Resources

fullsizeoutput_d43

Art:

I painted this twilight scene of Mackinaw Bridge based on our trip in early September. One evening we parked near the bridge in time to see the lights come on at twilight. I chose it for today’s thought—‘Resources’. It takes many resources to keep the 70+ year-old “Mighty Mac” safe and fully operational. Paint crews, metal inspectors, electricians, snow crews, designated drivers and much more. It takes lots of resources to maintain it’s goal—safe, reliable transportation across the Straits of Mackinaw. Perhaps the greatest resource is the one who coordinates or coaches all these resources toward that goal.

Thought:

For two weeks we’ve considered ‘Thinking’ by first defining it: the mental activity of rummaging that recalls, organizes and arranges, and suggested two questions: (1.) What helpful resources are available? And, (2.) What have you learned from these resources that help toward the goal—‘To follow Jesus’?

Then, last week, we applied a critical thinking practice suggested by Brian Oshiro’s Ted Talk (Ted x Xiquan) last February in Guangzhou, China. Brian raised awareness of the importance of the questions we ask. He organized questions into three levels. Using a third level question requires synthesizing known information, and is an example of questions that require critical thinking toward goal attainment.

What’s the ‘take away’ from this review?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a coach to guide us toward our goal? Have someone helping us to formulate and answer questions, moving us forward? Well, we actually have that coach!

Whatever path led you to the desire to be a follower of Jesus, at that moment, the Spirit of Jesus was supernaturally actuated into your life for the expressed purpose of, not only identifying or sealing you as a spiritual child of God, but also to be coach in your life journey.

Last week you may have selected Paul as one example from the New Testament of someone who was a follower of Jesus. Hear what Paul said: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”–1 Corinthians 11:1.  So, what is the ‘example of Christ’ Paul followed?

Jesus answered in John’s Gospel 5:19b, 20. “I tell you the truth, the Son [Jesus] can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.”

Neither can we follow Jesus by ourselves. We need a coach to guide us into use of the available resources. The Spirit of Jesus, in us, has been given to us for that purpose. Jesus said…

“All this I have spoken while still with you, but the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you”. John 14:25,26

You are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is now your guide in carrying out this assignment Jesus expressed in John 15:9, 12. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. …My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

A primary resource of the Spirit is the Old and New Testament. Through these the Sprit will train us into the life of a Jesus follower, demonstrating Jesus’ character—learning to love as God loves. It becomes a natural way of living and becomes evident to our sphere of influence.

Paul defines it as a fruit metaphor in his letter to the Galatian followers of Jesus (and us!) “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22,23a

A Place to Start

  1. Meet with your Coach every day. Set an amount of time that works for you. Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God…”
  2. Take into your meeting your Bible, pad of paper and pen. I suggest start by slowly reading through Colossians…many times. It may take weeks.
  3. Write down whatever you think may be applicable in your life each day.
  4. Through your day, ask God to help you see where what you wrote can be applied. Journal what happened or didn’t! Repeat tomorrow.

 

Review Psalm 1:1-3 and Philippians 4:8-9.

 

 

Thinking 2

fullsizeoutput_d42

Art:

It’s been fourteen years since Marj and I last visited what was our favorite vacation spot for a decade–Mackinaw, Michigan. Marj’s two sisters from southern Michigan, joined us two days of our week stay in early September. It was fun to visit with them and to see Mackinaw, essentially unchanged. I took photos of the Mackinaw Bridge for reference to create future paintings and finished three last week.

I chose this one in keeping with our theme: ‘critical thinking’. I enjoy the construction documentary of the “Mighty Mac” from the mid 1950s. For half a century this 5-mile long bridge held the record for the longest suspension bridge in the world. It truly involved ‘critical thinking’ to become a reality.

Thought:

Last week we considered how ‘thinking’—this mental activity of rummaging that recalls, organizes and arranges—might apply to our goal: ‘To follow Jesus’. Today’s focus is critical thinking. By definition, critical thinking is criteria-based judgment, not criticism as a negative experience.

I was impressed with Brian Oshiro’s Ted Talk (Ted x Xiquan) last February in Guangzhou, China. He spoke on how teachers in China could further creative thinking in their students. They saw their students as mostly rote learners of facts.

What types of questions do teachers ask? Questions are a way to bring textbook to life and see if students are absorbing what they are supposed to be learning. Not all questions are crated equally. Oshiro places questions in three categories, or depths, and illustrates each with A, B and C below, dealing with climate change.

A. Do you know what climate change is? [Answerable from a rote memory definition: right or wrong answers]

B. What are three causes of climate change? [Requires a little more thinking to access more rote memory facts: right or wrong answers] Good for trivia quizzes, not much for practical living.

C. How can you help solve this problem? [Students must synthesize all their previous knowledge, and figure out how to make it their own, and be able to apply it: there may be different answers].

Asking higher order questions is the key to stimulate critical thinking. Give students questions likely to have more than one correct answer. This is what life is like. In real life, not often is there a simple straight-line answer telling us how to get from point A to B.   It is more like a squiggly line. There is no blueprint.

You will find this talk in detail on YouTube: ‘Encourage critical thinking with 3 questions’ | Brian Oshiro | TEDxXiguan

What is the ‘take away’ from this information?

Last week we asked: How might ‘thinking’—this mental activity that recalls, organizes and arranges–apply to following Jesus? It starts with clarifying the goal. In this case we said: ‘To follow Jesus’.   Where do I start? We applied two questions.   Today let’s attempt applying three levels of critical thinking to our goal.

A.  What is a ‘follower of Jesus’?

B.  Name two persons from the New Testament and two from more modern days you see as ‘followers of Jesus’.

C.  Choose one from each category. Why did you to identify them as ‘followers of Jesus’? What specifically did you observe, and how can your observations be implemented this week in pursuit of the goal to be a ‘follower of Jesus’?

You may replace ‘C’ above, with one of two scriptures found at the end of last week’s ‘Though’, and apply critical thinking in pursuit of your goal.

“ How can a young (or older!) person keep his/her way pure? By living according to your word…I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:9, 11 NIV

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice.  Philippians 4:8, 9 NIV

It took extraordinary critical thinking on the part of many to conceive, design, finance and build the Mackinaw Bridge. I see need for this same critical thinking application in the spiritual formation or building ‘followers of Jesus’.

“Do you not know that your body is a temple (building) of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? 1 Corinthians 6:19 NIV

“And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2:22 NIV

Next Week: Resources

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking

100_6140

Art:

This is the second of three eagle paintings completed this summer in Oil. I chose it to represent our subject—Thinking. I can’t claim to understand eagle thinking, but when I see one of these striking birds in flight, I imagine. My imagination suggests the eagle is processing a collection of past experiences and skills, as well as the current landscape (thinking), to formulate a plan for capturing the next meal from somewhere in the field below!

Thought:

What is thinking? I see thinking as a mental activity that recalls, organizes and arranges.

Thinking is like rummaging through the attic, or garage, looking for something that will meet my current need.

Thinking is like rummaging through the refrigerator or pantry in search of what will be on the dinner table tonight.

In either case you may start with an idea, then search for what will be needed to fulfill the idea or start rummaging through what you have on hand and create something you hadn’t planned—surprise! Either case, your rummaging (thinking) is limited to the contents of your attic/garage or refrigerator/pantry. In that moment, you’re confined to the inventory on hand.

We actually have an abundance of information stored in our minds, gleaned from personal or vicarious experiences of others through reading and listening. Simultaneously, it’s recallable but it’s also limited. The product of my thinking is only as extensive as my current inventory. Granted: I may Google to access a piece of information I don’t have in my memory bank, but the notion–to Google—is itself a current deposit.

The less information in my memory bank the fewer resources I have to meet the challenges life sets before me. It’s been said: ‘To the carpenter, all life’s challenges can be solved with a hammer!’ Get the idea?

Other words associated with thinking include: meditate, contemplate, cognition, idea and mind.

What is the ‘take away’ from this information?

While I believe this might apply in all walks of life, I want to apply it to the life of one who has decided to become a follower of Jesus. How might thinking—this mental activity that recalls, organizes and arranges apply to following Jesus? It starts with clarifying the goal. In this case: ‘To follow Jesus’.   Where do I start?

  • What helpful resources are available?   Rummage your brain (think) and recall what you think might help reach this goal.
  • What have you learned from these resources that help toward the goal? Rummage your brain to recall what you have already learned and, perhaps, are applying.

We could continue suggesting questions, but my guess is that your rummaging (thinking) has already included: Scripture, Holy Spirit, prayer, church, small group, devotional books and perhaps more.

Remember:

  1. The more we have in our mental deposit, the more our thinking may recall that will prove helpful in reaching our goal—‘To follow Jesus.’
  2. We can only recall what is there. A low inventory may encourage adding deposits!

Here are two scriptures advocating thinking:

“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 (thinks) day and night. [Psalm 1:1-2]

He/she rummages through Hebrew Scriptures recalling and thinking on practical truth that has been stored in memory.

“Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. [2 Peter 3:1-2]

Peter asks the followers of Jesus to rummage (think) through Peter’s letters, the words of Jesus and apostles, to see how what they recall relates to the life of a Jesus follower.

Next week we’ll move to another part of our subject: Critical Thinking.

 

“ How can a young (or older!) person keep his/her way pure? By living according to your word…I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:9, 11 NIV

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice.                                                                 Philippians 4:8, 9 NIV

 

 

 

 

Exponential

100_6139

Art:

On June 20, 1782, our founding fathers selected the bald eagle as the national bird. The bald eagle has since gone through some trying times. When we moved to Minnesota in 1983, the bald eagle was on the endangered species list. The recovery of bald eagles in Minnesota is particularly impressive. By 2007, it was estimated the Minnesota population was over 2,300 pairs and continues to multiply!

I chose this one of three Oil paintings completed this summer featuring eagles. In a small way, recovery of the bald eagle population seems symbolic of our Thought: exponential.

Thought:  

I suggested in the last blog that family, as defined last week—natural or surrogate—historically and currently, provides our best opportunity to love and demonstrate life as a follower of Jesus—God’s way—in our personal sphere of influence.

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people, We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” Galatians 5:22-23 The Message

This brings the idea of exponential to mind. A simple definition is an exponential rate of increase becomes quicker and quicker as the thing that increases becomes larger. Cells that reproduce, reproduce cells that reproduce, etc., etc. On a graph this may look like a flat line in the beginning. As quantity doubles with time, the line seems to go straight up ‘off the chart’.

It’s been 2,000 years since God the son—Jesus—appeared with the message from God the Father that the Kingdom arrived with Jesus. The invitation was, and still is, given to enter into this kingdom life now and for eternity. God the Spirit enters into Jesus followers enabling each to continue extending that invitation. Listen to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ words to his followers.

“Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of this age.” Matthew 28:18-20 The Message

If we start with just 12 followers of Jesus in the first century and if Jesus’ instructions are followed, where would this kind of exponential multiplication of Jesus followers be in twenty centuries? How could you recognize them? Jesus said in Matthew 7:16, “By their fruit you will recognize them.”   By what ‘fruit’ will followers of Jesus be recognized? The Apostle Paul explains in Galatians 5:22, 23a NIV: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.’

Shouldn’t we expect local, national and international news to be filled with accounts of marvelous things happening around the world, attributed to exponential multiplication of love emanating from Jesus followers worldwide? I should think so. But, I’m seldom hearing that kind of news. Why? Possible supporting reasons include:

  • I may be misapplying [1]exponential
  • Many ‘Christians’ are, not yet, actually a follower of Jesus
  • Actual followers of Jesus have too few models and instruction
  • Much good is happening but new media generally doesn’t cover it

Response? I may be in the category of ‘endangered species’ as a spiritually reproductive follower of Jesus, but I can increasingly live before my ‘family’—natural or surrogate—in faithfulness to the will of the Spirit of God’s desires to work through my life.

God is in charge of the increase—perhaps even exponentially—as he desires!

“A new command I give you, Love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”   John 13:34-35

[1] Here are two YouTube sites for further background on ‘exponential’:


“Exponential growth: A Common sense explanation”   [5.23 minutes]

“Human Population Growth, Crash Course Ecology #3”   [10:53 minutes]

 

Family

100_5978

Art:

I painted this acrylic last winter from photo references. I generally paint with Oils in weather warm enough for me to paint in the garage to keep vapors out of the house and my lungs! In Minnesota that’s about six months. The remaining months my inside studio is for Ink, Acrylic, Pencil and Watercolor.

I like this composition with rural fieldstone structures alongside an open stream in early winter. I chose it because it reminds me of a day when families lived in a more rural setting, often building homes for relatives on the same property. Amish and some Mennonite communities come to mind. This close proximity may also exist in small towns (we saw many last week driving to Mackinaw along Wisconsin US-8) and even in suburbs or inner-city neighborhood settings.

Thought:

From my observation, it seems our Western culture, with its emphasis on personal independence, has disregarded a fundamental structure essential for a sustainable future—family. Before explaining the thought, let’s begin with a definition for family.

[1]‘In the context of human society, a family (from Latinfamilia) is a group of people related either by consanguinity (by recognized birth), affinity (by marriage or other relationship), or co-residence (as implied by the etymology of the English word “family”) or some combination of these. 

Members of the immediate family may include spouses, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. Members of the extended family may include aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, and siblings-in-law. Sometimes these are also considered members of the immediate family, depending on an individual’s specific relationship with them…

‘The purpose of families is to maintain the wellbeing of its members and of society. Ideally, families would offer predictability, structure, and safety as members mature and participate in the community. In most societies, it is within families children acquire socialization for life outside the family. Additionally, as the basic unit for meeting the basic needs of its members, it provides a sense of boundaries for performing tasks in a heterosexual environment, ideally builds a person into a functional adult, transmits culture, and ensures continuity of humankind with precedents of knowledge.”

Reading Jewish & Christian scriptures from ‘cover to cover’, one might make the case that nearly everything recorded proceeds from three families: Adam and Eve (Genesis 1 – 11); Abram & Sari (Genesis 12 – Malachi 4) in the Old Testament and [2]Joseph with Mary in the New Testament. Each had children from birth to adulthood. Each parent was given the high honor and privilege by God for him to continue creating new life through them.

In each case they were in family relationship with a loving God as father. By precept and example they were trained how to follow their Father’s teaching and to pass it along by example and instruction to those in their family who, in turn, would do the same. They could always count on commensurate consequence for actions. The family ‘ministry description’ may be summed up from Proverbs.

From birth the family’s task is: Train a child in the way he should go,..” Proverbs 22:6.

At the end of the day: The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him. May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice! Proverbs 23:24-25

In our Western culture families, as defined above, will seldom have three generations living within walking distance or even short driving distances. That natural process of carrying out Proverbs 22:6 will be accomplished with less and less physical proximity as children and grandchildren grow and move. Our opportunity to love and demonstrate life as a follower of Jesus may become more long distance. Prayer and visits, as possible, will be increasingly treasured.

Surrogate ‘families’ provide opportunities to live and love others in our sphere of influence: neighbors, co-workers, and volunteer groups…the list is expandable. As every follower of Jesus takes advantage of ‘family’—natural or surrogate—in this loving way, I believe our world can change. Who is my family? How can my life become a training tool?

                      “…But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”                          Joshua 24:15b

As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.” Proverbs 27:19

“God sets the lonely in families…”   Psalm 68:6a

[1] Wikipedia

[2] Understood that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. Joseph, along with Mary, did have family responsibility for Jesus as well as the biological children they had together.

Guest: Steve Thomason

IMG_0597 (1)

Art:

Marj and I are in Michigan this week. In my absence, I want to share a blog from our son, Steve, a Pastor at Easter Lutheran Church of Eagan. Steve and 12 others recently returned from an 10-day missions trip to a sister mission work in Guatemala where Steve brought this message, through an interpreter, to a congregation in Maya Itza—a 17- hour van ride from Guatemala city—and another chapel in Guatemala City.

The Maya Itza church is pictured above. It’s made up of people who, in the 1980s war in their country, migrated to southern Mexico.   Later, they were allowed to return to Guatemala but were placed on land (like a reservation) in the middle of a national rain forest preserve. They represent at least three former ethnic groups and are learning to be a new people without common cultural roots. Eastern Lutheran has helped in many ways from the start.

Thought  Steve Thomason’s blog

This sermon was given to the Iglesia Luterana del San Marcos in Maya Itza and San Salvador del Mundo in Guatemala City during our trip in August 19-28, 2019. The reading comes from the Gospel of Luke 13:22-30.

The Narrow Door

When I was a boy I was an easy target for bullies. I was the pudgy kid with glasses. One day, in the winter, the ground was very icy. A boy came up behind me and kicked my leg out from under me sideways and really injured my knee. I just laid there, hurt and angry, and didn’t know what to do. I felt helpless.

Over the next few years I began to grow tall and thin and strong. Suddenly I was one of the biggest in my class. There was one guy who taunted me every day. He would come up in my face and say, “You wanna fight?” Most days I would just walk away. I was a good Christian kid and I didn’t believe in fighting. One day, when he was in his normal taunting, something snapped inside me. I grabbed him, threw him to the ground on his back, pinned him down with my knee, and said, “We’re done.” He never bothered me again. Yet, I didn’t really feel better.  Our lives are often filled with circumstances when if feels like things are working against us.

These stories are the common stories of a boy. When I became a man the stakes got more serious. I grew up in a Conservative Christian Tradition and became a pastor in a large Conservative Evangelical church. The more I studied and grew in my understanding of God the more difficult it was for me to stay in that tradition. I had to walk away from that church because I was asking questions that made people nervous. Eventually, God led me to the ELCA where I found a place where my questions were welcomed and I could continue to serve and grow as a pastor.

Whenever you leave one tradition and join another it makes people uncomfortable. Sometimes people get angry and attack you. Many people from my past question whether I am even a Christian any more because I am a Lutheran pastor. I have received very hurtful accusations. I tell you these stories because I have heard some of your stories. I know that it is very difficult for many of you to be a part of the Lutheran Church when so many around you are in different faith traditions and they don’t welcome or understand you. I know that you have suffered greatly from the government in the aftermath of war. I know that you are literally living on the edge of the ravine and many forces are working to tear you down: The forces of gravity in the ravine, the forces of government and the cost of relocation, the forces of the neighborhood where there is violence and crime.

My question today is, “How should we respond when things get very difficult and it seems like things are working against us?”

I think the answer to that question can be found in our Gospel reading for today. Luke 13:22-30 tells us that Jesus was walking through the countryside, from village to village on his way to the Capital City, Jerusalem. As we were driving here to Guatemala City from Maya Itza, I couldn’t help but think how much the villages must be similar to the ones he visited. It says, in verse 23, “someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door.’” That seems like a strange response. What does a narrow door have to do with being saved. Saved from what?

Here’s what I think is going on. The people in these villages were suffering greatly from two oppressive forces. First, the Roman Empire had sent armies from across the sea and conquered their land. The Romans invaded their villages and forced the people to give them their crops and their goods. Second, the religious leaders of their land cooperated with the Empire and helped to put pressure on the common people of the villages. If you did not cooperate with the invaders, they would kill you.

What is our natural human response to pressure like this? I think there are three basic ways that people respond. Each of them is like a wide door that is easy and natural to walk through. I chose each of these doors in my childhood stories.

The first wide door is to give up and let them hurt you, because you believe you have no power to do anything about it. This is the passive door. People who walk through this door often turn to alcohol or drugs to mask the pain of continually being abused by evil forces.

The second wide door is the violent door. Sometimes people think that the only way to stop the evil forces is to take up arms and start a violent revolution to get rid of the oppressors.

The third door is to run away. I know that many of you are tempted to come to the United States because you think that there is a better life there for you. So you leave your family behind and flee.

Here is the truth about each of these doors. Each one leads to more death and destruction. When we are passive and do nothing, then evil continues to kill and destroy. When we fight back with violence and vengeance, then that leads to war which leads to even more death and destruction and everyone loses. When you run away from your family and seek a better life you discover that all the promises you heard were lies. The people in the States will not treat you better and your family is left with pain and debt and even more hardships.

But Jesus said there is another way. There is a narrow door. He tells us in many other places what this door looks like. It is the choice to love your enemy. It is the choice to pray for those who persecute you. It is the choice to stand in a non-violent resistance to evil and respond with truth and love.

This is the example that Jesus set. He did not sink into self-pity. He stood boldly and spoke the truth and called out the evil that was being done to the people, but he never called for violence. His truth got the authorities angry and they killed him for it. Even then, he took the narrow door. He loved his enemies. He took all their violence into his own body and did not return it to them. As he died he spoke these powerful words, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.”

Then he rose from the dead to show us that death is not the end. Death is not our greatest fear. There is a life beyond the narrow door. It is a life of truth, love, and peace.

Notice how the Gospel reading ends. All the people who choose the wide gates will meet the natural consequences of their choices. There will be death and destruction. They will not be able to enter the house. But then, if enough people walk through the narrow door, there will be a time when people will come from all nations, from the North, the South, the East, and the West and will live together in peace, knowing how to speak the truth in love.

This is the Good News. This is the Kingdom of God. Jesus invites each one of us to take the narrow door every day. I pray for you, that you would find encouragement to know that you are not alone. No matter how difficult things may get, God is with you. You have brothers and sisters from our congregation praying with you and for you.

May we, together, learn how to speak the truth in love and find the narrow way. Amen.

 

 

Training

fullsizeoutput_ceb

Art:

Not long ago I did an Ink with Pen & Brush series featuring several locations in the City of Andover, MN where we lived from 1983 until moving to Rosemount in 2018. Today’s Art choice is Andover Community Center/ YMCA facility. Marj and I are Silver Sneakers which includes membership at the YMCA or Anytime Fitness Gyms, where we work out three times a week. For us it’s ‘training’ to keep physically ‘fit’. This Ink with Pen & Brush seemed an appropriate Art piece for this week’s Thought—Training.

Thought:

Last week’s Thought—Change—was partially prompted by my second reading of James Hunter’s book To Change the World, The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity In The Late Modern World.

Arguably, in two thousand years, the world, via evident daily news reports, has progressed little toward what Jesus offers. Why? In my opinion, perhaps even with the best of intentions, the church has applied erroneous means. Coercion, covert or open, by power, money, politics and indoctrination, may have contributed to suffering in the world around us. For the world to change, it must actually see and experience, first hand, what that change can look like.

Perhaps Mahatma Gandhi expressed the view of many: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” In another statement Gandhi reportedly said that if Christians were actually like Christ he would become one!

In my opinion, the world—my/your personal sphere of influence—must experience the faithful presence of individual Christian’s personal peace (shalom) in daily life. Demonstrating this changed life is the kind of world our loving God intends for everyone. I believe this compassionate love is in reality what the world, including Gandhi, longs to experience but, for the most part, doesn’t realize. I believe what’s missing is training.

Regardless of how one entered into Christianity, she or he begins as a spiritual infant. In John 3 Jesus likened the experience to being “born again”. In physical birth: training in skills and improving of fitness is essential and never-ending. The same is true with spiritual birth. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me….” Matthew 11:29. The Apostle Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1
Corinthians 11:1 and “train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things,..1 Timothy 4:7b, 8. Paul’s word “training” is English for the Greek gymnazo from which we get gymnasium where training takes place.

What’s the best way to train for my life to be a living example of Jesus in my world—sphere of influence (and beyond!)? I believe apprenticeship, with a mentor and an apprentice, is the most effective training model. Why?   Here are three reasons in favor of apprenticeship…

…it affords the mentor opportunity to know an apprentice’s uniqueness, and plan     accordingly.

…it adds impact to the mentor’s instruction by modeling (i.e. parent with a child).

…Jesus mentored his disciples this way. He teaches followers to do the same Matthew 28:18-21.

The training required for one’s life to model the compassionate love of God, demonstrated in Jesus and in the life of Jesus’ followers, is not an academic degree program. It’s ‘life-long-leaning’. Mentors change, but need for the mentor/apprentice relationship does not.

How do I start? Answer these questions.

  1. Will you devote time and energy to train? For busy people…something of lesser importance will have to go. That’s not an easy choice.
  2. Will you prayerfully seek someone, in your current sphere of influence, you believe may be a good mentor for you?
  3. Will you ask that person if he or she would be able and willing to meet and talk about the possibility of developing an apprentice relationship?

Good for you!   While I believe apprenticeship is the most effective way to train, it won’t always be possible. A second choice, in my opinion, is to find your mentor(s) in books they have written. Ask one or two persons you respect to suggest three books for you to read. Thirdly, join or create a small group and work together with a facilitator.

“ Be the change you want to see in the world.” —  Mahatma Gandhi

“…for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purposes.” Philippians 2:13 [NIV]

 

Change

fullsizeoutput_e1

Art:

I hope using this fall scene won’t spoil your remaining summer. I competed the Oil a few years back while visiting our son who, at the time, lived in St. Paul. While driving in his neighborhood, I was struck by the brilliance in these leaves. I took a couple photos to remind me of their impact and as a reference for this Oil. ‘Change’ is our ‘Thought’ for today. In Minnesota we enjoy the change of all four seasons. (Admittedly, some like to avoid winter and, if possible, escape south!) For Marj and me fall has always been our favorite. It’s beautiful and begins a season of enjoyable celebrations.

Thought:

Change: some love it…some hate it. Where do you fit on this compendium? In actuality, I think most don’t give much thought to change. It depends on how we think change may impact our lives; present or future; for better or worse,…right? If change is distasteful, and may produce long-term deficient in my life, I hate change. If I believe it will produce desirable results, I love change!

Sometimes people joke, “The only sure thing in life is death and taxes.” Not so. As I see it, the only “sure thing in life” is change.   Think about that. Change seems to be inextricably connected with time and even life itself. The very tense of verbs in a language can communicate a past, present or future. Change is happening, with or without our effort, and is measured with every tick of the second hand and beat of our heart.

I am rereading To Change the World, The Irony, Tragedy, & possibility of Christianity In The Late Modern World, by Professor James Davison Hunter. His and the thoughts of two other favorite authors—Dallas Willard and N. T. Wright—contributed to my choice of change as our ‘Thought’ for this week.

“Definition: Social change is any alteration in the cultural, structural, population, or ecological characteristics of a social system. In a sense, attention to social change is inherent in all sociological work because social systems are always in the process of change. In order to understand how social systems work or hold together, we must understand, on some level, how they change or fall apart.” In the next 300 pages he deals with understanding.

Hunter’s concluding paragraph in the last chapter posits: [1]“Against the present realities of our historical moment, it is impossible to say what can actually be accomplished. There are intractable uncertainties that cannot be avoided. Certainly Christians, at their best, will neither create a perfect world nor one that is altogether new; but by enacting shalom and seeking it on behalf of all others through the practice of faithful presence, it is possible, just possible, that they will help to make the world a little bit better.” [italics added]

Awareness of local, national and international news for just one week affords enough negativity, pain, injustice, crime and conflict (at so many levels!) to justify a need for change that brings healing and prevention of more of the past. Where does this kind of change begin? History seems to provide ample evidence that such change will not come through economic philosophies or political parties. Is there a model to follow?

In my opinion, the only model solution is called The Kingdom of God or Heaven. It is expressed around the globe weekly by Eastern and Western Christians: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10 [NIV]   Who will lead this kind of change?

In my opinion, we can pray this prayer until we are blue in the face but nothing happens until we who become followers of Jesus are willing to undergo ongoing change. A change that will allow the world—our individual sphere of influence—to see a personal peace (shalom) in our daily lives, and by our faithful presence demonstrate the kind of life and world our loving God intends for everyone.   How?  Next week let’s deal with that question.

“ Be the change you want to see in the world.” —  Mahatma Gandhi

“…for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purposes.” Philippians 2:13 [NIV]

[1] To Change the World, Professor James Davidson Hunter, p.286

Miracle

fullsizeoutput_ef

Art:

I completed this Oil painting several years ago. It was inspired by one of my favorite (PBS) artist—Bob Ross. Again, I enjoy the color and peacefulness represented by the deep forest and small waterfall. For me it recalls creation and the beauty of all things substantial. “And God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:26b. Perhaps, this may qualify as first ‘miracle’. See what you think.

Thought:

Marj was in for her annual physical examination when the doctor discovered a ‘suspicious lump’. She was referred to an oncologist who confirmed the diagnosis. The safest treatment was surgical removal. We arrived on the date set. She was prepped for surgery. But, before starting, Marj said, “I think the ‘lump’ is gone.” Not expecting this, the surgeon did a “thorough probing” and agreed: “There was no ‘lump’ and no surgery.” She was sent home with instructions to make an appointment in a month. She never made the appointment. That was twenty-five years ago. The ‘lump’ never came back. We prayed during this scenario and, from our perspective, the outcome was a miracle!

This begs the question: What is a ‘miracle’? The English dictionary gives three definitions:

  1. Act of God
  2. Amazing event
  3. Marvelous example

To me it seems our western world (definition #2 & #3) trivializes the meaning of ‘miracle’.  Statements like ‘miracle drug’ (seem an oxymoron), ‘Miracle Ear’ (brand of hearing aid ) and dozens more use ‘miracle’ as a word modifier to an explicable situation.

Our English bible uses some form of ‘miracle’ 104 times—34 in the O.T and 70 in the N.T. –to translate four Hebrew and three Greek words. These seven original Hebrew and Greek words are also translated: wonders, signs, times, work, deed(s), action, do, doing and power another 239 times. We might conclude a ‘miracle’ to be a powerful action, often expressed as a form of deed or sign, without human explanation—supernatural.

God’s ‘eternal supernatural dominion’ is without beginning or ending. Then, in Genesis, God created another ‘temporal material dominion’. “ He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment.” Colossians 1:17 The Message

It seems to me, God’s loving way of “holding it all together”, sometimes includes his special powerful action into his created domain. I see this to be a ‘miracle’. Examples include Jesus, in the past, healing a blind man and, today, removing a ‘suspicious lump’! Why? Other than for the expressed purpose of demonstrating his loving power in “holding it all together” only God knows.

[1]“I like the way C.S. Lewis makes a case for the reality of miracles by presenting the position that something more than nature, a supernatural world, may exist, including a benevolent creator likely to intervene in reality after creation.”  I believe that supernatural world does simultaneously exist.

[2]“As Albert Einstein is supposed to have said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” I believe the latter. Everything is a miracle, either through the use of creation, or through special powerful intervention rooted in God’s love.

Jesus said:  “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the ‘miracles‘ themselves.” John 14:11 NIV

Peter’s message at Pentecost: “Men of Israel, listen to this; Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles’, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” Acts 2:22 NIV

God loves you…trust him to come to your aid in…“holding it all together”

 

[1]C.S. Lewis in book Miracles… 1947 revised 1960

[2] The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr, p. 7

 

Peace

fullsizeoutput_d37

Art:

This painting in Oil is one of several completed this summer. I chose it to depict something of the ‘Thought’ for this week—‘Peace’. An early morning storm just passed through. Sky begins to clear and ‘Peace’ returns following the stormy night. Recent blogs have featured Ink with Pen and Brush. I thought a bit of color might be in order.

Thought:

A wealthy patron of fine art commissioned two artists: Capture ‘Peace’ in Oil on canvas. After giving the subject a good deal of thought to conjure inspiration, they began. The reveal day arrived. The benefactor was amazed at their creative, but contrasting expressions symbolizing ‘Peace’. First, was of a peaceful pastoral landscape with distant hills, background forest, split rail fence and cows resting in shade of a giant oak amidst lush pasture—‘Peace’. Second, was rugged rocky shoreline pounded by gigantic waves from raging storms at sea. Careful inspection revealed a tiny bird under the protection of a rocky outcropping, safe from the storm –‘Peace’.

Which best expresses ‘Peace’ in your experience? Think about it. Answering may not be as easy as one thinks. Is ‘Peace’ environmentally induced? Is ‘Peace’ an internal state of being? Is ‘Peace’, somehow, both? The two paintings are decidedly cast in contradictory settings. The first appears calm the second agitated. Both include living subjects—cow(s) and a bird.

Assuming each artist aimed to conjure ‘Peace’ in the viewer’s personal experience, how did each endeavor to convey that message? At the risk of oversimplification, it could be that artist #1 is positing: external environment invokes ‘Peace’. Artist #2 suggests ‘Peace’ is summoned internally, regardless of environment. What do you think?

Webster defines ‘Peace’ as… “a concept of societal friendship and harmony in the absence of hostility and violence.  In a social sense, peace is commonly used to mean a lack of conflict (such as war) and freedom from fear of violence between individuals or heterogeneous (relatively foreign or distinct) groups…

““Psychological peace” (such as peaceful thinking and emotions) is perhaps less well defined yet often a necessary precursor to establishing “behavioral peace.” Peaceful behavior sometimes results from a “peaceful inner disposition.” Some have expressed the belief that peace can be initiated with a certain quality of inner tranquility that does not depend upon the uncertainties of daily life for its existence.”

To me, it seems, conflicts or wars (being without peace) between groups is rooted in the lack of what might be called “psychological” or “spiritual” ‘Peace’ in individuals. Their lives are like ships with sails blown by volatile environmental storms while, deep inside, they are without adequate ballast. Lack of internal ballast stability seems an ominous indicator that conflict (often based on fear) is inevitable.

I think lack of ‘Peace’ stems from who is captain, in charge of my life. Is it me or is it God the ‘creator and sustainer’ of the universe? “Doing my own thing” just isn’t working out. Acting as if I am in charge, is to have a skipper without spiritual eyesight or hearing—not good credentials for the captain of any craft, especially if it is one’s own life! It becomes a life prone to uncertainty often paralyzed by fear.

In the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah…“ You (God) will keep in perfect ‘Peace’ him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3 In the New Testament, John quotes Jesus saying… ‘Peace’ I leave with you; my ‘Peace’ I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

I believe we are created with the capacity, deep in the vessel of our life, for God’s Spirit to graciously provide the ‘Peace’ we desire and require. Because God loves us he plants in us his Spirit to produce that fruit… “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, ‘Peace’, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22,23

Perhaps, each artist understood the animal kingdom has a built-in instinct—a ballast of trust in creator God. He is in charge and cares for them. He loves you even more! Storms in life will come and go. Days may be filled with tranquility of a pastoral scene or tumultuousness of a storm at sea. True ‘Peace’ is a great ‘fruit’ (serendipitous benefit!) of God’s love for you and His Spirit’s presence is ballast for your life voyage.  ‘Peace’!

“Let the ‘Peace’ of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to ‘Peace’. Colossians 3:15