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Details

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Photo by Adrien Olichon from Pexels

 

None of us would likely question that our lives are made up of a great many details. It is also true that some of us are “detail” oriented and some of us only want the “big rocks.” It’s not about one being right and one being wrong and more how we are oriented by personality type and preference.

 

A common source of laughter at our home is the contrast between my husband and me. If someone calls to ask about something that has happened in our lives, he can sum it all up in several minutes because the “big rocks” is where he focuses. If the person wants the real scoop and a “play-by-play” account, I am the one to talk with.

 

But just don’t stereotype us or anyone else because it doesn’t necessarily apply across the board. My husband is meticulous about restoration work he does on things related to his hobby and if you ask him about something he is working on, be prepared to hear far more detail than you may fully understand. If we have purchased a new item that comes with a booklet of directions with detailed instructions, I want my husband to read those and just give me the “big rocks.”

 

You have likely heard the idiom – “the devil is in the details” – but do you know the source and intent?  The curious thing is that the idiom itself was not what the author originally said because the detail of a letter changed the meaning of his words.

 

The source of the idiom or proverb is often attributed to a German/American architect, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, but careful research suggests it was an earlier proverb – “Der liebe Gott steckt in detail.” The translation is “God is in the detail” and there is no evidence that Mies Van Der Rohe was the first to use it.

 

Over time an “s” was added in the translation from the earlier form and became “the devil is in the details” coming into common use in the 1990’s.

 

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The dictionary refers to the meaning as “a catch or mysterious element hidden in the details, meaning that something might seem simple at a first look but will take more time and effort to complete than expected.”

 

I am not sure how the original intent was changed, but it strikes me that the devil would always want us to get mired in details that he might throw into a problem or situation to throw us off track from the details the Lord would have us see and recognize. Confusion is one of the enemy’s favorite tactics and that always adds more time and challenge to whatever we are dealing with.

 

Perhaps it is also because God is actually into the details and the enemy wants to take that credit onto himself like he does every other attribute of God since that is who he is trying to be.

 

It only takes a brief scan of what we know about creation to see God is very much detail oriented. He may have spoken things into existence, but clearly his words have meaning and power beyond what we can fathom. And when we look at creation we need to stop at his detailed creation of humankind and how He made Adam and then “fashioned” Eve.

 

It doesn’t take a first-year medical student to recognize the intricacies of every system of the body and the delicate balance needed to keep it humming along well beyond the 50,000-mile maintenance. It doesn’t take an astronomer a raft of charts and maps of the universe to inform us that God is into details.

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If you study the Bible you see a very detail-oriented God who never loses the “big rocks” in the process. Details of who He is and how He functions and what and who is important to Him is crystal clear at the outset and follows through from Genesis to Revelation. How specific it is can be seen in the example of the Old Testament prophecy about when, how, and who would be born and appear as the Savior that fills the pages of the New Testament.

 

If we pause in the rush of daily life, we get in touch with how much He involves himself in the details of our lives as well. He is intimately acquainted with us. It is we who too often are not intimately acquainted with Him and the deep fellowship He longs to have with each of us – the very thing that brought about the plan for a Savior to restore to Him.

 

We are immersed in detail and sometimes we fail to recognize its impact on us because we get focused on the details of something we are doing while losing sight of the many details that are impacting, influencing, and shaping us every day.

 

These things we are bombarded with from the time we awaken until we drift off to sleep have power, we need to pay attention to. These things shape our desires and what we practice and become habit.

 

Consider how James K.A. Smith describes this process:

 

“Our desires are caught more than they are taught. All kinds of cultural rhythms and routines are, in fact, rituals that function as pedagogies of desire precisely because they tacitly and covertly train us to love a certain version of the kingdom, teach us to long for some renditions of the good life. These aren’t just things we do; they do something to us.”

 

Are the details that are shaping us, the ones we are practicing, fit with the original idiom – “God is in the detail” – or have we focused on a different habit so that “the devil is in the details?”

 

That distinction is crucial and can make all the difference in who we become, who we look like.

 

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More Than Once Upon A Time

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Our stories…

 

It seems we can easily be so caught up in our living that we miss the story that we are creating in the midst of God’s much larger story. Too often we think of the word “story” and the old “once upon a time” words come to mind, but our stories are so much more than the fairytales that open with such words.

 

I was reminded of that truth once again as I read these words of Lisa Wingate in her novel, The Storykeeper:

 

“Our stories are powerful. They teach, they speak, they inspire. They bring about change. But they are also fragile. Their threads are so easily broken by time, by lack of interest, by failure to understand the value that comes from knowing where we have been and who we have been. In this speed-of-light culture, our histories are fading more quickly than ever. Yet when we lose our stories, we lose ourselves…”

 

Moment by moment we are moving toward the next day, the next thing, the next goal, or the next prayer.

 

Do we focus on the dark times, the deep valleys, the mistakes, and the disappointments or do we only look at the victories and goals achieved?

 

If we choose only the best or the worst, we do so to our detriment and miss how God used each in the story to point to Him. Our perspective about each of those comes from the context the whole of our story provides.

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It is often only in hindsight we discover some of the nuggets of God’s working, how He chose to answer each prayer, and how his timing was better than ours, his answer the better one.

 

It’s then we realize that the poor choices we made in the past didn’t need to define us and He could show us better choices were possible now and empower us to make them. And perhaps we might come to understand that He has chosen us to be a part of HIS story, HIS grand story.

 

He wants us to learn from the story, the testament He left for us to point the way.

 

The mistakes we make are the very ones that teach us the most, that shape our character, and highlight the Lord’s grace and light, his mercy and love. If we choose not to pay attention, not to learn from them, we do so at our peril.

 

History has always been a favorite subject of mine. I find most of it fascinating and revelatory. It shows the tendency of humankind to ignore it and fall prey to misery many times over.

 

The basic principle is actually quite straightforward, and Paul sums it up perfectly in his epistle to Galatians:

 

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Galatians 5:13-15 (NIV)

 

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That grand gift God gave mankind at the very outset – freedom of choice – has been what we stumble over again and again. We want to indulge ourselves with that heady gift of freedom to say what we wish, do what we want and often with no regard to the consequences for ourselves or anyone else. We want to do what the lyrics of the song made famous by Frank Sinatra speak of – “my way.”

 

One thing that might help us is to grapple with this truth John Eldredge penned in Walking with God:

 

“Don’t let this throw you. Things may not unfold the way you think they will when you’re following God. Remember – he is after both our transformation and our joy. The one hangs upon the other.”

 

If you are tempted to shun your story or believe it is of no value, look at the heroes of the faith, look at the legends of history. They have much to teach us.

 

“Every single one of us – even the boldest among us – will at times deny Him, or fall asleep, or fall away in our own ways. Even our greatest commitment to Him is not enough.

But still, His covenant is greater. It is not dependent on our ability to answer the questions with courage, to do the right thing, or even to keep the commitment in faith. Jesus knows that in our human brokenness, we simply cannot do it on our own. So, He made a way. He took on our shame and our sin to be with us.”

Eric and Kristen Hill in The First Breakfast

 

And that is the very best story we could ever be a part of.

 

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Photo by Rob Blair

 

 

 

 

 

 

Someone to Watch

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It was in the midst of the Roaring Twenties in 1926 that George Gershwin composed the song “Someone to Watch Over Me” with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and titled by Howard Dietz. Nearly a hundred years later the haunting words and melody can still be heard across the spectrum of media. Most of us have heard it sung by some of the greatest singers of our time, but few of us might know it was written for the musical, Oh, Kay!, and sung on Broadway by the English actress, Gertrude Lawrence.

 

It was originally an up-tempo swing style tune, but by the 1930’s and 1940’s it had become a slow ballad and that continues to be the style loved by millions listening live or to one of the 1,800 recordings of the song.

 

Perhaps it is the appeal of the theme of the song that depicts a desire for ideal love with someone to watch over us that keeps the lyrics fresh. Despite our claims of loving to be independent, most of us can honestly admit that somewhere tucked inside is that longing to have someone looking out for us, watching over us. It promises protection, care, and safe passage through life.

 

I confess I love the song and the rendition in the 1995 film, Mr. Holland’s Opus, is memorable, but it doesn’t take very many years of living to face the reality that that idealized person doesn’t exist and will never be there all the time in our lives.

 

But that desire can indeed be met in the spiritual realm.

 

There is One who never sleeps, whose omnipresence allows Him to do just that.

 

There is One who loves us perfectly despite the mountains of imperfection each of us is permeated with.

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Sometimes it is an awareness we lose sight of in the midst of daily living when it seems so much depends on us or that no one sees we are frayed and frazzled and long for that someone to watch over us. There can even be times when we are tempted to believe that this One is indifferent and doesn’t recognize the trouble we are in, but those are faulty thoughts sent by the enemy of our souls to cause us to question God’s goodness and omnipotence.

 

From time to time we catch a glimpse of the Lord working on our behalf, but I am persuaded that more times than not we miss it because it happens moment by moment each day in ways that are largely unseen.

 

If life doesn’t go perfectly for us or if we are not protected from every trouble, hardship, disease, or accident, our doubts increase. If we lose a job, hear a dreaded diagnosis, grieve through singleness or infertility, we give way to thinking no one is watching over us and that includes God whom we heard was supposed to be there when no one else was there.

 

Our quest to deal with that may well have sparked our interest in the popular book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People by a conservative rabbi, Harold Kushner, published in 1981.

 

R.C. Sproul reminds us in this quote of something we fail to see:

 

“Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once, and He volunteered.”

 

How subtle are the temptations to see ourselves as better than we are, more deserving than we have ever been, but if we refuse to see that we miss how great is his love and how deep is his grace. We also reveal the ever-present pride that besets us.

 

“At its root, pride confuses our identity with God’s and makes us think of ourselves as larger than we really are.”

Hannah Anderson in Humble Roots

 

 It is when the Lord opens our eyes to see more clearly for a moment that we are humbly reminded of how much He is watching over us in ways we cannot imagine. Some of those He doesn’t alert us to so we may not sense or see them, but sometimes He pulls back the veil over our eyes to show us something we do not see to alert us to potential harm.

 

Recent weeks have given our family such glimpses in ways that can only result in profound gratitude and praise.

 

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Not many weeks ago our adult son was plagued with an eye that kept watering continuously. When it was not improving, he sought advice from his optometrist. What he could not have guessed was how that watering eye was a reminder of God watching over Him. It led to several more doctors’ that allowed him to discover a cancerous tumor was growing deep in his sinuses causing pressure on that eye that created the watering. If left undetected, the prognosis would not have been so good, but a watering eye led to a diagnosis, a cutting-edge treatment protocol, and an excellent prognosis.

 

During that same time my husband was slated for a surgical procedure that required a pre-op appointment with our primary care physician. He decided to do an EKG during that visit. He saw several small things he was unclear about and immediately called a cardiologist. The cardiologist did a series of tests to approve the previously scheduled surgery, but met with him after the surgery to follow-up and add one more assessment that revealed despite a strong heart, he needed a pacemaker due to an electrical issue with his heart that had not created symptoms alerting him to the problem.

 

These weeks were filled with so many things coming at our family that it felt like an incredible assault from every direction, a saga that included other things beyond these two. Yet, as the Lord pulled back the veil slightly, we were given the privilege of seeing there was indeed someone watching over each one far beyond what the lyrics of the famous song could include, a reminder that God is indeed good.

 

It reminded me of a verse in Isaiah:

 

“Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.”

Isaiah 65:24 (NIV)

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Journey into the Unknown

 

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I confess to being a Star Wars fan. Our family has great memories of waiting in line to see the very first in the movie series, Episode IV-A Lost Hope that was released May 25, 1977. It was a given that we were looking forward to Episode VII-The Force Awakens when it was released December 18, 2015.

 

The series brings back images of westerns of an earlier time period where the battle between good and evil was somehow clearer than many movies today.

 

I think our hearts are captured by the conquest of the good and right standing against the evil. Perhaps it gives us hope in our own battles and conquests that ultimately good will win out over evil, light will prevail over darkness.

 

When Star Wars came on the scene it took us on journeys into the unknown. There were galaxies beyond our own to discover, bizarre and eerie characters to study, and sorting out the truth about “the Force” accompanied by a musical score that accentuated the story unfolding on the screen. That same musical score would be etched in our memories as high school bands learned it and used it as a highlight of their halftime shows at fall football games.

 

I wonder if we recognize movies about treks into space are not the only journeys into the unknown.

 

Each of our days is just such a journey. Yes, I make plans and think of seasons of life common to us all, but each day unfolds revealing how little control I have over its twists and turns. Somehow I can feel less excited about that than I might in a movie.

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My journey into the unknown requires so much more of me than a space movie.

 

One of my favorite Bible stories of journeying into the unknown is found in Joshua. For as horrible as conditions in Egypt were for the children of Israel, it became clear soon enough after they crossed the Red Sea that the trek they were beginning would expose them to much they had never seen or experienced. The conditions would not be easy and we know how they faltered under the leadership of Moses and balked at times when Joshua took the lead.

 

The Israelites were stepping off into the unknown, but have we forgotten that it was not unknown to God?

 

God knew the destination and had planned for the route He desired them to take. He also knew it would birth a new level of faith and trust in the people He had called out of slavery in Egypt. The conditions they faced would not be comfortable, but that was less significant to God. He knew these conditions would be temporary, but the development of their faith and trust would endure forever.

 

The Israelites needed to learn God could be trusted.

 

So do we.

 

The Israelites needed to know the land the spies had described that was flowing with milk and honey was not to be the source of their faith. Their faith and trust needed to be in the One who had bequeathed the Promised Land to them.

 

Page by page in the book of Joshua we discover the challenge to grow in faith that God was good and was for their good as they wandered day by day extending into forty years of their lives. The children of Israel also needed to come to grips with the unexpected challenges they faced and the fears that sought to overtake them.

 

I wonder if the journey was less about gaining the Promised Land and more about believing that God could be trusted.

 

Isn’t His first and foremost desire to be in relationship with and for us to know Him as He truly is? To know He is good. To know He is trustworthy. To know that our unknown is not unknown to Him.

 

Consider this…

 

Is that what He also wants us to see on our own journey into the unknown?

 

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Caught in the Act

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Attending a one-room schoolhouse is something most people have only read about, but for me it was a reality for the first and second grade. Eight grades in one large room provided an experience like no other.

 

Of course there were only a few students for each grade and as I think about it, those moms today who home school their children probably have a greater feel for the experience than most anyone else. Even so, to have 25 students in one room at different grade levels taught by one teacher meant you needed an extraordinary teacher.

 

My teacher’s name was Mrs. Queen and the name fit her as perfectly as the smile she always wore.

 

The room was arranged with desks in rows and sections according to grade level. A large coal stove stood to one side and was used to heat the room in the winter. Behind the stove were a row of hooks for coats and jackets. Bathrooms were the more primitive outdoor variety. The playground had one set of swings and an abundance of grass.

 

I was one of three little girls in the first grade. Our desks were up front in the room, but the front wall’s black chalkboard gave us a glimpse of what other grades were assigned and we could also hear and benefit from the instruction students above us received.

 

The disadvantage for me was my seeming inability to tune out the instruction for other grades and focus on my own work. It sounded more interesting than the work I was assigned. I also am and was a very auditory learner so I would zero in on all sorts of new information long before that material would be given to me. In fact, I learned a lot by listening.

 

I listened so well to the other girls in my class reading aloud that when it came to my turn, I could read the pages without stumbling over a single word.

 

It seemed like I was the best reader in the class and I got credit for that until Mrs. Queen discovered the truth.

 

I was not reading the words, but imitating. I pretended to read, but had instead memorized the stories in the reading book.

 

It was almost the middle of the first grade and I was caught. My parents were told and I needed to start at the beginning of the first grade reader again.

 

There are many things I learned by imitation and this may not be a bad thing, but some things do not work that way. I can imitate the way my mother crimped a piecrust. I can imitate how I use my camera lens after I watch a You Tube video. I can imitate a British accent after watching Downton Abbey.

 

In the spiritual realm, I cannot imitate the nature of Jesus.

 

It is either in me or it is not.

 

As a believer, I am called to often be and do what is not my duty, to love when it would be easier to resent, to persevere when it would be easier to walk away, to respond with grace when a comment made is less then loving.

 

If I only imitate, I will be found out as surely as Mrs. Queen detected I was not reading. I will also dishonor the Lord in my life when others discover I was only imitating.

 

His character cannot be imitated. It only happens by the infusion of His life and Spirit at work within me.

 

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