Symbols 2

Art:

I RECENTLY COMPLETED this 16” x 20” Acrylic from a reference photo by Peter Dranitsin.

The Moose is often a Symbol of independence, self-esteem and wisdom.  I thought it a good choice for today’s Thought— ‘Symbols’.

Thought:

Symbols

WE’RE SURROUNDED by so many ‘Symbols’ I think we often ‘stop seeing them’ whether or not our brain translates what the Symbol represents: Target, Wall-Mart, Apple, Nike, Aflac.  Advertising firms are paid good money to develop these ‘Symbols’ (logos). Symbols are a mark or character used as a representation of an object, function, or process. Over time Symbols may lose meaning or even take on unintended meanings.

APRIL 4, we celebrated Easter Sunday.  A common Symbol for this celebration (and throughout the year) is the Crucifix.  Ever wonder when we started using this Symbol for Christianity?  Did Jesus teach this? Did New Testament writers?  No, on both counts.  Kenneth Clark in his book and television series Civilization offers an answer:

Kenneth Clark

“WE HAVE GROWN so used to the idea that the Crucifixion is the supreme symbol of Christianity that it is a shock to realize how late in the history of Christian art its power is recognized.  In the first art of Christianity, it hardly appears; and the earliest example, on the doors of Santa Sabina (built A.D. 430) in Rome, its stuck away in a corner almost out of sight. The simple fact is that the early church needed converts, and from this point of view the Crucifixion was not an encouraging subject. So early Christian art is concerned with miracles, healings, and with hopeful aspects of the faith like Ascension and Resurrection.”[1] 

In contrast to Kenneth Clark’s suggestion (why the early church was not keen on the Crucifix as the Christian symbol) listen to Tertullian 200 years earlier as he writes to his provincial governors under the Roman Empire

Tertullian’s Apology

“PROCEEDE IN YOUR career of cruelty, but do not suppose that you will thus accomplish your purpose of extinguishing the hated sect [the Christians].  We are like the grass, which grown the more luxuriantly, the oftener it is mown.  The blood of Christians is the seed of Christianity.  Your philosophers taught men to despise pain and death by words; but how few their converts compared with those of the Christians, who teach by example! The very obstinacy for which you upbraid us is the great propagator of our doctrines.  For who can behold it, and not inquire into the nature of the faith which insures such supernatural courage?  Who can inquire into that faith and not embrace it, and not desire himself to undergo the same suffering in order that he may thus secure a participation in the fullness of divine favor?” –Tertullian’s (A.D. 160-230) In the conclusion to his Apology he seems to see the Christian Symbol as the Life example of the early believers.[2]

Life!

HAVING GIVEN thought to both Clark and Tertulian’s words, I have an observation:  Kenneth Clark’s suggestion as to why the early church was not keen on the Crucifix for the Christian symbol may be spot on. It seems to assume Jesus’ human death—crucifixion—was the central focus of his ‘good news’ message. It seems to me Jesus’ message was ‘Life’ in his kingdom now and for eternity. Yes, Jesus did die for us and demonstrated the end of death’s control over our living. By following him we experience a new kind of “Eternal Life”.  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. [3]With this in mind, it seems best to at least use the empty Cross Symbol. But, is there a better possibility?

Ankh?

ACCORDING TO TERTULLIAN’S comments, the best Symbol of what Christianity is all about is the ‘Life’ of the individual follower of Jesus.  One such Symbol is the Ankh symbol—sometimes referred to as the key of Life or the key of the Nile—representative of eternal life in Ancient Egypt. Created by Africans long ago, the Ankh is said to be the first–or original–Cross. It is sometimes used by Coptic Christians along with the Coptic Cross. Physical inanimate Symbols may be helpful reminders, but whether it is the Crucifix, Cross or Ankh we must remember:

 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; Exodus 20:4


For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.

Ephesians 5:8


[1] Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard, p.34

[2] Ibid p. 35

[3] John 10:10 The Message

Symbols

Art:

I RECENTLY COMPLETED this 16” x 20” Acrylic from a reference photo by Peter Dranitsin.

The Moose is often a Symbol of independence, self-esteem and wisdom.  I thought it a good choice for today’s Thought— ‘Symbols’.

Thought:

WE’RE SURROUNDED by so many ‘Symbols’ I think we often ‘stop seeing them’ whether or not our brain translates what the Symbol represents: Target, Wall-Mart, Apple, Nike, Aflac.  Advertising firms are paid good money to develop these ‘Symbols’ (logos). Symbols are a mark or character used as a representation of an object, function, or process. Over time Symbols may lose meaning or even take on unintended meanings.

Symbols

APRIL 4, we celebrated Easter Sunday.  A common Symbol for this celebration (and throughout the year) is the Crucifix.  Ever wonder when we started using this Symbol for Christianity?  Did Jesus teach this? Did New Testament writers?  No, on both counts.  Kenneth Clark in his book and television series Civilization offers an answer:

Kenneth Clark

“WE HAVE GROWN so used to the idea that the Crucifixion is the supreme symbol of Christianity that it is a shock to realize how late in the history of Christian art its power is recognized.  In the first art of Christianity, it hardly appears; and the earliest example, on the doors of Santa Sabina (built A.D. 430) in Rome, its stuck away in a corner almost out of sight. The simple fact is that the early church needed converts, and from this point of view the Crucifixion was not an encouraging subject. So early Christian art is concerned with miracles, healings, and with hopeful aspects of the faith like Ascension and Resurrection.”[1] 

In contrast to Kenneth Clark’s suggestion (why the early church was not keen on the Crucifix as the Christian symbol) listen to Tertullian 200 years earlier as he writes to his provincial governors under the Roman Empire

Tertullian’s Apology

“PROCEED IN YOUR career of cruelty, but do not suppose that you will thus accomplish your purpose of extinguishing the hated sect [the Christians].  We are like the grass, which grown the more luxuriantly, the oftener it is mown.  The blood of Christians is the seed of Christianity.  Your philosophers taught men to despise pain and death by words; but how few their converts compared with those of the Christians, who teach by example! The very obstinacy for which you upbraid us is the great propagator of our doctrines.  For who can behold it, and not inquire into the nature of the faith which insures such supernatural courage?  Who can inquire into that faith and not embrace it, and not desire himself to undergo the same suffering in order that he may thus secure a participation in the fullness of divine favor?” –Tertullian’s (A.D. 160-230) In the conclusion to his Apology he seems to see the Christian Symbol as the Life example of the early believers.[2]

Life!

HAVING GIVEN thought to both Clark and Tertulian’s words, I have an observation:  Kenneth Clark’s suggestion as to why the early church was not keen on the Crucifix for the Christian symbol may be spot on. It seems to assume Jesus’ human death—crucifixion—was the central focus of his ‘good news’ message. It seems to me Jesus’ message was ‘Life’ in his kingdom now and for eternity. Yes, Jesus did die for us and demonstrated the end of death’s control over our living. By following him we experience a new kind of “Eternal Life”.  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. [3]With this in mind, it seems best to at least use the empty Cross Symbol. But, is there a better possibility?

Ankh?

ACCORDING TO TERTULLIAN’S comments, the best Symbol of what Christianity is all about is the ‘Life’ of the individual follower of Jesus.  One such Symbol is the Ankh symbol—sometimes referred to as the key of Life or the key of the Nile—representative of eternal life in Ancient Egypt. Created by Africans long ago, the Ankh is said to be the first–or original–Cross. It is sometimes used by Coptic Christians along with the Coptic Cross. Physical inanimate Symbols may be helpful reminders, but whether it is the Crucifix, Cross or Ankh we must remember:

 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them;… Exodus 20:4


For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.

Ephesians 5:8


[1] Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard, p.34

[2] Ibid p. 35

[3] John 10:10 The Message

Pride

Art:

I COMPLETED this 14” x 18” Acrylic in March from a photo reference, taken more than 40 years ago, of our home on Altadena Street, in Royal Oak, Michigan.

I chose to use it in relation to today’s Thought—Pride. Built more than a 100 years ago, this was our Thomason family home before we moved to Minnesota in 1983.  I basically renovated nearly everything inside and out. During my college and early married years, I spent six years as a subcontractor installing aluminum siding and trim. My last renovation was to design and install everything you see here with aluminum siding and trim. I am proud (in a good sense!) of how it turned out. 

Thought:

Are You A Proud Person?

IF ASKED, “Are you a Proud person?” how would you respond? Answering accurately may present a challenge.  Allowed to think about your answer, you might actually say, “Yes, and No.”, it depends on what you mean by ‘Proud’.”  Therein lies the difficulty.  I’ve recently been thinking and reading about ‘Pride’ to gain a better understanding why we may struggle answering the question: “Are you a ‘Proud’ Person?”. Here, in short form, is what, seems to me, to connect the dots.

IN ENGLISH we may use the word ‘Pride’ as a brand name for furniture polish; to describe a public march for different demographics as ‘(blank) Pride’ or ‘Proud to be an American’.  Trying to define the word by the many ways we use it isn’t much help.

Good Pride…Bad Pride?

PRIDE IS ONE of those words difficult to define in simple English.  I suspect one might reach the same conclusion attempting to define its equivalent in any other language.  At the risk of oversimplifying, I suggest ‘Pride’ may be painted in either of two broad strokes: Good pride or Bad pride.

Good Pride

ACCORDING TO Wikipedia: “Pride is a positive emotional response or attitude to something with an intimate connection to oneself, due to its perceived value. This may be one’s own abilities or achievements, positive characteristics of friends or family, or one’s country.”  This sounds positive and may be illustrated in a number of ways:  The pleasure in being praised with “Well done!”. The pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you sincerely wanted to please.  Being ‘Proud of’ your son or daughter means one has a warm-hearted admiration for…

Bad Pride

C. S. LEWIS, writing in the 1940s, tackled Pride in its negative form. “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves…The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility…According to Christian teachers the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride.  Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are merely fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil:  Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind…”  [1]   

Pride & Harmful Competition


LEWIS CONTINUES: “…Pride is essentially competition by its very nature, while the other vices are competitive, so to speak, by accident… Once the element of competition is gone the Pride is gone… the Proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will try to get still more just to assert his power… as long as there is one man in the whole world who is more powerful, or richer, or cleverer than I am, he is my rival and my enemy… [This] Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”

Pride’s Ultimate Consideration

GOOD PRIDE’S danger is to become self-centered to the extent that he or she takes credit for all things in one’s life and acts as ultimately in personal control—“I am God.” The warning in Ezekiel comes to mind: “Son of man, say to the ruler of Tyre, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “‘In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.” But you are a mere mortal and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god.  Ezekiel 28:2

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.  Proverbs 16:18

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. Proverbs 11:2

Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor.  Proverbs 29:33


[1] Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis, 1943 page 94

Passing

Art:

I CREATED THIS 16” x 20” Oil painting from photo references several years ago. To me, it expresses Psalm 23  “The Lord is my shepherd…” 

I see this art piece for our Thought—Passing—reminding me of how God orchestrates our ‘passing’ through stages of life, much like the shepherd with his or her sheep.  At the appropriate time sheep are passed from one field through the gate to a fresh ‘green pasture’. Ultimately our Heavenly Father allows us to ‘pass’ from these bodies into His eternal presence.    

Thought:

Passing

I WONDERED WHAT word to best describe this week’s Thought. Death? Resurrection? Or any number a thesaurus might suggest? ‘Passing’ seemed to work best. It conveys a positive movement from one condition or circumstance to another. Think of it as a child, with excitement, looking forward to ‘passing’ from their present grade into the next. Progress! New experience! Excitement!  New friends!

A New Word

IT’S BEEN MORE than a year since we first began to hear ‘Coronavirus’ in the United States. Now it is on the minds of everyone as COVID-19.  First came a rush for testing, then overcrowded hospitals, followed by the hope for a vaccine and how to get to ‘herd immunity’ and some kind of ‘new normal’.  Everyone knows someone personally or through a friend who has been infected. Too often we’ve also known of someone who ‘passed’ away.    

2020  &  1918

THE U.S. POPULATION at the start of 2020 numbered just over 331 million people. We are the third largest country in the world, outnumbered only by China and India, at just over 1.4 billion and just under 1.4 billion, respectively. The numbers of Coronavirus deaths as of March 24, 2021: In the world, 2,740,000; In the U.S., 545,293; In MN, 6,892.  How do these compare with the 1918 pandemic?

IT IS ESTIMATED that in 1918 about 500 million people (one-third of the world’s population) became infected with the Influenza Pandemic. The number of deaths is estimated to be at least 20 to 50 million worldwide. The United States population in 1918 was 103.2 million with 675,000 deaths.  With modern day advantages (and yet with three times the population) today compared to 1918, the death numbers are currently lower than in 1918. 

Can This Be Death?

LAST WEEK A POEM surfaced that I had not before seen.  It was written 55 years ago by Marj’s sister Sharon.    When Sharon wrote the poem, she was in her early 20s. I want to share it with you today. 

“Can this be death?

Can this be the long awaited for and dreaded death?

The only pain I feel is for those I am leaving behind.

There is no fear in my heart.

My body has felt much pain during my illness,

but the last few days I have felt nothing.

I’m resting for the first time in months.

I see all the people dressed in white coming in and out

looking at me poking, punching, listening.

They do not smile, but they do not cry.

I see the faces of those I love.

Sometimes they cry.

But if they only knew the wonderfulness

of this departing never to cry again.

Never to feel pain again.

In a short time, I will leave this body and all of those

who have been so dear to me through the years.

I wish I could tell them one last goodbye.

I wish I could tell them of my joy.

When I try to speak the words are silent.

But they will know when they see the smile

on my face, when I see heaven open and Jesus with

his arms outstretched waiting to greet me.

My family will miss me, and I them but I

have not been with them for some time now.

I will see them again when it is their time to

meet the Savior.

Death need not be a weeping event.

It can be met with a smile.

Come to me death that I may forever smile.

May I go to sleep only to wake up in

the arms of Jesus.”  [1]

Sharon Luther (Street) 5/30/1966

Psalm 23 begins with, “The Lord is my shepherd. but it ends with… “Surely your goodness and love will follow me    all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. The Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21

We are unceasing spiritual beings with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.” Dallas Willard


[1] Thank you, Sharon Luther (Street), for sharing your poem Can This Be Death

Soul?

Art:

I completed this Acrylic in February.  Like last week, this week’s Art is an interpretation of Jerry Yarnell’s Project Eight, Volume One: Painting Basics, titled ‘Desert Glory’. 

I picked it because of the colors from the desert as a new day begins.  I imagine an ancient time when water possibly covered the lower parts in this landscape. Even now there might be an underground stream somewhere.  Either one may call to mind our Thought—Soul?.

Thought:

What happened to Soul?

WHEN DID YOU last use the word ‘Soul’ in conversation?  In written form?  Probably not too recent, right? It’s been around a long time. Perhaps due to that, it has been affected by cultures so much that its root meaning takes digging to uncover.

Today one may find it in the cultural consciousness and pride among people of African heritage: Soul music, Soul food or Soul brother.  Walt Disney and Pixar’s 2020 animated movie ‘Soul’ expresses another cultural adaptation of the word. But in contemporary context you may hear very little about the soul in Christian groups of whatever kind in the Western world. Some conservative and evangelical churches sometimes talk about saving the soul. But this language is used much less than used to be the case. And once the soul is “safe” it is usually treated as needing no further attention.

What does ‘Soul’ mean?

WHERE MIGHT one go to define ‘Soul’? Two thoughts come to mind: the English dictionary and the Bible.  The Hebrew word transliterated nepse and the Greek word transliterated psyche appear in their original texts a total of 859 times.  Notice the different ways the same words are translated[1] in the English Bible (NIV):

Hebrew  nepse: (total of 757 times in O.T.),  life (129 times), soul (105 times), lives (36 times)

Greek  psyche: (total of 102 times in N.T.),  life (32 times), soul (19 times) souls (6 times), lives (5 times), heart (4 times)   

It is easy to see a strong correlation between the 202 times these are translated into a form of English ‘life’ and 129 times as ‘soul’.  What might we make of this?

An English dictionary definition of soul is “the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life.

Soul = Person (Life)?

“WHILE THE BRAIN has its role in emotions, intellect, and will, and while people’s bodies are essential, we must always remember that the person is the ultimate unit of analysis:  you  and me. Thought, feeling, action (involving the ego, as well as relations to others) are ultimately dimensions of the person.  And it is the soul that combines all the dimensions of the person to form one life. It is like a computer system, which runs an entire commercial operation.

“When it is broken you have to attend to it—and in fact only God can repair it: He restoreth my soul [Psalm 23:3].  Law and disciplines can also help heal the soul, but grace—God doing in my life what I cannot do for myself—is the first and last word.  And yet law and disciplines are inseparable from grace as they do their part.” [2]

Soul = Life-center?

“THE SOUL IS that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self.  It is the life-center of the human being.   It regulates whatever is occurring in each of those dimensions and how they intersect with each other and respond to surrounding events in the overall governance of your life. The soul is “deep” in the sense of being basic or foundational and also in the sense that it lies almost totally beyond conscious awareness.” [3]

Soul Care = Spirit (life) Care?

“GOD MADE US: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else.  Now, God designed the human machine to run on Himself.  He Himself is the fuel our spirits [souls] were designed to burn, or the food our spirits [souls] were designed to feed on. There is no other.”[4]

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.   Matthew 11:28-29


[1] I have only shown the primary ways each word is translated.  Each is also translated by other English words many times, generally less than 4 times.

[2] Renewing the Christian Mind, Dallas Willard, p. 159

[3] Renovation of the Heart , Dallas Willard,  p. 199

[4] Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, p. 39  [words in italics added]

Vaccine

Art:

I COMPLETED this Acrylic painting last week.  It’s my interpretation of Jerry Yarnell’s Project Eight, Volume One: Painting Basics, titled ‘Evening Shade’. If you are interested in Acrylic painting, Jerry may be a good place to start. 

I used this particular piece of Art for two reasons: First, I’m partial to rural scenes featuring buildings and landscape. Secondly, this one includes cows.  My reason for using cows will surface as we consider the Thought—Vaccine.   

Thought:

Vaccine Defined

VACCINE: SUSPENSION of microorganisms that induces antibody production to protect against disease…Induces immunity.  The Latin word for cow is vacca, so the scientific name for cowpox is variola vaccina because vaccina means “of the cow.” Edward Jenner, a British physician, coined the word vaccine in 1796, using it to describe the technique of injecting people with cowpox to confer smallpox immunity. – Google

COVID-19

HAVING PASSED ONE year since the first confirmed U.S. case of COVID-19, Minnesota has vaccinated nearly 25% of its most-at-risk population. It has been, and continues to be, a long and difficult journey into a ‘new normal’. There does seem to be a growing sense of light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel! Marj and I received our one-shot Johnson & Johnson Vaccinations March 8.

For weeks the idea of a blog on the Thought—Vaccines—has been in my morning thoughts as an allegory or metaphor mirroring what I see as an important national spiritual need. It brings me back to a sermon illustration I heard half a century ago. 

Story of Two Fathers

TWO FARMING FAMILIES learned of a terrible illness spreading into their community as a deadly threat to their children. How would they prepare? The first father decided to isolate his children.  He boarded up the windows and restricted children from leaving the house. The second father decided to inoculate his children with a vaccine, and with proper instruction, his children were allowed to safely leave the house.

Soon, the Illness was upon them. Children in the first household were curious as to what was taking place outside. They secretly broke through the boarded widows. Completely vulnerable to the virus, they became ill with disastrous consequences. Children in the second home were protected by the inoculation.  Two options. Two outcomes.   

A Metaphorical Concern 

IT SEEMS TO ME; humankind is increasingly being immersed in a pandemic that ultimately threatens all life on this planet. It’s not a biological ‘test-tube’ virus.  I’m thinking of it as a ‘communal’ virus.  What do I mean?  The all too frequent default spirit manifest, in too many communities, often feels like ‘hostility’ (i.e., anger, opposition, resentment, intimidation, fights and crime) for example.  We see it from the White House to backyard playhouse via public and private media.  Interestingly, the antinomy for hostility is ‘friendliness’ and kindness!  These still exist, but I sense they are being eroded by the ‘hostility’ virus.

Outside Observer

“THE ENGLISH JOURNALIST G. K. Chesterton, after his tour of the United States in 1921, said he was “no futurist”, but there were certain things about America’s future that anyone who thought carefully could see with little or no clairvoyance.  American democracy has been grounded in convictions that were essentially religious so those convictions could not decay or be rejected with impunity. American democracy would either keep its basis and remain democratic, or it would lose its basis and become “wildly and wickedly undemocratic.” Whichever way history went, he concludes some “ultimate test will come.’” [1] 

‘Communal’ Vaccine!

WHERE IS THE VACCINE to protect humankind from escalating disastrous effects of ‘Hostility’? Thankfully, the vaccine has been with us from the beginning!  So, what’s the problem?  Is it ineffective?  No. The vaccine continues with supernatural effectiveness.  I sense the growing signs of ‘hostility’ is not lack of a vaccine but an ineffective delivery system. Vaccination for the Coronavirus is taking place at increasing numbers of specially designated locations where one can make an appointment, show up and be vaccinated.  Where does one go for the vaccine protecting against ‘hostility’? 

WITH THE BEST of intentions, I’m afraid our church gatherings often lose sight of their main gathering purpose: To equip [inoculate] his [God’s] people [one another] for works of service [in congregation and in community!] with the antinomy of ‘hostility’—’friendliness’ and kindness that springs from practiced love.   

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.   Ephesians 4:23

… so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Ephesians 4:11-13


[1] A Free People’s Suicide, Os Ginness, IVP Books  2012  p, 134

Transparent

Art:

I COMPLETED THIS Watercolor more than a decade ago.  My reference was a photo I took of this window in my sister-in-law’s home while we visited her in  Richmond, Kentucky.

I chose it for Art today to accompany the Thought—Transparent—for two reasons: First, it features looking through the transparent glass of a window. Secondly, I was drawn to the bright red brick surrounding this attractive window shape. 

Thought:

Transparent

TRANSPARENT MEANS: ‘showing light through’, ‘come into sight’, ‘appear’ from early 15th century Latin.

Metaphorically, today when a people lose confidence in their leadership and systems, there is a public outcry for more ‘transparency’.  Their suspicion is that something wrong is taking place in secret, behind opaque doors, that the public should be made aware of.

Literally, transparent brings to mind my school days in the 1950s when I was first introduced to overhead projectors in the classroom.  The projectors work by emitting light from a bulb through a transparent sheet (typically acetate or sometimes polyester) onto a screen. I used them for many years in church classroom teaching and seminars.

Transparent Jesus Followers

RECENTLY, MY ‘reading & Psalm 46:10 time’, drew me to the word ‘transparent’ for today’s blog.  Meditation on the word filled a couple pages in my yellow legal pad with thoughts, insights and scripture. I began to consider followers of Jesus like God’s unique transparencies.  So, what do I mean by this?

God loves the world (Genesis 1:31, John 3:16) that he brought into existence.  I believe one way God expresses love toward humankind is by delegating responsibility for care of his creation under his leadership. Humankind was brought into a serving kind of apprenticeship under God’s love for all his creation. 

A Metaphor

IN MATTHEW 28:18-20 Jesus instructed his followers to make disciples (students) of God’s will in this world (John 1:1-5). I see followers of Jesus like individual overhead projector transparencies. Each imprinted with a unique configuration of ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’ grace gifts. God is the light source (1 John 1:5). As the light of God’s love passes through the transparencies of individual gifted follower (Matthew 5:16), God’s love is projected through them by their words and works to the world—their sphere of influence.

In the Watercolor above, when the glass is clean, fullness of the light inside is bright and clear to all observing the image.  Followers of Jesus are not in charge of the light source.  God is. His light of love is perfect. Followers of Jesus do have control over the transparency of their life: self-control (Galatians 5:22).

Application

I BELIEVE THAT, by God’s grace, followers of Jesus have the capacity to enhance the power of God’s projected love through the transparency of their life in two ways: First, keep enriching the intensity of the grace gifts, on the transparency of one’s life, by engaging with a protocol of learning more about the Trinity and creation through study and observation. Secondly, keep the transparency clear of distractions that block God’s light of love from being projected in its fullness, by confession and repentance.  Be honest.

[1]“According to legend, British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham once saw a distinguished looking woman in a hotel foyer.  Believing he knew her but unable to remember her name, he paused to talk with her.  As the two chatted, he vaguely recollected that she had a brother.  Hoping for a clue, he asked how her brother was doing and whether he was still working at the same job.  “Oh, he’s very well,” she said, “And still king.”  Honest transparency might have been a better approach!

THE GREATEST OUTCOME, when followers of Jesus practice the ‘Great Commission’ Jesus articulated in Matthew 28, is when those around them see the good works God is projecting through their lives, eliciting a response like those in John 12:1. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”.  

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:16

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:14-16

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Philippians 2:13


[1] Our Daily Bread, Thursday, March 4, 2021

Scruples

Art:

I painted this 16” x 20” Acrylic two weeks ago, inspired by a similar Watercolor scene.  I like the sunrise and imagined it warm enough that the water had not yet frozen.  Otherwise, let’s say I took the ‘artistic liberty’ to have imagined such a thing possible.

I chose it to accompany our Thought—Scruples (conscience)—for this week.  It’s been said, “Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.  Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”  When reading the sky, a sailor may have to rely on conscience or scruples to determine if the risk to family, should something fatal happen during a storm at sea, is worth that risk.

Thought:

IS IT POSSIBLE FOR two individuals to take opposite actions but each with a clear conscience?

Principles over Conscience / Scruples

I BELIEVE IT’S a common occurrence.  Evidence is as close as the evening news.  An ultimate consequence can be divisive even to the extreme of war.  Why?  Because normally conscience is not the main issue.  Before conscience or scruples come into play there is a defined set of ‘standards or principles’ each holds to be true for themselves and probably for everyone else as well.  From somewhere inside, each individual’s conscience is a voice shouting: “Follow and defend your standard or set of principles.” To follow is to have a ‘clear conscience’. To not follow is to suffer a ‘guilty conscience’. 

Conscience as our Guide?

SO, WHAT ARE we to do about conscience?  Marvin Gaye’s Detroit single released a 1961 says: “Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide”.  Is that good advice?  Probably. Since that’s exactly what most will do.  If I am a follower of Jesus, his teaching is the standard or set of principles my life seeks to follow.  The Apostle Paul expressed it this way…

Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” Acts 23:1

Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. 2 Corinthians 1:12  

Following an Accurate Compass

“Paul sees the ‘conscience’ like a sort of internal compass, telling each person what is right and wrong.  But human conscience like a compass, is a sensitive instrument, and it can easily malfunction.  It can get trapped in magnetic fields that pull it off course.  It can allow itself to be set in a particular pattern even though its inappropriate. It often can’t  tell the difference between social custom—‘the way things are done’ in this town, this country, this college, this family—and actual issues of right and wrong.

Paul knows that human consciences can get things wrong and can be re-set and re-educated.   But he also knows, from years of pastoral experience, that re-educating someone’s conscience takes time and patience.”[1] 

Congruence or Disparity

“Conscience is the endowment that senses our congruence or disparity with correct principles and lifts us toward them—when it’s in shape. Just as the education of nerve and sinew is vital to the excellent athlete and education of the mind is vital to the scholar, education of the conscience is vital to the truly proactive, highly effective person. Training and educating the conscience, however require even greater concentration more balanced discipline, more consistently honest living.  It requires regular feasting on inspiring literature, thinking noble thoughts and, above all, living in harmony with its still small voice.

Just as junk food and lack of exercise can ruin an athlete’s condition, those things that are obscene, crude, or pornographic can breed an inner darkness that numbs our higher sensibilities and substitutes the social conscience of “Will I be found out?” for the natural or divine conscience of “What is right and wrong?”[2]

Where the Choice Begins

The secret to living with a ‘good conscience’ starts with Jesus as the ‘standard and principles’:

Jesus said, “For a brief time still, the light is among you. Walk by the light you have so darkness doesn’t destroy you. If you walk in darkness, you don’t know where you’re going. As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you and shining through your lives. You’ll be children of light.”  John 12:35, 36 Message

[Paul said,] Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV


[1] Paul For Everyone 1 Corinthians, Page 102 ,   N.T. Wright

[2] The 7 habits of Highly Effective People, Page 305, Stephen R. Covey

Enoughness

Art:

This 9” x 12” Acrylic is one of three completed last month as a quick study based on a lesson by R. Bradford Johnson in the Walter Foster Artist’s Library Series Acrylics.   I like the colors and simplicity of the composition.  The other two are barns.

I chose this one for today’s Thought—Enoughness.  It speaks to me of simpler times when a pail was an indispensable tool serving a multitude of functions for the family. Even one pail was ‘enough’ to complete many tasks!

Thought:

Enoughness

Someone once ask: “How do you boil a frog?”  Not sure I ever wanted to, but o.k. ‘How do you boil a frog?’   “Don’t put the frog into boiling water…he will immediately jump out. Put the frog into cold water, slowly turn up the heat. He won’t notice what’s happening until it’s too late.” I was reminded of this story when relating ‘Enoughness’ or ‘Simplicity’ to our modern American culture. Here is the perspective of two people on this topic–Richard Rohr and Richard R. Foster.

[1]Richard Rohr

“Most of us have grown up with a capitalist worldview which makes a virtue and goal out of accumulation, consumption, and collecting. It has taught us to assume, quite falsely, that more is better. But it’s hard for us to recognize this unsustainable and unhappy trap because it’s the only game in town. When parents perform multiple duties all day and into the night, it is the story line that their children surely absorb. “I produce therefore I am” and “I consume therefore I am” might be today’s answers to Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” These identities are all terribly mistaken, but we can’t discover the truth until we remove the clutter.

“The course we are on assures us of a predictable future of strained individualism, environmental destruction, severe competition as resources dwindle for a growing population, and perpetual war. Our culture ingrains in us the belief that there isn’t enough to go around, which determines most of our politics and spending.”

Richard Foster

[2]“Simplicity is freedom. Duplicity is bondage. Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear…The Christian [follower of Jesus] Discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle…To attempt to arrange an outward lifestyle of simplicity without the inward reality leads to deadly legalism…We cease from showy extravagance not on the grounds of being unable to afford it, but on the grounds of principle.  Our goods become available to others…Contemporary culture lacks both the inward reality and the outward lifestyle of simplicity… Because we lack a divine Center our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things…The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality.   It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick…Covetousness we call ambition.  Hording we call prudence.  Greed we call industry.”    

Principles

Following the lead of Peter (1 Peter 3:3) Foster suggests ten controlling principles for the outward expression of simplicity.  They should never be viewed as laws but as only one attempt to flush out the meaning of simplicity or Enoughness for today.

First:  Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.

Second: Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.

Third:  Develop a habit of giving things away.  De-accumulate.

Fourth: Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.

Fifth:  Learn to enjoy things without owning them.

Sixth: Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.

Seventh:  Look with a healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes.

Eighth:    Obey Jesus’ instruction about plain, honest speech (Matthew 5:37).

Ninth:  Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.

Tenth:  Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.

Action!

Check the thermometer!   How hot has the cultural water become in which I’ve been immersed for decades?  What action can I take? Attempt to Jump out? How is that going to be light to others also suffering.   Where’s the love in jumping ship and forgetting about everyone else?  I must love fellow citizens yet unaware.  How?  With a cup of cold water (example), or two… or three! I believe this helps turn down the cultural heat for everyone. ‘New Normal’ = Enoughness!

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’   Matthew 25:40


[1] Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, Embracing Enoughness, Tuesday, June 30, 2020

[2]Celebration of Discipline, The Path to Spiritual Growth, by Richard J. Foster, Chapter 6

Doubt

Art:

I COMPLETED THIS 24” X 41” Oil about ten years ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t date it at the time.  It is one of only a few I’ve painted this large in either Oil or Acrylic.  I like the composition and quiet seclusion of the winter cabin setting.  It’s one of four seasonal paintings this size that we rotate on one Art wall of our living room. 

Why choose this for today’s Thought—Doubt?   The subzero Minnesota wind chills we recently endured cause some to doubt Spring will ever arrive!  On top of that, others are doubting we’ll ever get our vaccinations and safely land on the other side of COVID restrictions. Take heart!  I often quote the King James Bible translation where “and it came to pass” appears 463 times!   

Thought:

HAVE YOU EVER experienced doubts?  Do you have current doubts?  I see three questions needing an answer:  Exactly what are doubts?  Are doubts a ‘good’ or a ‘not-so-good’ thing? How can I best deal with my doubts?

What are doubts?

“DOUBT IS A MENTAL state in which the mind remains suspended between two or more contradictory propositions, unable to be certain of any of them. Doubt on an emotional level is indecision between belief and disbelief.”–Wikipedia    

Others suggest doubt is a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction about (something); to believe that (something) may not be true or is unlikely; to have no confidence in (something or someone). Some common synonyms of doubt are mistrust, skepticism, suspicion, and uncertainty. While all these words mean “lack of sureness about someone or something,” doubt suggests both uncertainty and inability to make a decision.

Understanding Synonyms and Antonyms may help in defining doubts.  Synonyms: indecision, uncertainty, vacillation, irresolution, misgiving, suspense, hesitancy, distrust, suspicion, quandary, perplexity, skepticism, incredulity, ambiguity. Antonyms: include conviction, credulity, confidence, decision, assurance, belief, certainty. Any of this ring a bell? Next question…

Is doubt a ‘Good’ or a ‘Not-so-good’ thing?

MY ANSWER WOULD BE: It depends.  I see doubt as a potentially ‘good thing’ (expressed by one or more of its Synonyms) as you sit in the first day of a new class with a feeling of hesitancy or uncertainty.  When we face nearly any new challenge or unknown there is a degree of doubt involved. In that sense, we will not grow and mature without beginning with doubt. Doubt becomes part of the natural progression in growth. 

When you’ve finished the class and received an acceptable grade; we use the Antonyms to express how we feel: conviction, confidence, belief and certainty. The argument could be made that doubt was a ‘good thing’ at the beginning of nearly any accomplishment in your life e.g. whether giving birth or riding a bike.

I see doubt as a ‘not-so-good’ thing should I allow myself (on the emotional level) to remain in a place of indecision when faced with a new opportunity that requires action. If doubt, up front, keeps me from enrolling in the class, I will never experience that conviction, confidence, belief and certainty of completion. Same is true of having a baby or riding a bike!

How may I best deal with my doubts?

I BELIEVE MANY (if not most, or all) of our doubts are rooted in unawareness or lack of knowledge.  We’re on the threshold of a new experience but pretty much at a loss as to what to expect. How do you best deal with this? Ask questions before you start. Ask to read from someone’s report who completed the class…has given birth…or is a bicyclist. Hearing someone’s personal experience can radically reduce the fear factor sometimes associated with doubt.

Doubt concerning the resurrection of Jesus troubled the Apostle Thomas (aka ‘doubting Thomas’). It becomes a classic example of how the testimony of another (in this case Jesus) can erase any fear factor associated with doubt.  “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”  John 20:26-28  

Remember

AS A FOLLOWER of Jesus, when doubts attempt to enter your mind, stop to…

Remember:  You are not alone; “The Lord is my [your] shepherd” Psalm 23. Remember:  God’s love for you has not changed; “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8 Remember:Never will I [Jesus] leave you; never will I forsake you.”  Hebrews 13:5

Evidence says your doubt can become a “Good” thing!  Will we allow it?