Neighbor

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Art:

Prior to moving to Hastings in 2010, our middle son lived in St. Paul, Minnesota. This Oil is a painting I completed from photographs taken in his St. Paul neighborhood.  I called these colorful homes my ‘painted ladies of St. Paul’,  recalling sites from a visit to San Francisco and seeing its now famous colorful set of historic homes called ‘painted ladies’. I chose this Oil as a visual reflection of our Thought for this week—Neighbor.

Thought:

Have you become more aware of neighbors since COVID-19 restrictions pretty much limited us to our homes?  Since my Anytime Fitness Gym closed, I’ve been walking outside.  I’ve noticed ‘walkers’ is no longer just dogs walking their owners! And it’s not just in Minnesota.  Our California son posted:

“A few days ago, I posted on Facebook about an experience my wife Suzi and I had while taking an evening walk. Here’s the content of that post.

“I just got back from an evening walk with my lovely bride. We’ve never seen as many people out on the walking trail near our house as we did tonight. Families and neighbors out walking together, walking their dogs, riding bikes. People were smiling and greeting each other like actual neighbors! Could a silver lining of the COVID-19 cloud include a chance for families and neighbors to slow down and connect? We hope so. It seemed like it this evening. May that increase!!”

“I received several comments on that post all saying that similar things were happening in their areas. Those are examples of people making lemonade. I watched a video recording of what John Maxwell presented live streamed on Sunday, March 22nd called “Leading Through a Crisis.” (I highly recommend following the link and watching all 4 of the presentations) In that presentation, John said that a crisis is a distraction. Distraction is the opposite of traction. Traction is when you gain ground and make progress forward. Crises pull us away and confuse our priorities.

“He [Maxwell] went on to say that nothing will cause you more anxiety than trying to control what you can’t control. When life throws lemons at you, make lemonade. Leaders help people regain traction during distraction.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I’ve been reflecting on the familiar biblical phrase:“Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s first mentioned in the Old Testament book of Leviticus 19:18. In the New Testament, Jesus states it first in Matthew 19:19.  The Apostle Paul quotes it in Romans and Galatians.  James, the brother of Jesus, said in James 2:8 “If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself” you are doing right.”

And who is my neighbor?”

An expert in the law once asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responded with the need to love God… “and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” The expert’s follow-up question: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response was the story of the Good Samaritan who stopped on his journey to help a wounded stranger, alongside the road. Then, “Jesus told the expert, “Go and do likewise.”  Luke 11:25-37

“…Neighbor is an old English word that means, literally, “the boor who is neigh thee,” that is, nearby.  Not the bore who is nearby! A boor is a farmer, and a neighbor is the farmer nearby.  You are called to love those who are neigh thee—your family, your friends, your coworkers, the folks in your neighborhood, and, yes, even the “enemies” in your life, the ones who irritate, demean, frustrate, and mistreat you.” —Living Without Lack p. 177

One author wrote… “I was zooming on down the track of my life, focused on whatever it was I was doing, oblivious to other people around me.  I was deeply burdened when I realized that I had been living this way.  How could I love my neighbor if I wasn’t even aware of them?”

Sometime a life-changing event, like the current virus, can give one a new quality of awareness of oneself and others. You begin to see people with new eyes, with new appreciation and love, even though they have not changed.

Go for a walk…meet your neighbors, But, remember…

Love your neighbor…—by maintaining the 6-foot rule—and

as [you love] yourself.”—by washing your hands when you get home!

Have a great week neighbor!

 

 

Rejoice

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Art:

 This Oil painting was inspired by a lesson from the late Rob Ross, best known for his many years on pbs television.  It’s a stylized depiction of quiet woods and colorful sky, filled with imaginary bird songs and waterfall accompaniment.  Spring is ‘officially’ here! Spring we can see and hear is soon to follow.  I chose this piece for today’s Thought—‘Rejoice’—because that’s what we’ll do (especially this year) when we see Spring once again reopening a curtain of color and sound in our yards and neighborhoods. Rejoice!

 Thought:

In my reading of Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Philippi last week, I was struck by his use of “Rejoice”. A new thought entered my mind I hadn’t had in perhaps hundreds of times I’ve read these verses.  How can this be? How can something ‘new’ come to us from the familiar?  It’s not because the scripture changed. I (we) have changed.  Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 13, “When I was a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child…”  I believe the Holy Spirit focuses our ‘seeing’ in keeping with his leading in our development. So, what was it that struck my attention about Paul’s use of “Rejoice” in Philippians 4:1-7?  First the text:

 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’

When I see the prefix ‘Re…’in a word I think, what does that mean?  What does it mean in this context?   Generally, it means to ‘do again’ or to ‘do over’ another time.  When I refill the gas tank of my car, I pull to the gas pump and ‘do again’ what I did the last time.  I believe the last part of Paul’s word “…joice” is ‘joy’.  What is Paul communicating here?  Simply put, I believe Paul is saying to the followers at Philippi: Your joy tank is low. Rejoice” or refill your joy tank.    What makes me think this is what Paul says in verse six, “Do not be anxious about anything,” I suspect ‘Anxiety’ with its worry, fear and unease is a sure sign the joy tank of delight, bliss and gladness is nearly empty.  It’s time to refill—to “rejoice”—the joy tank.  But, how?  I know how to refill my car’s gas tank.  How do I refill my own joy tank?

Paul’s answer seems to involve two simultaneous actions of my (our) will.

FIRST : Pray as Paul describes in verse 6. Talk to God about what I feel…what I don’t understand and… how I would like things to be instead of the way I feel they are. He is more willing to listen than I am to talk.  I can’t keep secrets…He knows already.  Sometimes I need to voice it to God, so I can hear it myself.  RESULT: v. 7 “Peace”!

SECOND: Guard my thinking. What I chose to think about gets stored in my mind and heart—my joy tank. What I think about is either ‘filling’ my joy tank or ‘draining’ it.  Paul offers the solution in Philippians 4:8-9.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthythink about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice.

As this filling of my joy tank takes place, my anxiety, often evident to others, is replaced as Paul states it, “Let (you can’t help but allow it) your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (filling your joy tank to overflow!)”. “And (inside your heart and mind) the God of peace will be with you.” RESULT: v. 9 “Peace”!

Another way I feel Paul expressed the result of Rejoice—refilling my heart by thinking on these things—is in Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit (evidence of a fuller tank) is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Rejoice!

Now is a great time to not only enjoy the return of the Spring we can hear and see, but a perfect time—even with difficult news—to rejoice (refill) my joy tank to overflow!    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pandemic

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Art;

“They’re back!”  I looked out our window facing the pond this week and there they were.  The pair of Canada Geese from last year returned. Ice was still on the pond, but I think they were ‘house hunting’ on shore for a new 2020 place to call home and lay eggs. I took a photo of one last year and did this Ink with pen and brush.  Why did I choose this Art piece for our Thought—Pandemic?

Canada Geese represent one of the created creatures that instinctively multiply.  Some love the geese, others hate the ‘mess’ the parents and offspring create.  The living coronavirus also multiplies.  I know of no one who likes it.  We dislike the health, social and economic ‘mess’ it creates.

Thought:

The coronavirus is on everyone’s mind. We are told that in the most classical sense, once an epidemic spreads to multiple countries or regions of the world, it is considered  a pandemic. Just this week U.S. scientists began using pandemic to define the spread of the disease known as COVID-19—coronavirus.

I do understand, but I think it unfortunate that the word pandemic itself, throughout history, seems always to be associated with the spread of harmful disease.  I am not aware of pandemic having been associated with the spread of anything positive that may also be contagiously transmitted person to person.  I’d like to suggest one—love.

I refer to a specific kind of love.  The word ‘love’ is the somewhat inadequate English translation of the New Testament Greek word transliterated agape.  It’s meaning is different from the definition behind other Greek words, even though they are also translated with the English word ‘love’:

  • philadelphia (love) expresses a brotherly kind of relationship
  • eros (love) expresses a sexual kind of relationship.
  • agape (love) expresses a God kind of relationship. “God is love.” 1 John 4:16.

This God kind of agape love is transmitted—communicated—person to person.  It is God’s desire for all his creation. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”  John 3:16

In the Old Testament, God created out of love.  “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image in our likeness, and let them rule… [have loving care for all God created].  Genesis 1:26 “And [God] saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”  Genesis 1:31

In the New Testament Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”  John 15:9 “This is my command; love each other.” John 15:17

These two quotes are from two of my favorite authors.  I’ve quoted them before

“Love is born of an earnest consideration of the object loved.” Thomas Aquinas

 “Love is the disposition to bring good to the object that is loved.” Dallas Willard

 “People exist to love as Jesus loved, Indeed, the aim of God in human history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons with himself at the center of that community—as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.” — Life Without Lack, Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23

 Jesus’ final command to all who have become his followers is to take the Father’s message of his agape love and infect as many as possible as you go throughout your daily life.  How?  By bringing the infectious love of God into the lives of those you contact via your “bringing good to them” and by that example.

May we see a pandemic of God’s love spread in our homes, communities, nation and the world.

With news media hurling stories of loss and change in the wake of coronavirus restrictions, many we know will be open to receiving a “cup of cold water” with love, in the name of Jesus.  People need personal peace, via God’s love, in a time of anxiety.

A Prayer:  How can I be a part of God’s pandemic of love to His/my world?

We may even be able to deal with some of the ‘mess’ connected with the coronavirus and the Canada Geese in our world!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dehydration

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Art:

I haven’t drawn or painted many florals.  It’s not that I don’t like flowers, in fact flower gardening was one of my hobbies until we moved into our town home.  Last summer I took time to paint a few florals using a technique I’d never tried.  I decided to post this floral in Acrylic.

I chose it to help focus on this week’s Thought–Dehydration. Even non-gardeners know plants require an appropriate amount of water.  If they don’t get it, they will dehydrate and, if not attended, become unproductive at best or even die.

Thought:

 Ever been seriously dehydrated?  I was, once.  I’ll spare the list of unpleasant symptoms. I’ll just say, I wish never to go there again!

We know human ‘dehydration’ occurs when we use or lose more fluid than we take in, and our body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. If you don’t replace lost fluids, you soon become dehydrated.

In my meditation the other day I was drawn to parallels between physical and spiritual dehydration. What do our physical and our spiritual lives each require to properly function?

  • Physically, health care professionals tell us the average adult requires about 2 liters of water daily—not all at once! Depending on circumstances, the need may even increase.
  • Spiritually, it’s similar. Followers of Jesus’ spiritual bodies require daily ingestion of God’s truth. Psalm 1 says, “Blessed [spiritually hydrated] is the one whose “…delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law, he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.

Psalm 23 reflects this truth: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” Jesus calls his followers his sheep.  As the shepherd he continues to restore their soul through the quiet waters of his words.  Revelation 7:17 continues this truth: “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be the shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. “

 Let’s take a minute to unpack the Psalmists words “he restores my soul”.  He could have just as easily said: he restores my ‘mind’, or he restores my ‘heart’, to convey what I see at the root of his meaning. The “law of the Lord [water of God’s truth] that “he meditates on day and night” provides the spiritual hydration without which he cannot maintain health and thrive.  How does this work? There is a sense in which the mind is the most significant aspect of our lives because it is through our minds that we make effective contact with reality.

[1]“God has created us so that the ultimate freedom we have as individuals is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell upon and think about…The focus of your thoughts significantly affects everything else that happens in your life and  evokes the feelings that frame your world and motivates your actions.

“Thoughts are where we make our first movement toward God and where the divine Spirit begins to direct our will to God and his way.  We have the ability and responsibility to keep God present in our minds, and those who do so will make steady progress toward him, for he will respond by making himself known to us. One of the most powerful elements within the realm of our minds is that of ideas.  Our ideas form the belief system upon which we base our actions and decisions, and these in turn determine the trajectory of our lives.”

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed [spiritually dehydrated] and who correctly handles the word [water] of truth.”  2 Timothy 2:15

Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4 reflects on the parallel need for physical water to sustain physical life and the need for the water of His words to initiate and sustain spiritual life.  “Everyone who drinks this water [physical] will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water [Jesus’ words] I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  John 4:13, 14

To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.”  Revelation. 21:6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Life Without Lack, Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23

Motive

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Art:

This week’s art is my Pencil drawing, four years ago, of Maggie our 11-year-old (tabby-with-white) cat. She shares our home with Tommy our (black tuxedo) cat, and Ginger our little Chihuahua. If you have pets you’ve observed many of their actions. Some are unique to the species—cats tend to sleep 18 hrs. per day—others may be unique to your pet.

When Maggie sits on my lap, and we look into each other’s eyes, I sometimes wonder, “Maggie, what are you thinking?”   I wonder if she may be reversing the question, “What are you thinking?”   Then there is the matter of ‘motive’.  Maggie, what’s your motive for that action?  Sometimes that’s easy to read.  She’s hungry and I’m behind on her feeding time.  “Feed me please!?”

Thought:

“Why did I do that?”  Or: “Why do I do that?”  It takes a simple number of words to form the question.  When it comes to the answer—my motive—It’s anything but simple.

What purpose did I intend when I did, or said that?

Was my motive or purpose to benefit someone else?

Was my motive or purpose to benefit myself?

Is it possible to have these simultaneously?

Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”  John 14:23

Jesus also said, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15:12 -14

Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”  “The most important one, answered Jesus, is this: ‘Love the Lord our God with all your hart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this:  Love our neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.”  Mark 12:29-31

Return with me to my blog ‘Thought’ from January 3, 2019.

 “…Love is born of earnest consideration of the object loved— Thomas Aquinas.

What does Aquinas mean when he says “…love” ? The late Dallas Willard said, Love is the disposition to bring good to the object that is loved. Let’s put Aquinas and Willard together…

“…love [the disposition to bring good to the object loved ]…is born… [brought to life] …of earnest… [serious ] consideration… [mindful observation] of the object…   [entity or person(s)] loved.”  

Aquinas also said, love follows knowledge. The more consideration and time I invest in a relationship with you, the better equipped I am to “love” you in a way that allows me to do and say what brings only good to you.

I believe the single most important motive behind the action and words of Jesus followers is LOVE!

God recognizes this love motive in the harts of his children.

 “And you, my son, Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.  1 Chronicles 28:9

To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.  All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.  Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.   Proverbs 16:1-3

Therefore, judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes, He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.  At that time each will receive his praise from God.”   1 Corinthians 4:5

For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.”   1 Thessalonians 2:3
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”    James 4:3

Review The Motive questions:

“Why did I do that?”  Or: “Why do I do that?”

What purpose did I intend when I did, or said that?

Was my motive or purpose a love to benefit someone else?

Was my motive or purpose a love to benefit myself?

Is it possible to have these simultaneously?  YES

 

My Motivation Prayer

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer”     Psalm 19:14

 

 

Trajectory

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Art:

This is Ink with Watercolor depicting an aerial view of Asbury Glen in Rosemount, Minnesota where Marj and I moved into our townhome two years ago tomorrow—February 28, 2018.  When entering from December Trail, take the first right. We are the second driveway on the right at 15007 Derby Circle.

Spring through Fall, we look out to the pond and its fountain through our dining windows.  I chose the painting for this week’s Thought—Trajectory—because we often watch the duck’s trajectory for landing on the pond, with its surface a good ten feet slope down from the closest patios. It’s a beautiful artful trajectory.

Thought:

 Fall afternoons in southern Michigan can be gorgeous!  This was a ‘number ten’ day!

Our family of four had just returned from one of Grandma Luther’s great Sunday-roast-beef-dinners. It was our weekly destination, following Sunday School and Church.

Marj, along with our two sons Jim and Dan, were all three down for a well-deserved nap.  I’m seated at our ‘chrome and Formica’ kitchen table, about to have an experience that would change the trajectory for the rest of our lives. I did not see this coming!

This is a short ‘back story’ to the experience I’m about to describe.

September, following high school graduation, June of 1956, I enrolled as a full-time student at Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Illinois and completed a year and a half. Marj and I were married in March of 1958. I was out of school for four years in business for myself as an aluminum siding & trim installation sub-contractor. We were blessed with our first two sons. During our church’s 1963 Missions Conference, we were challenged to become missionaries, and that I should return to school full-time at Detroit Bible College as a Missions major.  I enrolled.

Here I sat, while everyone slept, attempting to get in a couple hours study before time to attend the Evening Service. I came upon—not for the first time, by any means—Psalm 1:1-3.  God, the Holy Spirit used the last four words, “Whatever he does prospers.” like lightening power from heaven in my heart.  This was my ‘Moses and the burning bush’ or ‘Paul on the Damascus Road’ experience. The experiences of both men changed the trajectory of their lives forever.  How can I make such a bold comparison?  Here’s how.

Moses and Paul were busy following what they believed was God’s direction for their lives. But for both, God had a new direction that changed everything.  As I said above, following that 1963 Missions conference, Marj and I were inspired that missions was the direction God wanted us to take.

While in high school we consistently heard from the Pulpit, that being a missionary was the highest calling a young person could pursue.  This conference enforced that message, and I was back in school.  Where would we serve?  Using my sincere logical thinking, I said, “O.K., If one is called to be a missionary, doesn’t it make sense to serve in the most difficult field you can identify?  We came up with Tunisia, North Africa, reaching a diverse population.  We contacted and met with representatives for Africa Inland Mission.  We began on that path.

The New Trajectory Experience

Then, on his beautiful Sunday afternoon at our simple kitchen table, came Jim Thomason’s ‘burning bush’ or ‘light from heaven’ message in the last four words of Psalm 1:1-3 “Whatever he does prospers.” Along with it, came the clear message that God’s work for us is not dependent on human logic; not dependent on geography; not on a specific vocation in ministry.  It is clearly dependent on the ‘relationship’ between God and me!  It was like He was saying, “You may serve in many different places.  You may serve with different vocational titles. But, I will be with you as you follow my direction ‘palms up’ and I will make the work ‘prosper’ according to My will.  Listen and follow!”

On that September afternoon, I adopted the words of Psalm 1:1-3 as my ‘life verses’ and have written them under my signature nearly every time I write it.  I’ve since served with seven separate titles, in three states and at nine separate addresses these 56+ years.

This trajectory changing experience became one of my most significant of manifold blessings from my Heavenly Father.  Blessed, to be a blessing!

“Blessed is the man

     who does not walk in the counsel

        Of the wicked

 or stand in the way of sinners

      or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD

     and on his law he meditates day

         and night.

            He is like a tree planted by streams

      of water,

     which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither.

     Whatever he does prospers.

 

Psalm 1:1-3 NIV

 

 

Dignity

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Art:

This rough sketch is Ink with pen and brush.  I may do a final Ink in the future. The photo reference is an original photo taken by a friend in Michigan.  She takes great pictures in a nature setting near her home, and often posts them for others to enjoy.  I can’t say with any certainty that ducks actually deal with this week’s Thought — ‘dignity’. However, I think it would be a challenge to find anything to surpass them in their unique category of natural grace.

 Thought:

In my recent reading I came across this quote that arrested my attention:

“Dignity is worth that has no substitute.”

            It’s a definition. What exactly is the definition saying? After some thought, this is what I came up with: “Dignity is worth [or value] that has no substitute [it’s priceless].”  Dignity is something that, should a comparison be attempted, nothing can be substituted for it. Nothing would be equal to or better than it is.

To dignify is to exalt, distinguish, grace, glorify, venerate or honor.  The opposite of dignify is degrade.  In my thinking, only God fully meets this standard.  No person, place, thing or intangible can substitute, or be better by comparison, where dignity is concerned.

Who can consistently reflect this kind of dignity?  In my view, the only answer is Jesus who is God in human form.  Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” To insure we can actually learn dignity from the yoke experience with Jesus, God placed his Holy Spirit in us to empower and guide. We will not be perfect in our present humanity, but we can learn dignity from Jesus as we yoke with him aided by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.

I listen to press reports, speeches and interviews with men and women, in and out of politics. I’m grieved with the degrading of fellow Americans. One may agree or disagree with ideas and programs, this is how we may all benefit. Do it with dignity. Don’t attack the person.  I grew up with this motto: “If you can’t say anything good about a person, don’t say anything.”   I hope what I may be seeing does not actually reflect the current spirit of the American people. If that be the case, we may be in more difficulty than we realize. I must pray more for everyone that dignity will be evident. I like what Dallas Willard says about the dignity.

“Dignity is worth that has no substitute.  If a thing has dignity, there is nothing you can substitute for it according to Immanuel Kant.  Most things have a price.  That means there’s a substitute. There’s a price on a cheeseburger.  That means if you give money to the seller, he will give you the cheeseburger.  One reason we still have the blessed law that you can’t sell human beings is because they have dignity.  This is what C. S. Lewis is driving at in the greater Weight of Glory, where he talks about that. Bonhoeffer deals with the same thing in Life Together.

“Every person has dignity, and when you see a person that doesn’t realize that or doesn’t associate it with their work in a society, where so often dignity is associated with work, you begin to understand why unemployment is such a terrible thing, and how it’s important to understand that employment is not a job, though it may be a job.  Employment is the creation of value. It’s work, but it can also be play.

“In the kingdom of God, we are set free to play—abandonment to God.  Madame Guyon was imprisoned for years because of her religious views. She wrote a little poem about how she sat and sang in her prison and how she was content that God had placed her there.  She retained her dignity because she retained her connection to God.  That’s what is crucial.  That’s what gives human beings the dignity they have lost, by and large, through alienation from God and through living in a way where others are attacked and they are attacked, and this process of evaluating goes on so ceaselessly.  What a relief it is to be able to meet people without evaluating them, without sizing them up in some way.  You can do that in the kingdom of God.” [1]

1I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—

2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

I Timothy 2:1-2

 Last week’s quote in the ‘Valentine Blog’ was from, Living in Christ’s Presence, Dallas Willard p. 104

[1] Living in Christ’s Presence by Dallas Willard, p. 88, 89

Valentine

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Art:

Several years ago Marj and I drove to Historic Williamsburg, Virginia.  On our first trip we had two young sons with us.  This time those sons, plus one more, are all married.  In fact it was the generosity of one of those sons that we were able to use his ‘time share’ for our lodging.  I took a lot of pictures. A few of them have become paintings in Acrylic or Watercolor and have appeared in previous Blogs.  Today’s Ink with pen and brush is based on one of those photos.  In Williamsburg everyone on staff is dressed in period costume. This scene is of live horses and carriage driving down the street.  In this Valentine Blog I sense the passenger to be a husband dashing home with his Valentine gift for a wife whom he loves very much.  His gift is a small object beautifully wrapped, but there is more.  He is renewing his love and care for her once again.  His gift is to ‘bring good’ into her life every day with more zeal than ever before.

 Thought:

 “Love is born of an earnest consideration of the object loved. Love is the disposition to bring good to the object that is loved.”

The story below is from an author you will probably recognize, but I am not going to reveal the name until next week.  For this Valentine season…just read and consider.

“Several years ago, my wife, Nancy closed the door of our bedroom and said, “I want to talk to you.”  Then she got out a list.  Now she would not say it was a list.  She would say it was just notes but it had numbers on it, so I would say it was a list.  She said, “When our marriage is at its best’—that is, like the trinitarian fellowship—‘I feel like we serve one another equally.”  She reminded me of the early days of our marriage, especially when we had small children—a time when division-of-labor issues can be large in any family.  It was easy for me to say I gave at the office. She would remind me that community intimacy is built on serving.  It’s not just getting stuff done; it’s mutual servanthood.

“She would say, “When I see you serving around the house, I feel drawn to you.  When I see you vacuuming, I feel affectionate toward you.  When I see you empty the dishwasher, I feel romantic toward you.  When I see you bathing our children, I feel physical desire for you.  “I used to bath those children three or four times a day.  Come home late at night “Hey, come here kids.  Get in the tub.  Come on.”

“She said “When our marriage is right, I feel like we are mutually the same, and I feel like that’s kind of slipping. I feel like I serve, but our kids aren’t seeing you partner.  And I feel like when our marriage is at its best, we know each other equally.  You know the details about my day, and I know them about yours.  I know more about your work right now than you do mine.  When our marriage is working right, there is joy and a lightness to you.  I miss that guy.  I need that guy.”

“My initial response was “I get it.  I hear what you’re saying.  I miss that guy too.  I just have to tell you, I have so much to do. I have so many questions that I don’t know how to answer.  I have so many problems.  I feel like it’s right here before me.  So, I want to love that way.  I just need you to know I’m doing the best I can.”

“Normally when you say to somebody, “I’m doing the best I can.”  They’re supposed to say “Yeah, you got me there. I can’t argue with that.”  But Nancy’s immediate response was, “No you’re not doing the best you can at all.  You could talk with a spiritual director about some of this stuff.  You could hire an executive coach.  You could talk to a counselor.”  She listed several things. “No, you’re not doing the best you can.”

“And I realized she was right.  I didn’t tell her she was right for some time after that, but I realized she was. I was thinking, at some point I will get this problem solved and this question answered, and this deal done.

“But the kingdom is available now; I just have to want it more than I want anything else.  The Trinity is right here. I don’t have to have anything solved.  In fact, I could say to the world, “Go ahead bring it on, because nothing can separate me” I just have to want it more than I want anything else.  I just have to say, “With Gods help in this moment I will refuse to allow anything to sever that from me.”  

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.He who loves his wife loves himself….For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh…However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himselfand the wife must respect her husband.”

Ephesians 5:24-33

Conspiracy

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Art:

I painted this early morning scene in Acrylic on Masonite board several years ago.  I don’t recall the photo inspiration. In my mind it’s early morning in early spring when snow still blankets much of the ground.  I’m a morning person. I also like spring’s arrival, if only an embryonic stage. To me the church structure sits at a strategic entry to this waterway.  I see a natural and a supernatural kind of conspiracy.  Spring will conspiratorially overtake winter even as morning replaces darkness.  What about the church—body of Christ?

Thought:

 “Recently a pilot was practicing high-speed maneuvers in a jet fighter.  She turned the controls for what she thought was a steep ascent—and flew straight into the ground.  She was unaware that she had been flying upside down.” [1]

More often than not, I see ‘conspiracy’ used in a negative context. Someone or group conspires to overthrow a government or assassinate a leader.  In reality conspiracy is a scheme or plan. In many ways we live in a world that is ‘flying upside down”, in desperate need of what author Dallas Willard calls a “Divine Conspiracy”.  He continues the above quote.

“This is a parable of human existence in our times—not exactly that everyone is crashing, though there is enough of that—but most of us as individuals, and world society as a whole, live at high-speed, and often with no clue to whether we are flying upside down or right-side-up.  Indeed, we are haunted by a strong suspicion that there may be no difference—or at least that it is unknown or irrelevant.”

How did we get this way?  For a longer, insightful answer, I recommend getting a copy of the book below.  It’s at the top of my most favorite books in the last 20 years. I re-read it about every 2 years.  Here is my shorter explanation, best illustrated by excerpt from Derek Bok’s “President’s Report” for 1986-1987.  “He referred to some well-known moral failures in financial circles and the political life of the nation (sound familiar?). He wondered out loud what universities might do to strengthen moral character in their graduates.

“Religious institutions,” he continued, “No longer seem as able as they once were to impart basic values to the young.  In these circumstances, universities, including Harvard, need to think hard about what they can do in the face of what many perceive as a widespread decline in ethical standards.”

Bok points out that in other days “the instructors aim was…to foster a belief in commonly accepted moral values” (p. 10). Now all is changed: “Today’s course in applied ethics does not seek to convey a set of moral truths but tries to encourage the student to think carefully about complex moral issues.”  One senses that the governing assumption of his discussion is that these two objectives are mutually exclusive.”

“There is now not a single moral conclusion about behavior or character traits that a teacher could base a student’s grade on—not even those most dear to educators, concerning fairness and diversity….The teacher would be reminded that we are not here to impose our views on students, “however misguided the student might be.”  And if the administration of the university did not reach that decision, a court of law soon would.”

This week I re-read (I read lots of books more than one time!) Prayer Powerpoints, given to me by Dennis Carlson of Send International in 1996, and came across this:

“Let every student be plainly instructed

And earnestly pressed to consider well

The main end of his life and studies is

To know God and Jesus ‘Christ

Which is eternal life, and therefore to lay

Christ in the bottom as the only foundation

Of all sound knowledge and learning

And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let

Everyone seriously set himself to prayer

In secret to seek it of Him.”

Moto of Harvard university – 1636

Clearly, between 1636 and Bok’s “President’s Report” for 1986-1987 somethings gone very wrong—flying upside down!

The Devine Conspiracy – Overcome evil with Good

 “[Jesus] comes where we are, and he brings us the life we hunger for. An early report reads “Life was in him, life that made sense of human existence” John 1:4.  To be the light of life and to deliver God’s life to women and men where they are and as they are, is the secret of the enduring relevance of Jesus.  Suddenly they are flying right-side up in a world that makes sense.”

Jesus said, I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.John 10:10

 

[1] The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard p. 1-13

Tools

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Art:

In my recent blog about ‘Art’, I wrote that in various ways we are all artists. We use God-given gifts and talents to create.  In previous blogs, I’ve featured a fine art piece in either Oil, Acrylic, Watercolor, Pencil or Ink.  However, when asked about my hobbies and interests, I actually have four:  fine art, woodworking, flower gardening and study/writing.

Today’s picture represents both fine art and woodworking as they relate to tools.  I began painting with Oil Christmas of 1997.  In April 2010, I built this more adequate oak ‘H-frame’ easel in my garage woodworking shop. While we lived in Andover, MN, I used it in my lower level home studio.  Now that we are in a town-home, I only use the “H-frame’ easel in the garage while the weather is warm.  My tools and interest in woodworking allowed me to create this easel as a tool for another interest—creating fine art.

Thought:

 What is a tool?  One dictionary definition: “[tool] is a device or implement, especially one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function.”  My definition: a tool may be a device, implement or system that assists human creativity beyond the limits of one’s unaided body.

In time, we all gather tools for any number of creative tasks.  Take a look at nearly any room in your home. Now, think about the creative activity that takes place there and the tools on hand to assist.  Kitchen is a prime example with its major and small appliances, not to mention cabinets and drawers overflowing with dozens of gadgets to help create all kind of good things.  Bath and bedrooms with mirrors, electric toothbrush, hair dryer and counter tops with drawers all loaded with tools to create the ‘you’ that will emerge into today’s world!

You may have a ‘bonus room’ or home office.  It too is equipped with a litany of tools designed to help create whatever is on your agenda.  The garage, plus any out-buildings you may have, are guaranteed to be filled with tools you use to create. Some people have the luxury of a separate space for tools needed in pursuit of their creative interests.

Before we moved, I had a large room in the lower level of our split-entry home. Half was for my study/writing and the other my fine art studio.  It was perfect.  I built a storage shed in the back yard for gardening tools and my garage contained all my woodworking tools.  When we moved into a one level town-home two years ago, things changed.  Gardening tools went to one son’s shed 10 minutes away.  Large woodworking tools went to another son’s 3-car garage 18 minutes away.  Now, my garage serves as ‘handyman shop’ and studio for Oil painting (in warm weather). I have a dedicated room inside for non-oil art and study/writing.  A place for everything and everything in its place, right?

So, where am I going with all this?

Good question!   Here’s another one: Ever thought of yourself as a ‘tool’?  I believe we are. We have both the privilege and honor of being ‘tools’ in The Master’s hands.

Since the Garden of Eden, it’s been God’s plan that we be His beloved tools to care for, and co-create for His glory.  The Apostle Paul expressed:

“For we are God’s workmanship [poem or artwork], created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”     Ephesians 2:10

As God’s ‘tools’, here are things to keep in mind:

  • Tools need to be appropriate for the task.
  • Tools need to be appointed to the task
  • Tools need to be readily available
  • Tools need to be in top working order

 Our ‘Master’ is in charge of the first two on this list.  We listen to Him as he selects us, according to the gifts He gave us. Then, He directs us to the—person, place or thing—so we can do the “good work He has “prepared in advance for us to do”.

 Being ‘available’ and in top ‘working order’ is for our attention. Being available to do His will comes first—”But seek first the Kingdom of God.” Matt. 6:33.” Then, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman (tool) who does not need to be ashamed—in top working order! 2 Tim. 2:15

As recipients of God’s blessing, our needs are being met and, through us—as His tool—,we carry out His plan of ‘good works through us, so that others may likewise be blessed.

We are indeed blessed tools to be tools of blessing! 

A-Men!

What a joy to be a part of Jesus, the carpenter’s sacred tool box!