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What Signs Do You Follow?

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Signs. Every day we are bombarded by signs. They point us to something, someplace else. They give us information. They seek to persuade and influence us to desire things – food, cars, vacation spots, insurance companies, coffee shops, and more.

Once upon a time signs would have primarily told us street names, when to stop or watch for curves, or how many miles to the next nearest cities, but then it wasn’t long before advertisers discovered billboards could be used along major highways to draw us toward whatever they wanted to sell us.

Our family will never forget our first trip west on one of the northern routes. We began to see signs meant to intrigue on the long trek across the Dakotas. All of them were pointing to some little drug store in a place called Wall, South Dakota. One sign we saw often asked the question, “Where in the heck is Wall Drug?” Others would tell us how far it was to Wall Drug or spoke about ice water and ice cream.

We hadn’t planned on a stop there, but as the signs made it clear we were getting closer our interest was thoroughly aroused. The signs had succeeded in enticing us to locate this little dot on the map and guess what? From that trip onward, every time we headed west, and we were anywhere near South Dakota, we made a point of stopping there because this is definitely not your typical drug store and there is a great history connected to all the signs and culture around Wall. If you have trekked in that area of the United States, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, you have another adventure ahead to explore.

Beyond all these signs along the road we look for signs that don’t come on street corners or billboards. We look for signs of spring, summer, fall, and winter. We see evidences in nature that every farmer recognizes that guides him or her when it is time to plant and when harvest needs to be finished.

Our calendars serve as signs as well and we dare not miss the signs that now show up on every media device we own, but we call them commercials.

There are also placards everywhere promoting one cause or another and political signs that promote candidates and divide neighbors.

Make no mistake about it – signs are meant to influence us in one way or another. They show up in us when silver streaks our hair and wrinkles are no longer smile lines, announcing to the world that we are getting older whether we feel or admit that or not.

But from the beginning of recorded time we see there were other signs meant to point to bigger happenings, things we shouldn’t miss. You have read about them – a flood, a rainbow, a burning bush, a sea parted, and a singular star that a group of magi followed to locate the birth of a future king.

Photo by Egor Kamelev from Pexels



On that last one, that special king’s birth had been prophesied about for hundreds of years, but when the time came no one was quite prepared because it didn’t appear he was a king even though wise men from hundreds of miles away brought grand gifts and believed the prophecy.

Sometimes seeing is not always believing and sometimes we don’t see the most important signs meant to bring hope in the midst of doubt, light in the midst of darkness.

2020 has been a troubling time for much of the world. It has been easy to be caught up in the tragic challenges caused by the pandemic affecting people in every corner of the world. What we once knew as “normal” seems to have disappeared. Lawlessness in diverse places has added to uncertainty for many. But it hasn’t stopped there. Every manner of disaster has been happening at the same time – earthquakes, floods of epic proportions, hurricanes and typhoons, fires and droughts.

Have we forgotten to look a bit beyond these things and consider how many news stories don’t appear on the evening news, or media news feeds, or all the places we get our news? Or just maybe we have stopped looking at the news because none of it seems good and hope is hard to come by.

Could it be the very things upending our lives are signs of another prophesied event? Have we considered what the prophets of old told us and Jesus pointed to during the years He walked the earth?

Our hope will invariably be disappointed if we put it in the wrong place. It will never quite match up if we put it in our idea of an ideal world or candidate or movement. Our hope, our very best hope, is in the One who created us, the earth we stand on, the very air we breathe. He has not forgotten. What has our heart looked to for hope?

Consider the words Eugene Peterson uses to translate a portion of Romans 5 in The Message:

“There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. “

Photo by Rob Blair

A Name – A Priceless Reminder

My name is one given by my parents and as I recall, it is one my mother saw in something she was reading and liked a great deal. I don’t know if she knew anything about its meaning or source when it was chosen for me, but I do know my paternal grandmother did not approve of the choice. She refused to call me anything but “baby” until she died a few months after my birth.

My name seemed to be unique at the time I was growing up and going through school. No other girl in my classes had my first name and I confess that I sometimes wished I had one of the popular names at that time.

Later on, when I was curious, I looked up the meaning and found this:

“The name Pamela means All Honey, Sweetness, and is of English origin. The name was invented by Sir Philip Sidney for a poem entitled “Arcadia” in the 1580’s.”

I rarely use the name, Pamela, as it seems so formal to me. I can easily see myself sitting in a garden at a formal tea party somewhere when I hear or read it. As a result, most people call me Pam instead unless there is a very formal reason why my given name is appropriate. (I used it when I repeated my wedding vows.)

I am not sure we always think a lot about a name, any name, as much as once was the case. Most of us think of it most often when a new baby is born and named or perhaps how we feel about the name we were given at birth.

But I believe names are important. We see how often they were noted as significant and rich with meaning when we read Scripture.

Sometimes names appear to be intentionally chosen for their meaning (either etymology or whom we have known by that name) and other times it seems parents choose a name randomly. We all know that certain names are popular at different times and then fade from use after a few years. Other names stand the test of time and we discover those are some of the names we see in Scripture and used throughout the generations since then.

Naming is important and becomes something we learn to do at the outset as our parents tell us the names of people, places, and things. The significance of our first breaths on earth are marked by being named. That should remind us of more than what the name means or how we feel about it, however.

Look at how Eugene Peterson widens our lens on the importance of names:

At our birth, we are named, not numbered. The name is that part of speech by which we are recognized as a person. We are not classified as a species of animal. We are not labeled as a compound of chemicals. We are not assessed for our economic potential and given a cash value. We are named. What we are named is not as significant as that we are named.”

Maybe some knowing within us about that is why we tend to cringe at labels and sometimes nicknames. Labels are less personal, more abstract, and lump us with others who may be quite unlike us in more ways than not. Labels also confine us, box us in, and set us up for stereotypes and biases that go along with those labels. And that creates dissension and division, implying the label is all of who we are and anything that we are that doesn’t fit must be eliminated.

Such thinking loses so much of the meaning that a name, my name or yours, says. You are a certain person and not anyone else even though you may have characteristics that are similar to others in your family or any other number of categories.

I fit into many categories that I can list – wife, mother, daughter, grandmother, friend, teacher, homemaker, counselor, writer, author, and more. Those labels tell you information, but they don’t really tell you who I am. None of them say the uniqueness of who I am in each of these categories or labels.

Names not only address what we are, the irreplaceably human, they also anticipate what we become. Names call us to become who we will be. A lifetime of growth and development is announced by a name. Names mean something. A personal name designates what is irreducibly personal; it calls us to become what we are not yet.”

Eugene Peterson

Scripture speaks in many places about who we are to be and how the Lord refers to us. One example that fits with what I have written above are these words of John in The Message:

But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him – and in seeing him, become like him.” 1 John 3:2

We are named and that starts the process of becoming that continues as we discover over time, a lifetime, who we are and what we are called to be in the Lord’s design and purpose. We are ever changing and not yet complete (except in Christ).

The Lord calls us his children, but we are not just a child or a combination of genetic material from our parents. Each of us will become who we are “with who God is and what he does” (Eugene Peterson).

In another hour, another day, we will have changed. We are in the process of either becoming more or less.” Eugene Peterson

I am fascinated by the passage in Revelation 2:17 (MSG) in the words to the Church in Pergamum which reads:

Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’ll give the sacred manna to every conqueror; I’ll also give a clear, smooth stone inscribed with your new name, your secret new name.”

Can you imagine what it will be like to hear the Lord call you by your secret new name?

How do we discover the meaning of a name, of who we are?

It can only happen to the fullest extent our Creator has in mind in relationship with Him.

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He Said It Again

“I love you,” he said. And the first time he said it, I was so surprised. I had never seen myself as very lovable to anyone, so it was hard for me to believe that he told me this as we said goodnight at the dorm on the college campus where we met.

This man of such character and fewer words than many, said those same words to me this morning when he woke me up – “I love you.” I heard them before we went to sleep, and I could not count the number of times he has said them in more than 55 years of marriage and 57 years of knowing each other.

But he didn’t stop with the words. That first fall on campus he celebrated my nineteenth birthday by taking me to a play and sending a dozen red roses to me at my dorm. His acts of kindness and service would make an extremely long list, but he never stops saying the words that impacted me more than he could have guessed that first time.

Despite growing up in a Christian home and being in church throughout my years of growing up there, those words and their meaning somehow didn’t sink in or perhaps were not said very often to me (the one whose love languages are words of affirmation and quality time). There were evidences of my parents care for me, but perhaps what didn’t allow them to stick was that my Christian experience seemed more focused on information, behavior, performance, and obedience than a love relationship with the Lord.

You see, I don’t think hearing those words from anyone creates quite as much certainty as when we hear the Lord speak them to our heart and discover He wants a relationship with us.

Too many believers somehow miss that. It shows up in their prayer time when the words can sound like they are speaking to a distant being rather than a tender Father who longs to hear our hearts and share his with us as well.

Clearly God’s Word speaks of his love from Genesis to Revelation, but even then, we can miss it on a personal relational level. That is even truer if we don’t see the many other ways He speaks.

Throughout Scripture God speaks through kings and queens, princes and prophets, poets and pilgrims. He speaks through weather patterns, barnyard animals, and even the stars in the sky. God is not only creative, but he is persistent in getting our attention and communicating with us.” Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo

All of that is so true and the list can be even longer than Margaret lists in the quote, but why can those words “I love you” seem to be missed by so many. If they are not missed, too often they slip out of our attention as we get caught up “in the affairs of life” and all of the doing.

Perhaps those words are so powerful that the enemy of our souls would use anything in his arsenal to muffle them, distort them, or block them from our awareness. I think he knows that IF we really hear them and BELIEVE them, he will have a much harder time trying to rob the Lord of us.

“Why use sixty-six books and thousands of years of history to say three simple words? Because “I love you,” is not just a piece of information or one-time revelation but an invitation to transformation.” Margaret Feinberg in The Sacred Echo

It’s true that He loved us so much that He chose to come to earth and die for us on a brutal cross to demonstrate those words missed for so many years before through all the laws and sacrifices. He did it not only to save us, but because He wanted an unbroken relationship with us that was lost in Eden through the power of sin.

Our studies of the Bible are excellent and needed to learn more about Him, but too often we see these only as sources of information.

Information is good, but relationship is transformative.

All these ways to point to Him are not meant to be bytes of information to add to a hard drive, but an invitation to experience God’s love on a personal, relational level each moment of each day. He doesn’t want us to just know about, read about his love. He wants us to experience it even as my dear husband reminds me in numerous ways each day of our life together.

I experience God saying “I love you” when I sense it in a whisper as I sit after time in the Scripture or prayer. I experience it when He gently convicts me of an attitude or choice that does not reflect Him. Love includes correction because He wants the best for us.

When we read Scripture, we are reading stories, the grandest of stories, but our story is unfolding now in real time and experience. He wants us to experience/know intimate relationship and love that is no less personal than when my husband says those words – “I love you!”

Nothing is more powerful than God’s love for us. Little wonder that too often humankind is deceived and miss or doubt it.

No matter where you are or what is happening in your life today, the Lord wants you to hear those words, “I love you.”

A Revealing Clue

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It can be so easy to look at either my small world or the broader world and have my mood and attitude impacted in one direction or another. My thoughts focus on something that pulls me along a path toward positive or negative views of the world, Christianity, so much more, and myself. My thoughts are highly influenced by what I take in through my eyes in the physical environment as well as what they pick up from the interior landscape of my innermost being.

In the physical dimension we rarely notice how wonderfully God has designed us. Each of our eyes has a different line of vision that allows us to see things in three dimensions. We are picking up vast amounts of knowing with little conscious thought about the bits of information bombarding our brain and our perception.

An Example of Figure-Ground Ambiguity

One whole field of psychology (Gestalt) is centered on the premise that the information we take in or observe is subjective and biased because it is experienced from the perspective of the individual person who is looking or taking in that information. I’m sure we have all been reminded of that when witnesses of an accident each report something slightly different or even a great deal different.

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This area of science refers to this tendency as “figure-ground”. The concept relates to our tendency to perceive an image in the foreground first, while other images fade into the background. This discrimination in “figure ground” is the ability to perceive what your brain is telling you and determine what you believe is the most important image. It comes because we focus our attention on some aspect of something and it becomes “the figure” and the rest becomes the background.

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Photographers love to keep that in mind as they are setting up the shots they want to take and what they want those who will view the photo to focus on. I’m not a professional photographer and I do that as well. I am actually seeking to guide the viewer to see something I see and see something differently I think they may miss.

Why is “figure-ground” important?

It can be a great tool to use to discover what is pulling our thoughts and attitudes in directions that either equip us to face the day’s challenges or defeat us before we leave our bedroom. Are we looking at things with a telephoto lens or a wide-angle lens? The lens we use will make all the difference.

Headlines scream at us and often alarm us. They can become “the figure” and soon we can be drawn into fear, anger, and even hate. A disappointment, wound, or loss can result in the same thing. If we focus on “the figure” long enough, it soon becomes all that we see. We cannot help but see our home, street, block, town, etc. as a central focus. It is where we live. But in doing so have we, have I, forgotten that “ground” of the unseen world of the Kingdom that surrounds us and is where our citizenship lays?

If we lose that, we can easily become discouraged or fearful. More than a few times, scripture reminds all of us about our focus. Here are just a few examples:

Colossians 3:2 (ESV)

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

The revealing clue is that what has become “the figure” in our lives, will influence our perception, thought, attitude, mood, choices, and actions.

Each day we need to align our life, perception, thoughts, attitudes, mood, choices, and actions with His lens, His words.

He is “the figure” that must guide each day. Our challenge is not to allow Him to become “the ground” we fail to see.

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A Habit That Haunts Us

I watched as two little boys stood back to back in the gym measuring to try to prove who was the taller of the two. Not too many feet away, two little girls were comparing the colors and number of styles of rubber band bracelets they had.

Is there a standard for rubber band bracelets? I thought this was supposed to simply be a fun activity. Is there really a good, better, best?

It seems as if we are all caught up in measuring something, someone, or ourselves.

It starts early in life as children. It comes down to biggest, best, or most sorts of things. It might look harmless enough, but it begins to set a grid in place, a filter, that lingers well into adulthood and causes us to continue to measure.

To measure means to compare, to determine a better or best, a worse or worst.

I am not suggesting it is all bad. When I go to the grocery store, I hand select the apples, bananas, grapes, and other produce to assure I get the “best” of what is offered for the “best” price.

I confess that beyond the color or style of a chair or couch, I am asking about the “best” fabric that will stand up under wear or repel stains when I am buying a piece of furniture. I want it to last and I want my money to go as far as possible.

Other comparisons become more problematic. It can be easy to look at who has the newest car or house, who has the nicest office, who gets the most exotic vacations, and on and on.

Those sorts of comparisons provide fertile ground for jealousy, envy, and aggressive zealousness that sets aside solid values for people, practices, and principles. It divides families, friends, neighbors, and nations.

A great deal of energy can go into all of these pursuits, but what impact does it have on our soul?

Sadly, these sorts of comparisons can creep into our spiritual lives and organizations as well.

What impact does it have on eternity?

I think we really know that Jesus measures differently.

Jesus looks at the content of our heart, not the size of our bank account. Jesus looks at the quality of our character, not the titles or positions we hold.

Jesus’s choices are a paradox to us. He chooses those that others skip over or reject. He honors small people and small things. He recognizes those who are humble and don’t speak of their achievements if they have them versus those who give Him lists of what they have done hoping to impress Him.

Each day I have a choice to make. What will I do with the time that has been allotted to me? The challenge for me is to put on His lenses to determine that.

Yesterday I had no grand plans, no appointments to keep, and no errands to run. Even as a retiree those days are not as common as you might think. Was I going to measure my day by some level of what is considered productivity? (That is always a big temptation if you have been raised with a strong work ethic as I was.)

The truth is there were many things I could do and perhaps should do and some of those did get tackled. I still deal with the question in my head at the end of the day that asks, “what did you accomplish today”.

The best thing the Lord showed me through His lenses was that it was simply a day I was available, available for His use as needed.

When my schedule is full for the day, I am not so available for anything else that might come up. I can’t be on standby for anyone or anything very easily. I also cannot “bank” resources to replenish my own heart and soul that I may need later or that He might want to use later.

On this “standby” day I received several emails about significant prayer needs and I had time to not only pray, but also to send a handwritten note to encourage the persons. I also had time to listen to a friend without needing to interrupt her to go running off somewhere. My heart and soul were filled up with an extended quiet time and finishing a book that enriched my reflections.

The measure that matters is what matters to Him. That is what will impact eternity.

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Blackberry Farm, Walland, TN