Paradigm

Art:

I did this Mixed Media of our cat “Maggie’ about eight years ago when we lived in Andover, MN.  She is a rescued cat who has ‘never met a stranger’ with a habit of wanting to sit on books or papers I am working with. 

I chose it for our Thought this week—‘Paradigm’—because Maggie (all cats for that matter) sees the world around her from about four to six inches off the floor. Try crawling around that close to the floor. You’ll see the world through Maggie’s ‘Paradigm’. 

Thought:

My Claim

IF YOU’VE READ The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People sometime in the past, or have just started reading, I think you will agree. Anyone who reads the first  45-page chapter ‘Inside Out’ will never be the same. It introduces  a key to unlock scores of puzzling human challenges faced almost daily in our physical, social, and spiritual worlds:  ‘Two people can see the same thing, disagree, and yet both be right.  It’s not logical; its psychological.’  This may sound too good to be true, but it’s not.  This claim not only sounds good, but I believe it’s true.  Words to describe this truth are ‘Paradigm’ and ‘Paradigm-shift’. If you never read the remainder of the book but understand this one truth, I believe this will have been one of the best time and money investments you will ever make.  So, what is it?

‘Paradigm’ Defined

“THE WORD ‘Paradigm’ comes from the Greek. It was originally a scientific term and is more commonly used today to mean a model, theory, perception, assumption, or frame of reference.  In a general sense, it’s the way we “see” the world—not in terms of our visual sense of sight, but in terms of perceiving, understanding, interpreting.”[1]   Our attitudes and behaviors grow  out of those assumptions based on our experiences.  In simple words ‘Paradigms’ are a system of beliefs, ideas, values, and habits that is a way of thinking about the real world. ‘Paradigms’ are often thought of as the eyeglasses through which we see the world around us.

A Simple Illustration[2]

I’VE USED THIS illustration many times. A young husband often observed his wife prepare meals during their first year of marriage.  When she prepared a beef roast, he was intrigued that she always cut off both ends before putting it into the roasting pan. One day he asked why she did that. Her response was that it was the way she always saw her mother do it.  Next time she visited her mother, she asked why she cut the ends off the roast.  Her mom’s answer was simple: ‘My roasting pan was too short.’ The young wife experienced a ‘Paradigm-shift’!  What she had been seeing and learning had little to do with how to prepare a roast. It was her mom’s need to fit the roast into her too-short roasting pan. The daughter changed!

‘Paradigms’ & Habits

WHICH COMES FIRST, a Habit or the ‘Paradigm’?  In our illustration, mom saw that her roasting pan was too small for the cut of meat she generally purchased. That was her ‘Paradigm’ through which she saw her ‘roast-beef-|for-dinner’ world.  Her solution was to cut the ends off the meat so it would fit the pan.  This procedure became a habit observed by her daughter now grown up and married.  The daughter’s ‘Paradigm’ became watching her mom’s habit with the conclusion that for some undisclosed reason this action is essential to properly preparing a beef roast for dinner…until someone innocently asked, ‘Why do you do it that way?’ That habit could have passed on for generations. 

Application

SO, WHAT ARE SOME habits you and I have developed from the influence of our ‘Paradigm’ through which we see the world?  It seems to me the more limited our interaction with others the more apt we are to settle for unchallenged ‘Paradigms’.  Listening to those with a larger roaster pan ‘Paradigm’ may very well put us on the same page and with the common objective—a delicious roast beef dinner to meet family and friends needs.  Where do you and I need a ‘Paradigm-shift’? 

I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. Psalm 119:59

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15


[1] The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey p. 23

[2] Ibid.  Covey’s illustration with the ‘Old Woman / Young Woman’ he learned at Harvard is a classic graphic illustration of the meaning. P. 25,26 & 45

Time

Art:

THIS ORIGINAL INK with Pen & Brush was completed a few years back from photo references I took of the Depot in Aitkin, Minnesota. Marj and I spent several weeks each summer at a cabin ten miles from Aitkin on Long Lake. I was impressed by the architecture of this early Railroad Depot now serving as a museum. It reminded me of my childhood trips by railroad. I chose it for today’s Thought—‘Time’. In this country’s ‘hay day’ of railroads, rail time was the trusted standard wherever you traveled.

Thought:

‘Time’

WHEN YOU and I were born into this physical world, our parents were presented with a legal document called our Birth Certificate.  One day, when our physical bodies decease, those remaining behind are issued our Death Certificate.  Most households have at least one of each filed away somewhere for safe keeping.  Our Thought this week is about the space that separates the date on one’s physical birth and death certificates—‘Time’. It may be a separation of only hours or more than 100 years.  ‘Time’ is where we live at this moment.  Hold this idea as you read on.  

‘Purpose’

LAST WEEK, with our key Thought—‘Purpose’—I introduced Rick Warren’s ‘#1 New York Times Bestseller’ book The Purpose Driven Life where he speaks to the human question: “What on earth am I here for?” This January 2023 you  may have  entertained a similar question. I encouraged taking 10 minutes a day for the next 40 days to read Rick’s five-part  answer and you may think: How am I supposed to fit this into my already too full 2023 calendar?  The quick answer is probably: You can’t!   “Albert Einstein observed, ‘The significant problems we face [like no time in my schedule] cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.’[1] Something must change.

Cynics look high and low for wisdom—and never find it;
    the open-minded find it right on their doorstep!
Proverbs 14:6 [MSG]

More Wisdom

ALLOW ME to place a second book of ‘wisdom’ on the ‘doorstep’ of 2023: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People  by Stephen R. Covey.   It too is a ‘#1 New York Times Bestseller’ book. In fact, each of these two books has sold more than 30 million copies.  Even if you’ve read it before, read it again. Look for help with your overcrowded schedule. I believe it will provide  invaluable wisdom as you increasingly apply what you are learning about your personal ‘Purpose Driven Life’. God has graciously given you the ‘Time’ each day to accomplish your purpose.  Since first being introduced to them, I’ve read both books multiple times and never come away without  some new wisdom. 

Two Suggestions

THE AUTHOR makes two suggestions  that will greatly increase the value you will receive from this material. “First, [He] would recommend that you not ‘see’ this material as a book, in the sense that it is something to read once and put on a shelf…You may choose to read it through once for a sense of the whole. But the material is designed to be a companion in the continual process  of change and growth.  It is organized incrementally and with suggestions for application at the end of each habit so that you can study and focus on any particular habit as you are ready.

As you progress to deeper levels of understanding and implementation, you can go back time and again to the principles contained in each habit and work to expand your knowledge, skill, and desire. Second, [He]  would suggest that you shift your thoughts of your own involvement in this material from the role of learner to that of teacher…read with the purpose in mind of sharing and to discussing what you learn with someone else within 48 hours after you learn it.”[2]

Outline

THE AUTHOR has divided the content into four parts and treats the Seven Habits under Part Two through Part Four.

Part One:       Paradigms and Principles

                                    Inside-out

                                    The Seven Habits—An Overview

Part Two:       Private Victory

            Habit 1            Be Proactive

            Habit 2            Begin with the End in Mind

            Habit 3            Put First things First

Part Three:    Public Victory

            Habit  4           Think Win/Win

            Habit  5           Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

            Habit  6           Synergize

Part Four:      Renewal

            Habit  7           Sharpen the Saw

                                    Inside-Out Again

Take ‘Time’

TAKE TIME to define, understand, express, and explain the meaning of new words and ideas as you read.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7


[1] The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen R. Covey p. 42

[2] Ibid. 59, 60

Purpose

Art:

I painted this background in Acrylic and created the village scene seventeen years ago. It forms the background to display several Thomas Kincade Christmas village buildings acquired during 2005. A young granddaughter ‘helped’ me with playdough supports for the buildings and ice pond.

I use it for this week’s Thought—‘Purpose’—because each building represents a  shop, church, home, bakery, and serves their ‘Purpose’ in the village. 

Thought:

JANUARY OFTEN surfaces some thought-provoking questions.  In his book  The Purpose Driven Life, author Rick Warren suggests one of those questions: “What on earth am I here for?”  Perhaps a similar question has found its way into your thinking.   Why do I exist? I believe it is an appropriate question and worthy of serious consideration.  In Rick Warren’s ‘#1 New York Times Bestseller’ book he wisely answers in five individual parts, divided into 40 daily readings. The first reading begins…

“…It’s not about you…”

“THE SEARCH FOR the purpose of life has puzzled people for thousands of years.  That’s because we typically begin at the wrong starting point—ourselves.  We ask self-centered questions like What do I want to be?  What should I do with my life? What are my goals, my ambitions, my dreams for my future? But focusing on ourselves will never reveal our life’s purpose.

“The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions.  If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with “God.  You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”[1]

Purpose #1: You Were Planned for God’s Pleasure

“THE MOMENT you were born into the world, God was there as an unseen witness, smiling at your birth.  He wanted you alive, and your arrival gave him great pleasure.  God did not need to create you, but he chose to create you for his own enjoyment. You exist for his benefit, his glory, his purpose, and his delight.”[2]

Purpose #2:  You Were Formed for God’s Family

“GOD WANTS a family, and he created you to be part of it. This is God’s second purpose for your life, which he planned before you were born. The entire Bible is the story of God building a family who will love him, honor him, and reign with him forever. It says, “His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.   And this gave him great pleasure.” Ephesians 1:5 (NLT) [3]

Purpose #3:  You Were Created to be Like Christ

“FROM THE VERY beginning, God’s plan has been to make you like his Son, Jesus.  This is your destiny and the third purpose of your life.  God announced this intention at Creation:  “Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image and likeness.’” James 1:18 (LB) [4]

Purpose #4: You Were Shaped for Serving God

“GOD FORMED every creature on this planet with a special area of expertise.  Some animals run, some hop, some swim, some burrow, and some fly.  Each has a particular role to play, based on the way they were shaped by God.  The same is true with humans.  Each of us was uniquely designed, or “shaped,” to do certain things.” [We often refer to these as spiritual grace gifts from God.]

Purpose #5:  You Were Made for a Mission

“GOD IS AT work in the world, and  he wants you to join him. This assignment is called your mission.  God wants you to have both a ministry in the Body of Christ and a mission in the world.  Your ministry is your service to believers[5] (followers of Jesus), and your mission is your service to  unbelievers (those ‘not yet’ followers of Jesus). Fulfilling your mission in the world is God’s fifth purpose for your life.”[6]

What Can I Do?

Borrow or purchase the book. Devote 10 minutes daily for 40 days to read each short chapter.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved…2 Timothy 2:15


[1] The Purpose Driven Life, by  Rick Warren p. 17  

[2] The Purpose Driven Life, by  Rick Warren  p. 63

[3] The Purpose Driven Life,  by Rick Warren  p. 117

[4] The Purpose Driven Life,  by Rick Warren.  p. 171

[5]  I became a servant of the church because God gave me a special work to do that helps you, and that work is to tell fully the message of God. Colossians 1:25 (NCV); You know the way you lived before you were believers. You let yourselves be influenced and led away to worship idols—things that could not speak. 1 Corinthians 12:5

[6] The Purpose Driven Life,  by Rick Warren  p. 281

Eclectic

Art:

Inspired by the model in an art magazine, I painted this still life in Oil more than a decade ago. It is the only fruit still life I have attempted.  We did purchase an original 20 x 40 inch still life Oil while on a trip to Spain in the 1970s. It hangs in our dining area. 

It may be a bit of a stretch to use it to depict our key Thought this week—‘Eclectic’.  However, I chose it because I think it technically represents an example of ‘Eclectic’.

Thought:

Origin in Greek

‘ECLECTIC’ IS NOT commonly used in most everyday conversation.  Nevertheless, unlike many other not-so-often-used English words, many people do know it’s general definition: “deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources.”[1]  Where did the word originate? ‘Eclectic’ comes from the Greek words for ‘out’ and ‘choose’ eklektikos.Eclectic’ was originally applied to ancient philosophers who were not committed to any single system of philosophy but instead selected whichever doctrines pleased them from every school of thought. It is often used to describe a combination of things not necessarily seeming to ‘go together’.

A Good Neighbor’s Decor

MARJ RECENTLY attended a brunch hosted at a neighbor’s home.  She shared with me that she had a good time with the women and then she began to speak highly of the way the host’s home was decorated.  She was impressed with the appointments and how comfortable it felt.  I ask if she could describe the style that had been used.  Not really…it was ‘stylish’, and everything seemed to ‘go together’ in a very pleasing way to the eye.  That reminded me of an exercise I have performed several times over the years.  In fact, we stopped to spend a few minutes right then.  What is our decorating style?  Do we have a theme?  Would an interior designer have a label for us? I doubt it!  I came up with one I think fits.

A Name for Our Décor?

WE BEGAN GOING around the room naming and identifying everything from pieces of furniture to wall hangings, as well as tabletop items. It turns out that nearly every piece has a story behind it. We purchased this on a trip to Italy, or to Mackinac Island… This was a gift from… One wall of  framed and matted Ink art features special memories from our lives that I created. How could we possibly label what we  have accumulated under only one of the twenty most common decorator labels?  We decided our ‘theme’ might be called Memories and our ‘style’ might be called ‘Eclectic’ Bohemian or  Unruly ‘Eclectic’. Not messy to look at, but it doesn’t necessary follow many of the decorator rules.

What About Creation?

WHAT ABOUT THE designer of the universe?  What ‘theme’ and style did God  use?  Without question, I believe God’s ‘theme’ was, and continues to be, Love.  As for God’s style, I would venture to say God’s creation style of Love is ‘Eclectic’ Extension.  We sometimes say no two snowflakes are alike.  Why do we say that?  Because it seems true in all God’s never-ending creation. The Genesis creation story begins the first day with God’s words, “Let there be light…” and ends on the sixth day with “God created mankind in his own image”. God ended the six days of his creation with these words: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.  Genesis 1:31. All creation is evidence of God’s having chosen from his broad and infinite range of possibilities to be ‘Eclectic’.

‘Eclectic’ but Unified

GOD CREATING mankind ‘in his own image’ is a powerful statement. Think about it.  What is that ‘image’? I believe the Apostle Paul answers in 1 John 4:16 ‘God is love’. Of the eight billion people on earth now (and considering all who have lived from the first couple until today), no two are truly identical. In one sense the human population is ‘Eclectic’. But each is created by, with and for the same theme—Love. As items in our homes provide us needed environment, so each of us have a given roll, ‘For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’  Ephesians 2:10.  That is what unifies our purpose as God’s individual creations. How are we doing  and growing in our ‘Eclectic’ roles?

And so, we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  1 John 4:16


[1] Eclectic Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster
https://www.merriam-webster.com › dictionary › eclectic

Firsts

Art:

I completed this Oil fifteen years ago. I like the simple composition in nature. I use it for our Thought—‘First’—this week because we just passed the 2022 winter solstice into the ‘First’ day of a new season. What a stormy transition it was!

The National Weather Service called it “a once in a generation type event” that touched nearly every state in the US.  More than 100 million people were under winter weather and wind chill alerts with record breaking low temps as daily highs.  It’s been a ‘First’ to remember!

Thought:

‘Firsts’ Become Doors

HOW DO YOU feel about Mondays?  I suppose I’m one of those moderately odd people who enjoys Mondays.  Always have!  Why? For the same reason I enjoy the ‘First’ of a new year; of a new month; a new week, or even a new day.  These ‘Firsts’ become doors to something new and fresh. They provide an opportunity to use imagination, skills and experience to shape a mental picture for desired outcomes and a plan to reach them. I enjoy the journey even before it moves from paper (or computer screen) to reality. So, having begun the ‘First’ day and month of 2023, how do I proceed?  You may use a very different approach to your ‘Firsts’. I offer this small window into my approach to encourage you in your approach and/or to try something new. ‘Today is the ‘First’ day of the rest of our lives!”

Two Requirements

TO THINK ABOUT ‘Firsts’ and the implications for 2023 reminds me of a familiar quote: “How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”  If the new year feels  like having an elephant on your plate, don’t worry. Just don’t expect perfection, instead expect progress. This requires time and tools. Allocate up to an hour per day five days a week to planning and implementation of your ‘Firsts’.  This allows time to  get your thinking, writing, and planning organized as to how you’ll approach your 2023 ‘Firsts’. Block out this time on your personal calendar. Don’t be discouraged if it takes all of January.

Two Tools

NOW THAT YOU’VE dedicated calendar time, I suggest two tools: a ‘Coach’ and a ‘Chronicle’.  I am suggesting four ‘Coaches’ that have helped me through past decades.[1] I suggest, start by reading Stephen R. Covey’s  7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Read for understanding and personal motivation. The second tool is a ‘Chronicle’ to record your thinking and plans as they proceed. It may be a dedicated software program on your computer or on a simple yellow legal pad. This is where to collect the ideas from your thinking time as well as reading from your ‘Coach’.  It will become the reservoir from which you identify ‘bite sizes’ in successfully confronting life’s 2023 ‘Firsts’. It all starts with you. You are the most important asset for the process.

Sharpening the (You) Saw

STEPEN COVEY uses the phrase ‘Sharpening the saw’ to identify what we’re talking about. “Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have—you.  It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in these four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.  As you renew yourself in each of the four areas, you create growth and change in your life.” Then you will be in a process best equipped to approach all the ‘Firsts’ in your 2023. As a follower of Jesus, you might wish to rearrange the four areas in a different order of priority. You may also wish to add ‘financial’, ‘vocational’ and ‘hobbies’ as an expansion under ‘physical’ or ‘mental’ or  as new separate categories.

First Things First

AS YOU BEGIN each dedicated hour, seek wisdom. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5  Think about and write your prayer in your Chronicle. Listen to what you hear back and enter it in your Chronicle. What wisdom should I ask for? Start with your four to seven categories. In each category ask, ‘God, where do you want me to be this time next year?  What goal should I set?  Chronicle it. Hold it ‘palms up’. He may want you to adjust it as you grow in this process. 

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.  Matthew 6:33


[1] 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey, 1989, 2004, 2020

Ordering Your Private World, by Gordon MacDonald, 1984, 1985

The 7 Most Important Questions You’ll Ever Answer, by Daniel Henderson, 1998

The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren, 2002

Worth

Art:

I COMPLETED THIS Acrylic a couple years ago from a memory that goes back to early childhood.  At the time I lived with maternal grandparents in Louisville, Kentucky. Each summer we took the train or bus to visit my great-grandmother Sego near Lexington, Tennessee.  This is my memory of her virgin oak house (now gone). I painted it in a winter scene and added  the church in the distance.

I USE IT to accompany our Thought—‘Worth’—for today because it visualizes for me the significance of my connection to both a physical and spiritual heritage of being loved unconditionally. 

Thought:

The Big Question

“SO, HOW WAS your day?” Over the years, that’s a question I’ve often asked Marj as we began our evening meal together.  Sometimes I still do it even after we have been retired more than a decade.  Why do I ask?  Because I love her, and I want to hear how she feels about how her day went. Life is happening all around us and to us. It does have an influence. In just three days, we will all be in the new year of 2023.  So, I ask: ‘How was your year 2022?’  I trust you have given thought to a similar question and found value from the process.

A Blog to Share

I DON’T OFTEN do this, but this week I want to share the full article from a weekly blog I read called ‘Renovare[1] Weekly’. It was posted December 2, 2022. 

“LIKE MANY WHO grew up in church, I somehow conflated… unworthiness with worthlessness, and worthlessness with humility. This is more than just semantics. How we think about God’s ‘Worth’, and our ‘Worth’ can be the difference between living in false humility and true humility. It deeply affects how we love God and others.

God’s Worth

“IF WHAT WE mean by us being unworthy is that we don’t earn God’s favor or love, then we’re thinking well.   Grace is, by definition,  a gift.  But if we start thinking that we are without ‘Worth’ or value, even in our fallen state, this goes against not only Scripture but also nature and common sense. We are made in God’s image.  So, if God has ‘Worth’, we have ‘Worth’. Period. When teaching his disciples to fear God (which brings freedom from all other fears),  notice that Jesus appealed to their ‘Worth’:  “Don’t be afraid; you are ‘Worth’ more than many sparrows” (Matt 10:31).

“O Holy Night”

“KNOWING HOW valuable we are to God doesn’t puff us up; it settles us down.  Knowing our God-given ‘Worth’ doesn’t make us proud; it makes us humble. My favorite line of any Christmas song is from “O Holy Night,”

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its ‘Worth’.

When we ponder God becoming a baby, we feel simultaneously small and full of ‘Worth’, a mixture called humility.

Knowing our ‘Worth’

“HUMILITY IS to see things as they are.  It isn’t to think of oneself as a worthless worm who God reluctantly redeemed.  It is to fix our heart on God’s ‘Worth’—which’ is the literal definition of worship—and know our ‘Worth’ in light of God’s ‘Worth’.  Jesus could be lowly and humble of heart because he knew who, and whose he was.  He had nothing to prove so he could come as a  baby and grow into a man who loved freely. 

“SO, IN THE LIGHT of the stable may your soul feel it’s ‘Worth’, so that the humble mind of Jesus may be your mind as well.”  (Please read Philippians chapter  2).

Brian Morykon

Director of Communications

A Shepherd for 2023

A SECOND WORD I could have chosen from Brian’s article would be ‘humility’.  In my thinking, humility means to come under the authority of another. As we grow in our understanding of the ‘Worth’ God allocates to us, I can think of no other person under whose authority I would rather be.  Thankfully, He is our caring shepherd (read Psalm 23) for the new year! 

So, ‘How are you feeling about 2023?’

So don’t be afraid; you are ‘Worth’ more than many sparrows. Matt 10:31


[1] Renovare USA is a Christian nonprofit that models, resources, and advocates fullness of life with God experienced, by grace, through the spiritual practices of Jesus and of the historical Church. Renovare helps people in becoming more like Jesus.

Immanuel

Art:

This week’s Art is a painting by our youngest son who first showed strong interest in Art and the Bible around the fourth grade. Today he is a seminary professor and artist.  He created this nativity scene a couple years ago as part of his animated ‘Cartoonist’s Guide to the Gospel of Luke’. It remains a favorite of mine.

I choose it for today’s Thought—‘Immanuel’—as a colorful visual to put us in touch with that first scene in God’s unique ‘Immanuel’ story.

Thought:

The Season

NOT LONG AFTER Halloween, and immediately succeeding Thanksgiving, we experience an explosion of Christmas decorations everywhere.  Along with the visual comes all the music we associate with Christmas. Lyrics to some of the Christmas music includes the word ‘Immanuel’. Christmas is a favorite time of year for me. I’ve always enjoyed the lights, the wrapping of gifts, the excitement on children’s faces and especially the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at church when we celebrate ‘Immanuel’.  

Immanuel or Emmanuel?

YOU MANY HAVE noticed two spellings in connection with this celebration. What is the difference between Emmanuel and ‘Immanuel’? While both work, some feel it’s probably more accurate to use ‘Immanuel’, since that is the direct transliteration from the Hebrew. To use Emmanuel is to transliterate the Greek transliteration of Hebrew, which adds a step. Either way, both spellings point to an extraordinary truth: in Jesus, God has come to be with his people. The reference to this name comes from the prophet Isaiah who first foretold of a virgin or young women conceiving and bearing a child.  As  the prophet says, this child will be named ‘Immanuel’. Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him ‘Immanuel’.  Isiah 7:14 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’” (which means “God with us”). Matthew 1:23

Where did Jesus Go?

I WONDER IF, without realizing it, we may sometimes live our lives as if all this Christmas celebration of Jesus coming into the world was a wonderful visit,  but he did not stay.  Yes, God [In Jesus] was with us for a season but now we are on our own. We have only memories of how it was when he was walking the trails of Galilee as Creator God incarnate in one human body.  But after he ascended into the clouds as his followers watched, he was gone.  All we have left is the record of what he said and did while he was ‘God with us’—‘Immanuel’. Where did he go?  What about now?  How is ‘God with us’ today?

How is ‘God with Us’?

I BELIEVE THE simple answer is that ‘God with us’ means the Spirit of God is forever present with all his creation. His simple presence has been described with different terms: the advocate, the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, and as Jesus to name a few. The Spirit of God came upon Jesus at his baptism. The Spirit of God came upon Jesus’ followers in the upper room at Pentecost and into the heart of each follower of Jesus since. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,  Ephesians 1:13 God has never left us!

Much to Learn

WE CAN LEARN much about this from the teaching of Jesus and other New Testament writers.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. John 14:16, 17

I have made you [Father God] known to them [followers], and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”  John 17:26 

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5b

God…Revealed in Us

SHORTLY AFTER the 1986 publication of The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration, the congregation I was pastoring purchased them.  I checked the ‘Index of Hymns’ this week and found only one related to our Thought—‘Immanuel’.   It was simply titled ‘Emmanuel’ and contained few words:

Emanuel, Emanuel,

His name is called Emmanuel.

God with us, revealed in us;

His name is called Emmanuel.

But there it was! God is continuing to reveal himself to his world through your life and mine.

A great thought to end 2022 and to begin a new 2023 as followers of Jesus!

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5b

Contemplation

Art:

I completed this Acrylic earlier in the year from a printed photo reference.  I was drawn into the vivid colors distinguishing the depth of mountain range involved. The brilliant sky is ‘icing on the cake’!

I chose this to represent our Thought—‘Contemplation’. It’s a setting that nudges my mind and heart beyond the everchanging physical beauty to the One who made it!

Thought:

Contemplation?

When did you last hear or use the word ‘Contemplation’?  I suspect its absence is partly because we aren’t certain as to what it means.  My Thesaurus breaks the word into two categories:  Inspection: [Observation, Survey, Review, Scrutiny, Examination] and Thought: [Meditation, Consideration, Deliberation, Study, and Reflection].  There just doesn’t seem to be that much difference.  Dictionaries generally define ‘Contemplation’ as the action of looking carefully and thoughtfully at something for a long time.

Natural and Spiritual Contemplation

I WOULD LIKE TO split the definition into what I’ll call:  Natural ‘Contemplation’ and Spiritual ‘Contemplation’.  “In a religious context, the practice of ‘Contemplation’ seeks a direct awareness of the divine which transcends the intellect, often in accordance with prayer or meditation.”[1] I see Natural ‘Contemplation’ directed more toward a physical understanding of God’s creation.  Spiritual ‘Contemplation’ I see directed more toward understanding the God of creation via supernatural spirit connection.  Both are important since we simultaneously dwell in both a natural physical body and a supernatural spiritual body.

Mentors

IF FOLLOWERS of Jesus are to continue maturing, I believe both are required.  However, here I speak to our Spiritual ‘Contemplation’.  Three authors, with different backgrounds, have  mentored my understanding:  The late Dallas Willard (Southern Baptist), Richard J. Foster (Friends, Quaker) and Richard Rohr (Franciscan, Catholic). Following  is a condensation from other research and thoughts on this often-misunderstood aspect of what I am identifying as Spiritual ‘Contemplation’.

What is Biblical Contemplation?

WE OFTEN HEAR reference to ‘Contemplation’ in the context of many prominent Eastern or Middle eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism.  What about biblical ‘Contemplation’?

It’s an ancient term for a form of prayer that has been almost lost to the follower of Jesus in our contemporary world. Very simply, contemplative prayer is communing with God through quiet moments of meditation, listening, and reflecting on Him. It is like a response to God’s call to ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Psalm 46:10—‘Contemplation’.

A Gracious Gift

I SEE SPIRITUAL ‘Contemplation’ (like all prayer) as a pure gift. It is not anything we can achieve. It happens when prayer becomes, wholly and utterly, the flow of God’s grace, transforming the land it flows through, like Ezekiel’s stream in Ezekiel 32:14. Spiritual ‘Contemplation’ is one way God enables us to do what we could not do alone in carrying out God’s will. It cultivates the ability to speak and act with wise, compassionate competence, to illuminate the unknown, dispel confusion, resolve conflict, alleviate suffering, and actively love.

A Suggested Approach

I AM HESITANT TO use or recommend someone’s outline or formula designed to accomplish a specific purpose.  Why?  Because we have a human tendency to put our trust in the formula.  We think that if we apply it correctly, we’ll get our desired result.  If not, we don’t.  My most  often request is for Wisdom.   Here’s a simple adapted outline that you may find helpful as you join in Spiritual ‘Contemplation’ prayer.

1. COME TO GOD with your request for guidance.

“Father, I come to you in the name of Jesus Christ, your son, and according to James 1:5 . I am seeking wisdom for__(your request).

In the name of Jesus, according to Matthew 28:18 and Luke 10:19-20,

I submit my own voice and command that my own thoughts be taken captive to the obedience of Christ, according to 2 Corinthians 10:5.

I ask, Father, that only your Holy Spirit will speak to me now as I wait on you for wisdom, insight, and direction. And whatever you show me or direct me to do, I pray that I will quickly obey.

In Jesus’s mighty name, amen.”

2. WAIT IN SILENCE for God to speak for 10-12 minutes.

Listen to what God is saying to you. What themes emerge? What becomes clear about God’s plan for you as you listen? [2]

3. JOT DOWN any Scripture, songs, impressions, or pictures God gives you.

This may be done alone or with others.

4. SHARE how God spoke to you with your prayer partners and follow God’s will.

Whatever the Lord speaks to us, the most important thing is that we obey his voice. If you are unsure or need more confirmation, then ask the Lord for this. There is great comfort and security when we hear and obey.


[1] Wikipedia

[2] Have a means of recording your prayer and what you hear during  times of Spiritual ‘Contemplation’

Advent

Art:

I DON’T REMEMBER the source that inspired this Acrylic of an 1800s evening service in a picturesque community church. I was drawn by the snowy evening and people attending what I imagined to be one of the special ‘Advent’ season services.

I use it for our Thought—‘Advent’—for this week as we explore the special season we’ve just entered.

Thought:

Remembering

CAN YOU REMEMBER the first time you attended an ‘Advent’ service? Depending on family tradition, you may have been too young to remember. My story is not like that.  Since my unmarried mother died when I was born, I lived in six separate family situations growing up. I believe they would have all claimed to be Christians. Even semi-regular church attendance was not  their tradition. I became of follower of Jesus as a Sophomore in high school and began regularly attending a neighborhood Baptist church. I lived with my ex-step grandmother at the time. In those days most Baptist congregations did not celebrate ‘Advent’.  ‘Advent’ and Lent were considered Catholic church events. Since then, many if not most, Baptist church congregations do celebrate ‘Advent’ as a meaningful reminder of the first and second coming of Jesus.

‘Advent’ Hands On

MY FIRST ‘hands on’ experience with ‘Advent’ celebration came after I had finished college/ theological training and was ordained to the gospel ministry.  I received a call from  a congregation in Andover, Minnesota to come as Sr. Pastor, and continued serving there from 1983 until retirement in 2006.  ‘Advent’ was already part of their tradition.  It was there that I immediately grew to value these four weeks leading up to Christmas.  One of my fondest memories is a year when I went alone into the Sanctuary on Christmas Eve to light candles in preparation for those who would soon fill the pews. It was a personal spiritual experience for me. Since retirement, Marj and I are attending our third Lutheran congregation where ‘Advent’ celebration goes back to Martin Luther. So, what exactly is ‘Advent’?

Origin of ‘Advent’ Celebration

“IT IS NOT KNOWN when the period of preparation for Christmas, that is now called ‘Advent’, began – it was certainly in existence from about 480 – and the novelty introduced by the Council of  Tours of 567 was to order monks to fast every day in the month of December until Christmas. It is “impossible to claim with confidence a credible explanation of the origin of Advent”.[1] Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s First Coming to us is remembered and (since worshipers were losing sight of it) as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time.

‘Advent’ Wreath

THE KEEPING of an ‘Advent’ wreath is a common practice in homes or churches. The concept of the ‘Advent’ wreath originated among German Lutherans in the 16th Century. However, it was not until three centuries later that the modern ‘Advent’ wreath took shape. The modern ‘Advent’ wreath, with its candles representing the Sundays of ‘Advent’, originated from an 1839 initiative by Johann Hinrich Wichern, a Protestant pastor in Germany and a pioneer in urban mission work among the poor. In view of the impatience of the children he taught as they awaited Christmas, he made a ring of wood, with nineteen small red tapers and four large white candles. Every morning a small candle was lit, and every Sunday a large candle. Custom has retained only the large candles. [Children today may have a calendar with a treat behind 24 little doors.]

‘Advent’ Candles

MEANING REPRESENTED by the four large candles may vary from tradition to tradition in their European roots.  They are often according to separate themes.

1st.  Sunday: The Candle of Hope (Hope is like a light in a dark place for God’s people)

2nd. Sunday  The Candle of Peace (The Old Testament prophet)

3rd.  Sunday The Candle of Love (John the Baptist)

4th.  Sunday The Candle of Joy (Mary the mother of Jesus)

The four candles used will vary in color from blue to pink, depending on congregational traditions.  A White Candle is normally place in the center position of an evergreen wreath representing the ‘Advents’ (1st  and 2nd  coming of Jesus). The four candles are positioned in the greenery of the wreath itself.

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.[2]                                    Matthew 2:9

At that time, they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.     Luke 21:27


[1] Google, ‘Advent’ Catholic history

[2] 1st ‘Advent’ referenced as the  ‘Wise men from the East’ follow the star.

Solution

Art:

I PAINTED THIS Oil a couple summers ago from a photograph that caught my attention with these amazing reflections.

I chose it as our Art representation for this week’s Thought—‘Solution’. I’ll explain what needs reflection.

Thought:

‘Solutions ?’

BY NATURE I’m an optimist. I see the glass half full. I am also a realist, and a follower of Jesus.  He said seeing things through his eyes is equivalent to seeing things through God’s eyes. What is the ‘Solution’?  Some say the ‘Solution’ is to get America back to the Christianity of the founding fathers by making laws that support their conservative interpretation of Scripture. “Trying to make a person—or a society, for that matter,—hold a Christian way of thought and life through abrasive tactics and rhetorical violence is bound to backfire.”[1] Likewise, trying to meet needs of the poor through taxing the wealthy is an equally futile system. Assets are simply sheltered or moved offshore.  While these two external top-down changes may appear to bring ‘Solutions’, they are generally parochial and short lived.  


The Big Question

Let’s start with a big question.  What’s one word to describe the ideal kind of America that you want to be a part of, and you want the world to see?  Safe? Honest? Peaceful? Caring? Free? Tolerant? Grateful?… My one word is ‘Loving’. ‘Loving’ includes all these qualities and much more. This ‘Loving’ is not a syrupy or lurid kind often seen in today’s culture. Jesus spoke of it: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love’ your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27.  Quoting  these words of Jesus begs two reasonable questions: First, what does all that even mean?  Second, how could I ever do that?

What Does That Mean?

This speaks to three ‘Loving’ relationships we must unendingly grow: With God, With Neighbor[2], and With Yourself.  Thomas Aquinas said it well: “Love is born of an earnest consideration of the object loved.”  “Love follows knowledge.” [3] I become an intense student of all three: God, Neighbor, and Myself.  My purpose is to grow in studied understanding of all three. Spending more time with them is the most practical way for this kind of relationship and consideration to take place.

How Can I Do This?

How can I be ‘Loving’ the way Jesus spoke of in Luke 10:27?  With single-mindedness. Notice a repetition in the verse: ‘with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’. Nothing else is allowed to take priority over these relationships. In these growing relationships, we are ‘Loving’ one another.  How? Dallas Willard taught:  ‘To ‘Love’ is to attribute good to the object loved’. We increasingly see the value of each and will attribute to each our good words and works. Make a list of those closest to you. It will typically extend to family, friends and beyond.  Pray daily, in whatever way works best for you, asking God how he wants to manifest his ‘Loving’ through you to each one in words and actions. I believe this will commence the ‘Solution’.  Why?  Jesus said so, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” John 13:34,35

Solution

I believe this kind of God ‘Loving’, if increasingly experienced in action by Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Protestants, Catholics, Buddhist, Hindus, Muslims, Atheists, Americans, Russians, Chinese…around the world, it will, in time, produce a positive difference. I believe the Spirit of God is beginning this kind of life in various places globally today.  James Davison Hunter, in his 358-page book To Change the World, came to a two-word ‘Solution’ for the follower of Jesus—‘Faithful Presence’

Allow the world in your sphere of influence to experience God at work ‘Loving’!

Like the Oil painting, we reflect God’s ‘Loving’ to our world!

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,   1 Peter 3:15

Quotes


“The greatness of a nation, its true civilization, is measured by the extent of its obedience to the unenforceable.”–Lord Moulton

“We must keep steadily in mind that  no people were ever yet benefited by riches if their prosperity corrupted their virtue.” –Theodore Roosevelt

“How far can you go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without?”–Dwight D. Eisenhower


[1] RENOVARE WEEKLY, November 11, 2022 By Brian Morykon, Director of Communications

[2] I see this including all of God’s creation.

[3] The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard  p. 323