Not Chariots, Not Horses

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

In the midst of what can seem like ever increasing storms across the earth it may well seem that everything is being shaken. Storms assail every area of the globe including the little plot where each of us may live and they have come in many forms leaving us weary and wondering when it will end.

For some the longing for an end, a solution has been delayed too long. The persons, companies, political leaders, doctors, governments, clergy, and others in a list whom they believed and trusted have disappointed them. As a result, some have chosen to leave this life by his or her own hand for lack of hope. Others have chosen to escape by any means possible and others still continue to try to “live in a dream world” as if nothing is really all that bad.

Our tolerance for living in the midst of uncertainty was never very great and it has diminished in recent months. We assume we are waiting on someone or something to “make it all better” for us, but what if we have it backwards? What if God is waiting on us to awaken from our stupor created from being caught up in this life so we can discover He is waiting on us?

Waiting on us? How can that be?

We have exhausted ourselves looking for solutions from other frail mortals like us, talking to each other, listening to news we either want to hear or that those who dispense the “news” want us to hear. Over time we have been fed with things that have eroded our hope and even if believing in God, have failed to talk with Him as much as others and not sought to quiet the “noise” of all around us so we can hear Him.

Photo by Tobias Aeppli from Pexels

One day this week as I was caught up in too many things that were weighing me down, I sensed a clear whisper in my heart that brought clarity to the path I seek. It was a verse the Lord brought to mind and echoed through every part of my being as He brought it to mind.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,  but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

Psalm 20:7 (NIV)

Perhaps the Lord is trying to awaken us to our temptation to do that in this current time. News sources have been conflicting, experts’ opinions have varied, and each has created a swirling melee inside of us that seems to be unable to be relieved.

Perhaps the Lord is trying to awaken us to see the unseen warfare that is intensifying around the world, to be alert to the evil that is drawing our attention off course and dividing us within and without. Shut up from a pandemic that does not relent its pursuit of us, we may have missed what has been nibbling at the hope we have and the foundation we are to stand on.

We are missing the bigger perspective. Maybe if we could see more of the whole thing, the pattern might become clearer. Then we might see that the upheaval is not just in our own neighborhood or nation but is widespread in different places around the earth. In the midst of it the warning of Isaiah comes to mind:

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

Isaiah 5:20 (NIV)
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Have we gotten turned around to a point where we have confused evil and good, light and darkness, ascribing those words to one human as compared to another, one cause compared to another? The Bible points to the truth that in “the last days” such confusion will exist on the earth. Only God knows when “the last” of “the last days” will be accomplished, but we are nearer than we once were and our wearied hearts, minds, and spirits remind us of the words echoing through J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy of The Lord of the Rings that call us to be on the alert, to stand, and not to be seduced by the ring of power that we believe will give us what we need.

Centuries upon centuries prove that power always pulls humankind off course and works corruption as it seduces us to believe we will use it for good (or that others will). It has been so since one of the chief angels of heaven lusted for power and caused the fallen world we live in but were never designed for.

Our eyes must be trained to focus on the spiritual while being alert to the world we live in that assails us each moment. It requires discipline to shut off those things, people, programs, news, and more that detract us from the position we are called to stand in based on biblical principles and values rather than use a secularized lens to which we may have succumbed.

In the end justice will prevail because God’s righteousness will require it.

It is not time for “business as usual” in any of our lives. We are called to endure, to stand, to discern when to be silent and when to speak and to remember the words of Psalm 37 which begins as follows:

“Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.”

Psalm 37:1-2 (NIV)

But I would encourage you to read it in total because of the way it harnesses us to the truth on which we need to stand. Many verses later this priceless Psalm ends with these two verses:

“The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;  he is their stronghold in time of trouble. 40 The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.”

Psalm 37: 39-40 (NIV)

God started the story.

He knows the ending because He has written it and He and those who trust in Him win.

One = A Difference

10679673_10154646015890612_5016119632551540232_O
Photo by Rob Blair

One.

How easy it can be to see that number in a great many contexts and minimize it or give it too much credit. I wonder if sometimes that relates to what we project from within us.

If we tend to over-emphasize our importance, knowledge, or skill, we may consider “one” to be much bigger than it is. If we tend to feel we have little that is of value or importance, lack skills or knowledge, we may determine we have little to offer. In the latter case we will often remain silent. In the former case we will jump in without considering if that is what we are called to do.

“One” may not be something we want to explore too deeply because it requires self-evaluation and irrespective of whatever group or groups we are in, it results in accountability. Avoidance of it misses a great deal that is important for each of us to be reminded of, I think.

You see, “one” always equals a difference. That difference can be positive or negative, now or later, but it will always mean a difference. That suggests that something will be required of each one of us because for whatever we do or do not know, we each know some things. For those things, we cannot plead ignorance nor shift responsibility on to anyone else.

755148E18C68979C849EC6F8B8F3908F

It might be tempting to bring up all of our connections or groups and how they influence us, and it is true they exert a level of influence or control on each one of us. But it is our choice about how we respond, and that response can make a great deal of difference to/for us as well as to/for others.

One angel chose to esteem himself higher than he was. The difference for him was to be thrown out of heaven and God’s presence. That choice and decision on his part meant that we have had him as an enemy that has shadowed us from the day we first were born.

One shepherd boy keeping watch over his father’s flock went to visit his brothers on the battlefield with some extra food for their nourishment. When he arrived, he discovered the army his brothers were a part of were stymied by a giant who was taunting them. This giant was far bigger and stronger than the men of the army and they trembled when they heard his voice.

The boy knew that the army of his brothers was on God’s side, and he could not believe they were shrinking back from dealing with the giant. He took his sling and a smooth stone and took down the giant in a single attempt. The difference for the boy is that he gained favor from the king of his country. Because he had a heart like God’s, he was later anointed king to replace the king who had favored him. Despite his mistakes, God made a promise to him to honor him forever. That difference resulted in Jesus coming to earth and fulfilling the promise for a perfect king while also taking the consequences for all of us who chose Him as our forever king.

Most of you know those stories well as they speak of Lucifer (the angel) and David (the shepherd boy).

But that story of the difference of one has replayed over and over countless times throughout history.

B0819FD7C0B792E81B348B769B4A4E2B--WISE-WORDS-WISE-SAYINGS

One British politician observed the dark evils of slavery in the British empire and chose to lobby for the abolition of the slave trade for 18 long years. Time and again he introduced anti-slavery motions into the British parliament. He retired from politics without seeing passage of his motions and then shortly before his death eight years later the act to free the slaves in the British empire passed through the House of Commons. What a difference his choice to persevere made in the lives of uncounted numbers of lives and what an example William Wilberforce left for us all.

Books have been so much a part of many of our lives that it is hard to envision a world without them. Some of us still prefer them to reading on any one of our new electronic devices. Even so there was a great length of time when news of the day and history was passed along orally. Later when an alphabet was devised, a very few began to write on parchments to communicate and record history.

Chinese monks developed block printing as a step to bring books into form, but one German goldsmith in the 15th century (Johannes Gutenberg) invented the printing press enabling the mass production of books and a rapid dissemination of knowledge throughout Europe. That one man, that one invention, made a great difference in the lives of anyone who learned to read. If you are reading this in any format, it made a difference in your life as well since you likely first learned to read with a commercially created book.

A fisherman left his nets one day and followed one who was called a teacher whose name was Jesus. He developed a great passion for his teaching and vowed loyalty, but when crunch time came, and Jesus was being tried this fisherman denied him. His mistake left him in shame until one day on the beach Jesus fed him breakfast and Peter was restored and transformed.

This same “one” after the shaking on Pentecost preached mightily despite growing persecution and laid a foundation for the early church. The difference flowed down to the present day for any and all who will believe his message. The difference for Peter was that it cost him his life at the hands of the Roman empire.

When one babe was born in Bethlehem prophecies of old were fulfilled and his teaching boggled the minds of all who heard Him. When He offered himself in sacrifice for all who would believe in Him, it became the greatest gift. His choice made a difference that has affected every person ever born since that day whether they have chosen Him or not.

What about you?

You are “one” person unlike any other born and living in this time.

What difference will you make?

59059-ELIE-WIESEL-QUOTE-ONE-PERSON-OF-INTEGRITY-CAN-MAKE-A-DIFFERENCE

A Costly Snare

the road to hell-001

It can be so easy to feel that our feet are planted firmly in the truth of the Gospel and our minds are free from the debris of those entanglements we left behind. Our hearts at last can be more at peace. And those things can be true without recognizing a snare we can sometimes miss coming from the lies we have often told ourselves. Too often they have been a part of us for so long, we no longer recognize them as lies, so because of that we accept them and can subtly fall prey to the erosion they create.

We miss those lies because they were sown so skillfully and often not in one large obvious chunk. Instead one fragment was put in place and others added until the lie came into being in all its power to look like the truth to us. We accepted it because we tended to agree with it by that time.

If it happened all at once, we might recognize it for what it is. That is why the enemy of our souls is patient with his work.

alberteinstein1

The first time we do not succeed at something, doubt begins to creep in about whether or not we have what it takes. (Yes, we have all been there.) We question our ability, our effort, our worth, and more. What we decide to do then will determine how effectively doubt works its evil.

If we are encouraged by others to try again (especially others who believe in us) or if we determine there was something we could have done differently or better, we are less likely to concede to the suggestions that come from the doubts.

If, however, we do not receive encouragement or cannot see a way to have done something differently, better, or more, the suggestions that follow the doubt will begin to take root in us. We may succumb to telling ourselves we are less capable, less able, or not as good as needed. If we accept or keep rehearsing those thoughts long enough, we will begin to believe they are true for us. As a result, we will begin to lie to ourselves.

We might also succumb to denying our own lack of doing our part and how that contributed to the failure. Then? We will have learned nothing. We will lie to ourselves that we were right and everyone or everything else was wrong and we were the victims of injustice.

In Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, the author admonishes: “Above all, don’t lie to yourself.”

Joel Rosenberg in one of recent novels, The Kremlin Conspiracy, followed this quote with sobering reality in these words spoken between two characters in the story:

“The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him or around him. And he loses all respect for himself and for others – and having no respect he ceases to love.”

 Lying to oneself is akin to consuming a little poison each day. It doesn’t kill us immediately so we believe it is safe without recognizing we are caught in a snare that will take our life in one way or another.

charlesspurgeon1

It is sad that we can fear the truth and be more comfortable with a lie as a result of so many influences of those who discourage us and those whom the enemy uses to believe that is what we deserve.

I appreciate so much what Maurice Maeterlinck has said:

“A truth that disheartens because it is true is of more value than the most stimulating falsehoods.”

Sometimes it can be hard to forget one of the powerful truths penned by C.S. Lewis as well:

“There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.”

We live on the battleground between truth and lies. Truth is God’s domain and lies are that of the enemy who seeks to defeat us.

Truth brings us freedom. Lies imprison us.

Truth leads us to the foot of the cross for grace and mercy. It pushes us to discover what Jesus says about who we are and what we are. It dismantles the pressure to be something we are not or can never be and instead allows us to discover all the possibilities that are a part of God’s design of us.

8dc2bfd8cb38844b3069ea35997d6892

What Guides Your Choice?

IMG_2702
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).

quote-if-our-identity-is-in-our-work-rather-than-christ-success-will-go-to-our-heads-and-failure-timothy-keller-84-95-25

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.

Jesus Christ Quotes -Brennan Manning Quote ?Our identity rests in God s relentless

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?

f7d3d53700d9b4941c53c291b942d91c

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