places – when we’re looking to be renewed, we choose walks in the woods, swimming in the ocean, biking through the vineyards, music, and dinner on the patio under the stars. There are many natural graces that nourish and strengthen the heart and soul – beauty is one, stillness is another, and so are nature and disentangling from technology…”

John Eldredge

How on point that observation and since the lockdowns of the pandemic we have craved such beauty in the natural world more than ever. Highways and airport terminals are busier than ever this summer despite the high cost of traveling because we are all seeking these places to regain what we lost over months and months of separation from places and people that mean the most to us.

Photo by Pam Ecrement

During these last several years our spiritual lives have been upended as well. For quite some time churches were closed and we tried to adapt to watching pastors teach on a screen and if we are honest, some of us didn’t go back even when we were allowed to do so. Technology allowed us to have that “connection” and yet it wasn’t the same as sitting in a community of believers singing, praying, and listening together. That impacted us and our churches in ways that are still trying to be overcome.

“We are also created to live comfortably in the spiritual world, to draw upon the supernatural graces available to us through the rest of God’s wonderful kingdom.

If you’ve ever experienced the comfort of God, or the love of God, that was heaven coming to you here on earth. You tapped into the rest of God’s kingdom for the help, strength, and sustenance you needed.”

John Eldredge

But here is something we must not miss about all we have experienced and are still experiencing – we can’t delay nourishment until we get that idyllic vacation that only happens once a year for most of us. We can’t wait until we have another mountaintop experience at a retreat or a conference we once attended.

There is beauty and nourishment around us right now wherever we are if we look for it, notice it, take it in and allow it to do what God designed it to do – to remind us of the bigger story, the God story. For whatever happens in the next moment, the next hour, week, or year, we cannot wait to replenish what has been eroded. It means we need to pull our eyes away from what so easily can discourage us and notice what God is providing right in this moment.

What have YOU noticed?

Photo by Pam Ecrement

Clogged Pipes

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Few things can compare to how a plumbing issue with clogged pipes can upend our day. Usually there is mess involved and often it happens at the worst possible time − when company has just arrived, we’re packing to leave on vacation, there’s a new baby in the house, or someone is ill − and costs more than we had in the budget.

All of a sudden the flow of fresh clean water that we barely think about stops. And who knows who the best plumber is who can be at our home within the hour?

In recent years many of us have heard about the word “flow” relating to a state of mind.  A flow state happens when a person is ‘in the zone’ and fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus while performing some activity. It’s become a popular topic in positive psychology, but I wonder if the experience has been around for a long time and we just didn’t label it as ‘flow.’

Have you ever experienced it in your spiritual life or your daily quiet time with the Lord?

It can feel as if your prayers and the Word fit like a glove with whatever is going on in your life and before you even know it, a worship song is running through your mind as well. You feel righted and refreshed. Even though you didn’t plan to take a lot of time for this daily discipline, you find yourself lingering there.

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Photo by Pam Ecrement

Perhaps that is when we get most fully immersed in the gospel.

Eventually we start to recognize the gospel is not about us establishing a relationship with Jesus, but about Him establishing a relationship with us.

We see that relationship is not just a consequence of our believing information about Him and accumulating more and more of it as a means to the maturity we hear about and hope for. A dawning revelation points to the truth that Jesus is entrusting himself to us and revealing himself to us in a relationship like no other.

In the letter to the church at Galatia, Paul writes that we know God first because He knows us!  He made us and knows us more intimately than we know ourselves. If we know Him, it is because He has revealed himself to us through Jesus.

Our part is to make a choice about what we believe about Him after that.

Once we make that decision, the whole of our life with Him consists of getting to know Jesus better and better.

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It’s no wonder that our relationship with Him is sometimes compared to marriage. Once I made the decision that I loved my husband and wanted to marry him, the rest of my life with him has been about getting to know him more and more. (That still happens after 57 years!)

It’s that ‘getting to know you’ that little by little transforms us from who we were before. Until that happens we cannot fully understand that knowing Jesus ultimately changes everything about us.

The gospel is a unique and personal experience, but it is not private. His handiwork becomes increasingly evident in our life to those around us by how we live it (or don’t).

If we fail to give place to developing that unique intimate relationship, the information we have gained will never be actualized. It will be data and as we accumulate more of it, pride may develop about what we have acquired while we may not sense his presence or joy within us. Clogs will develop instead of flow.

What He longs for us to experience is the essence of the gospel in the depth of our being.

The gospel comes to us in order that it might run through us (flow through us).

“ Believe in me so that rivers of living water will burst out from within you, flowing from your innermost being, just like the Scripture says!”

John 7:38 (TPT)
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Photo of river flowing near Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada by Pam Ecrement

The Sacrifice of a Father

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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, 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.

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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.

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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 as a result 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 the financial provision to do so.

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His life was marked by his focus on his faith. His legacy is remembered as one of great integrity 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-seven years ago.

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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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The Trouble with Time

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Photo by Andre Grushnikov from Pexels

We never seem to be satisfied with time.

We have too little time or too much time on our hands. It is racing or moving at a snail’s pace. It eludes us as well as our hope to control its speed, quantity, or quality.

God set time in place at Creation to give us a sense of order and rhythm with day and night, sun, moon, and stars. Seasons help us measure it out as well and give us a sense of where we are in a year of days (especially if we live in an area where we experience all four seasons).

A new baby seems to have no sense of time except to know hunger drives each part of his or her day and night. No sense of time? Well, think about how often a baby can be convinced that nighttime is when he or she is to be awake and ready to play instead of the daylight hours we prefer.

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Milestones start to measure time − rolling over, first word, and first step − that moves on to first day of school and we are rolling along before we realize it. We are ever looking ahead to the next thing we want to be old enough or big enough to do, never noticing sometimes the precious limited gift that time is.

When each of us discovers that truth about time, we discover it varies by what course our life takes through time. If we need to be away from or say goodbye to someone we love, we become acutely aware of how precious and limited time is.

The trouble with time is that we never know how much we will be allotted to spend.

We become very conscious of time as parents. We want to get beyond diapers, teething, colic, and more. We want to see what all they can be and do and then look forward to when they don’t need us to drive them everywhere. With that first child we can’t grasp how quickly time will pass. Too soon they will no longer be a part of our daily life. Our home will no longer be their home base. We will plan all the celebrations as they head off to college, the military, or their own place and rejoice for them and with them while our hearts ache to see them go.

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Aging puts time in sharp relief. We finally see how quickly it has been passing. We are referred to as “elderly” when we often feel like the same person we were (not many years) ago despite the silver in our hair or the change of our pace. We long for it to slow down then. We want to see the places we were too busy to see when we were younger. We want to have the energy we expended trying to hurry up time. We come to value what we took for granted and the belief we would do something ‘later’ and recognize ‘later’ never came and now may be too late.

I have had sharp reminders about the trouble with time this week as I share in two very different seasons with people who are dear to me.

We prepare to attend our oldest grandson’s college graduation and look ahead to the time he will be in medical school many more miles away than college was. He is in another launching season and we could not be more excited for him. (We felt that way when our oldest granddaughter graduated from college two years ago and began her career as a nurse.) But we are wistful as well when we recognize launching into this new season means we will see him less often.

How is it that our children are now launching their children?

This week I also spent some precious time with my 93-year-old friend who is in her last weeks in this life. I savored the moments as I held her hand whether we were talking or just enjoying looking at each other. We talked about the truly important things − love for each other, thankfulness for our friendship, heaven, spiritual things − and she told me she was “letting go” and as I heard her words I knew it was true. We wasted no words or time in those moments.

We have all manner of devices that tell or remind us of what time it is, but they cannot tell us where we are on God’s clock. Scripture admonishes us to be aware of times and seasons. Matthew speaks of the times and seasons we are to attend to in Matthew 24.

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Matthew 24: 32-35 (ESV)

How well are we observing the times and seasons God has set for the return of Jesus?

Does it occur to us?

Do we see them clearly as we observe what is happening around us and in the world as a whole?

Jesus reminds us as He continues in Matthew 24:44:

44 “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Matthew 24:44 (ESV)

We do not know the hour and yet we are called to observe, pay attention, and be ready.

Perhaps the trouble with time and how little we comprehend is this:

“Time is so invisible, you never see it passing.”

Lisa Wingate

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