Repent

Art:

I painted this canvas in Oil as part of several Oils completed while studying the work of Jerry Yarnell in his Painting Basics, Volume One. 

I may be stretching the point just a bit by using it to represent our Thought—‘Repent’. See any connection?

Thought:

Made a Bad Choice?

LAST WEEK’S blog about ‘Choice’ got me thinking about how to handle situations when we realize we made a bad choice and regret it. Since my bad choices produce less than desirable consequences, what are my options? The place to start may be to ask questions: What consequences did I desire?  In line with last week’s blog, was my desire motivated externally or internally? What could have been a better choice?

‘Repent’ & Religion

SEEING THAT TODAY’S Thought is ‘Repent’, many readers immediately connect the word to religion. This is understandable in a culture influenced by Jewish, Christian, and Islamic sacred texts. The Hebrew and Greek root words translated into some form of the English word ‘repent’ appear more than 1100 times in the Old and New Testaments. We see this influence on the English dictionary definition of ‘Repent’: “[To] feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin. “The priest urged his listeners to repent”’

‘Repent’ in Day-to-day Life

What about day-to-day life where I feel I made a bad Choice: I ‘messed up’?  Even if your bad Choice was not in the moral realm, I believe ‘Repent’, in its root meaning, is still the right word.  You may still view or think of (an action or omission) with deep regret or remorse: Why did I paint that room such a ridiculous color?  Why did I not respond to her question sooner and avoid all this stress? Most of our choices and their consequences are not strictly in a moral category, but ‘Repentance’ is still the right response.     

‘Repent’

I like the way Wikipedia broadens the use of ‘Repent’ beyond the moral arena. “Repentance is reviewing one’s actions and feeling of contrition or regret for past wrongs which is accompanied by commitment to and actual actions that show and prove a change for the better.”  I see five steps:

  1. Review my choice that turned out to be a bad one
  2. Reflect on my sorrow for the consequence it produced
  3. Seek and implement ways to repair the damage where possible
  4. Identify a better choice based on better information including this experience
  5. ‘Repent’: Implement new action based on my changed way of thinking.

 Forgiveness

IT SEEMS TO ME that to truly ‘Repent’ one must also be able to ‘forgive’. Think about it.  When our bad ‘choice’ (intentional or unintentional) hurts someone else, and we see the undesirable consequence, we ‘Repent’ and seek to repair the damage.  We may seek ‘forgiveness’, whether it is extended or not.  So, do unto others as you would have them do unto you– Luke 6:31.  If I seek ‘forgiveness’ through my ‘Repentance’, am I also willing to extend ‘forgiveness’ when someone’s ‘Repentance’ includes me?

Our Model

ONE WAY I see our having been created in the image of God is in the combination of ‘Repentance’ and ‘forgiveness’.  Throughout Scripture when mankind ‘Repents’ from the bad ‘choices’ related to God’s loving teaching for us, God is there with ‘forgiveness’ and the opportunity to make a better ‘choice’.  God’s example of this forgiveness when we fail to follow Jesus’ model is exemplified in the ministry of John the Baptist. And so, John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Mark 1:4 …and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his [Jesus] name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Luke 24:47

Quotes on ‘Repentance’

“‘Repentance’ means you change your mind so deeply that it changes you.”– Bruce Wilkinson

A man [or woman] walks on through life – with the external call ringing in his [or her]ears but with no response stirring in his heart, and then suddenly, without any warning, the Spirit taps him on the shoulder. What happens? He turns ’round. The word ‘repentance‘ means ‘turning ’round.’ He repents and believes and is saved.” –Peter Marshall, former Chaplin of U.S. Senate.

 More Peter Marshall Quotes

“May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.”

“A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.”

“Give to us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for – because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.”

Choice

Art:

I DID A SERIES of Michigan lighthouses in Ink with Pen & Brush a few years ago.  This is from my photo reference of the lighthouse at the entrance to the small harbor on Mackinac Island, Michigan. 

I chose it for our today’s Thought—‘Choice’. Every time a Captain or Skipper of a watercraft is confronted with a lighthouse (especially before electronic guidance systems) he or she was faced with a ‘Choice’, do I or do I not follow protocol? 

Thought:

Made any ‘Choices’?

MADE ANY ‘CHOICES’ today?  You got out of bed… You had breakfast… You may have done neither of these.  But you did.  Why? We constantly make ‘Choices, often without conscious thought.  Now another word enters the conversation—consequence. No matter the ‘Choice’ made, there will be a resulting consequence: getting to work on time, vs being late; not feeling hungry vs ‘starving’.  Some are more extreme than others: selecting a career,.. a marriage partner,.. live in the city or country,.. get a Covid shot. 

‘Choice’ Defined & Illustrated

‘CHOICE’ OFTEN  DEFINED as:  an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities. 

This is the transcript of a radio conversation of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October 1995. Radio conversation released by the Chief of Naval Operations 10-10-95.

Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.

Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.

Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.

Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.

Americans: This is the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln , the second largest ship in the United States’ Atlantic fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I demand that YOU change your course 15 degrees north, that’s a one-five degrees north, or countermeasures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.

Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

Did this take place?  Don’t know.  Some say it’s one version of an urban legend. It illustrates how important information is before the final ‘Choice’. Right?

Motivative Choices

IT SEEMS TO ME ‘Choices’ are motivated either by: (1.) seemingly rational scientific facts: an outcome is equal to, lesser than, or greater than two or more alternatives. (2.) or a new relationship where alternatives are on a par. It may matter very much which you choose, but one is not better than the other.

When choices we make are on a par, the reason given to us (the ones that determine whether we are making a mistake) are silent as what to actually do.  It’s here, in these hard choices, we exercise our normative power—the power to make reasons for yourself, to make yourself into the kind of person where one of the choices is preferable to the others: a career, a marriage partner, life in the country the city, a Covid shot. 

When we do something where the choices for the follower of Jesus are rather on a par, we do something that is rather remarkable.  We can put our very selves behind an option—here is where I stand. Here is who I am.  This response in hard choices is a rational response. But it is not by reasons given to us. Rather it is created by reasons influenced by our relationship to our Heavenly Father. When we create reasons for ourselves like this, we become this kind of person rather than that. We wholeheartedly become the people that we are. We could say, we become the authors of our own lives for His glory.

People who don’t use their normative powers in hard choices are drifters. Drifters allow the world to write the story of their lives. They let mechanisms of reward and punishment dictate their lives. The key to making hard choices? Reflect on what you can put your agency behind, on what you can be for, and through hard choices, become that person. [1] 

THAT’S WHY HARD choices are not a curse but a Godsend!  God is the Lighthouse to guide my ‘Choices’ for a best result for time and eternity!

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will [choose to]serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will [choose to] serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:15


[1] I found helpful the TED Talk by Ruth Chang, faculty of Philosophy and Chair and Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Oxford and a Professorial Fellow at University College, Oxford.

Harbinger

Art:

I PAINTED THIS Oil one Fall after taking a walk near Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Struck by the brilliant colors, this is my attempt to capture the essence of that experience.

Last week I mentioned Fall is our favorite season.  That’s true for many reasons. Fall is the ‘Harbinger’ of things to come—Winter. I’m aware of the ‘downside’ to that icy cold season.  But today I am thinking of its coziness and special celebrations like Christmas.  Fall is the ‘Harbinger’ of both the ‘coziest’ and ‘coldest’ season for us in this northern hemisphere. Nevertheless, we recognize Fall as a positive ‘Harbinger’!

Thought:

A Definition

I ENJOY DISCOVERING the story behind words. ‘Harbinger’ (though we haven’t used it as much since the 12th century) is alive and well. Today we define it as ‘a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another’. It’s often substituted by words like herald, omen, precursor and portend.

The Backstory

‘HARBINGER’ COMES from Old French and Old German words that meant “to provide shelter or lodging”.  When medieval travelers needed lodging for the night, they went looking for a ‘Harbinger’. By the late 1300s, ‘Harbinger’ was also being used for a person sent ahead of a main party to seek lodgings, often for royalty or a campaigning army, but that old sense has largely been left in the past. Both of those historical senses are true to the Anglo-French parent of ‘Harbinger’, the word herberge, meaning “lodgings.” The most common “forerunner” concept, has been with us since the mid-1500s.

Biblical ‘Harbingers’

FROM GENESIS CHAPTER ONE’S account of creation on into the New Testament, we see God’s ‘Harbingers’. [T]he Spirit of God was hovering over the waters and became a ‘Harbinger’ of there was light.  That light then became the ‘Harbinger’ of all succeeding days of creation. 

On at least two occasions Jesus referenced examples where Jews culturally acknowledged ‘Harbinger’.  [Jesus said] “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance [‘Harbinger’] of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs [‘Harbinger’] of the times.  Matthew 16:2, 3.  Again in Matthew 2:32, 33 Jesus said, Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know [‘Harbinger’]that summer is near.

‘Harbinger’ of all ‘Harbingers’

IT SEEMS TO ME God gave followers of Jesus the ‘Harbinger’ of all ‘Harbingers’ when Jesus summarized God’s laws: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.  Matthew 22:38-39.

To follow that command becomes the ‘Harbinger’ of God’s blessing to and through our life for his will to be done for his glory in his creation.  I first began to understand this from the Psalms more than a half century ago.

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers. Psalm 1:1-3

‘Google’ or ‘YouTube’

TO SEARCH ‘HARBINGER’ in Google or YouTube produces many results including things like: the name of a restaurant, music group, brand of clothing, and a furniture store.  On that list is Rabbi/Pastor Johnathan Cahn’s book The Harbinger: The Ancient Mystery that Holds the Secret of America’s Future. Using Isaiah 9 he outlines 9 ‘Harbingers’ God provided Israel to encourage repentance before judgment would be felt because of their rejection of God.

Be Reminded…

SO WHEN WE WALK through the colorful Fall leaves this October, be reminded that God oversees all things, including the seasons, and he provides this, sometimes brilliant, ‘Harbinger’ of that which is next—Winter.  For romantics it’s: the cozy warmth of a fireplace, the celebration of Christmas, peacefulness of a new fallen snow and even Hallmark Christmas movies! I’m aware that in our northern hemisphere this is also the darkest and coldest season. But, most of all, it is a ‘Harbinger’ of God’s love and blessing for all of us, especially you as a follower of Jesus, in all things, at all times and places!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28

Waiting

Art:

I PAINTED THIS Watercolor fourteen years ago as part of a lesson (as best I remember) from Gordon MacKenzie’s The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook, 1999.  It was a great help with Watercolor.  its subtitle is, “A Treasure of tricks and techniques discovered through years of painting and experimentation”.  It was.

I chose this painting to represent our Thought—‘Waiting’.  Marj and I enjoy Fall as our favorite season. I must admit that as we grow older, Spring is a very close second! We enjoy the colors and smells of Fall in the upper Midwest where we have lived all our lives. Officially, Fall arrived just a few days ago. 

Thought:

Waiting For What?

“PLEASE…WILL YOU just wait a minute!” How many times do words like that flow from the lips of parents across the country daily.  Don’t try to answer.  Just think. How many times have you or I voiced them to our children?  They’re having a hard time ‘Waiting’ and we are having a hard time ‘Waiting’ on their hard time ‘Waiting’!  We’re both bursting with impatience.  Be honest, do you sometimes have a hard time ‘Waiting’?   Welcome to humanity!   So, why is that?  What’s so hard about waiting?  It generally boils down to what we’re ‘Waiting’ for, doesn’t it?  We can probably narrow our answer to two categories: we are either ‘Waiting’ for something we anticipate will be a good result or a not-so-good result.

The Good Result

TO JOG YOUR memory, here are some things generally agreed to be well worth ‘Waiting’ for:  Your  wedding day… arrival of the baby… Christmas celebrations…a child home for the holidays… vacations…graduation…closing on a new home…tax refund… retirement… Fall or Spring.  Add to your list.  If “Hope is patience with the lamp lit”, as Tertullian once said, we call that process ‘Waiting’.

The Not-So-Good

THE NOT-SO-GOOD anticipations from having to ‘Wait’ often revolve around anticipated loss.   Rejection is huge: Rejection by someone close to you…rejection of your application for the position you wanted…rejection of your submission for publication…waiting on the bill for an uninsured loss…medical result to determine if its terminal…we would rather not think about these… so we won’t.

“Why Doesn’t God Do Something?

WHEN WE SEE PEOPLE suffering in the world around us for lack of food… shelter… justice… health care… and in so many other ways, we are prompted to shout… “What is God ‘Waiting’ for?  “Why doesn’t he do something?”

Marj and I join with three other couples in a Small Group Bible Study that meets every other week. We are currently in a study of the Life of Jesus from the four Gospels.  It’s our turn to facilitate this week. One passage for the week is Mathew 13:24-35 known as ‘The Parable of the Weeds. This parable (as are several others in this context) is about ‘Waiting’.  Jesus’ followers didn’t want to wait.  They wanted to immediately pull out the weeds that had been sown along with the good seed by the evil one.  Jesus’ parable lesson was to ‘Wait’ until harvest for good reasons. One of my favorite New Testament scholars is N. T. Wright.  I loved his closing paragraph at the end of his thought on this passage…

N. T. Wright

“WE WHO LIVE after Calvary and Easter know that God did indeed act suddenly and dramatically at that moment.  When today we long for God to act, to put the world to rights, we must remind ourselves that he has already done so, and that what we are now awaiting is the full outworking of those events  We wait with patience, not like people in a dark room wondering if anyone will ever come with a lighted candle, but like people in early morning who know that the sun has arisen and now waiting for the full brightness of midday.”[1]

Worth the ‘Wait’!

I LOVE IT!  Calvary and Easter remind us that Jesus came into the world to bring the light of God’s kingdom–sunrise [John 8:12; 9:5]. Jesus also said that his followers continue to be God’s light in the world [John 5:14]. We live in the morning before his ‘noon’ return [Acts 1:9, 10]! We are part of his loving plan for all creation.  It’s all worth the ‘Wait’! [Romans 8:28]

[Jesus said,] “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”                                                                                                                    John 8:12


[Now]“You are the light of the world.”

John 5:14

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28


[1] Matthew for Everyone Part 1, by N.T. Wright, p. 170

Art:

I COMPLETED this mixed media Ink with Watercolor this Summer from a photo reference taken on Mackinaw Island, Michigan, a favored ‘vacation’ destination for the two of us.  This scene looks down from high ground on the island toward the water and mainland.

I chose it for today’s Thought—‘Signs’—because of the Church and especially the steeple.  Regardless of stories surrounding the origin of church steeples, they continue to be a ‘Sign’ to every community identifying a place designed to connect people with God.  

Thought:

Art Block Enthusiasm

“I LOVE YOUR HAT!” she said. Marj and I attended an outdoor event connected with the Art Block in Edina, Minnesota last Friday evening.  It included several art projects as well as free pizza, popcorn and giant cookies (while they lasted).  I stopped by the popcorn machine to get a bag for Marj.  The young woman running the machine and filling the bags looked at me, read my cap and with great enthusiasm said, “I love your hat, do you know what it says?”  “Yes, I do.”  “Where did you get it? I want one of those!” The ball cap style hat was a gift from one of our sons.  It says ‘Teach Peace’ in such a way as to have each word share the middle three letters: ‘e, a and c’. The ‘T’ and ‘P’ at the beginning of ‘e, a, c’ are followed by ‘h’ to complete the word ‘Teach’ and ‘e’ to complete the word ‘Peace’.  Her final words, “I love that, I’m going to get one of those!”

Power of ‘Signs’

WOW!  WHAT AN enthusiastic reaction to a “Sign” on a ball cap.  I wear it when I’m out walking and sometimes when shopping.  I received the same positive reaction from the cashier at a grocery store earlier in the summer, “I love your hat!”  Perhaps others have seen the Teach Peace ‘Sign’ and didn’t comment. But this got me thinking about ‘Signs’ and their impact on people who encounter them.  We are all very familiar with literally thousands of commercial ‘Signs’ in the form of advertisements that inundate us daily.  What about ‘Signs’ followers of Jesus are often associated with?  Two come to mind:  The Cross and Church steeples.

The First Cross ‘Sign’

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

The First Practice ‘Sign’

 TERTULLIAN’S (A.D. 160-230) well-known words in the conclusion to his

Apology seems much more representative of the practice of the early believers.  To his provincial governor under the Roman Empire, he wrote:

‘Proceed in you career of cruelty, but do not suppose that you will thus accomplish your purpose of extinguishing the hated sect [the Christians].  We are like the grass, which gowns the more luxuriantly the oftener it is mown.  The blood of Christians is the seed of Christianity.  Your philosophers taught men to despise pain and death by words; but how few their converts compared with those of the Christians, who teach by example…  Who can enquire into that faith and not desire himself to undergo the same suffering in order that he may thus secure participation in the fulness of divine favor?”[2]

The ‘Sign’ for all Time!

BALL CAPS WITH WORDS like ‘Teach Peace’; a crucifix; an empty cross; or a Church steeple may elicit excitement from observers to the meaning they represent.  But the one ‘Sign’ that speaks any language is the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus radiating to others through the life of his followers! May this ‘Sign’ be seen in me (us!) today!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22, 23

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Colossians 3:14


[1] A quote from Kenneth Clark’ book and T.V. series Civilization, quoted on page 45 of Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines.

[2] Quoted in John, Bishop of Bristol, The Ecclesiastical History of the Second and Third Centuries (London: ‘Griffith “Farran Browne n.d.) page 66, and quoted in Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 35

Mystery

Art:

I STARTED THIS  ‘mixed medium’ piece of art this Summer as an Ink with Pen and Brush.  I wasn’t too happy with the outcome and decided to add Watercolor.  Still not too satisfied with the finished work, but I did learn some things.

I am using it for today’s Thought—‘mystery’—as a representation of means (Church and nature) through which we may discover answers.

Thought:

‘Mystery’

I ASKED MARJ another question over breakfast Sunday morning: “What makes a ‘mystery’ a ‘mystery’?”  Her answer: “Do you mean, like, in a movie?… I guess it’s not knowing the answer.” I can go with that for a definition: A ‘mystery’ is not knowing the answer. 

Generally, in a novel or movie, the answer to the ‘mystery’ is either quickly shown the viewer in the first minute or two but hidden from the character whose job it is to solve the mystery, until the end. You get to watch the process.  Or, we watched a TV ‘mystery’ last week that kept us, as well as the investigator, unaware of the answer util the last few minutes. I like to try and ‘solve’ the mystery as part of the challenge.  What about you?

Richard Rohr

Earlier this year I read a blog written by Richard Rohr that caught my attention.  It has caused me to think about two words and how they are (or are not) related: ‘mystery’ and ‘mystic’. Our Thought word ‘mystery’ for this blog comes from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message.

—Colossians 1:26-27, The Message

Mystery of Christ in You

“The Christ Mystery that Paul speaks of in Colossians is the indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything. Paul was a mystic of the first magnitude, which explains why he was able to see Christ everywhere. When I use the word “mystic” I am referring to experiential knowing instead of just textbook or dogmatic knowing. The difference tends to be that the mystic sees things in their wholeness, their connection, their universal and divine frame, instead of just their particularity. Mystics get the whole gestalt in one picture, as it were, and thus they go beyond our more sequential and separated way of seeing the moment. In this they tend to be closer to poets and artists than to linear thinkers.

“Obviously, there is a place for both perspectives, but since the Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there has been less and less appreciation of such seeing in wholes. We limited ourselves to rational knowing and the scientific method. So in our time, this deep mode of seeing must be approached as something of a reclamation project. After the Western Church separated from the East in the Great Schism of 1054, we gradually lost the profound understanding of how God has been liberating and loving all that is.”[1]

Am I a ‘Mystic’?

Am I a ‘mystic’?  I think Yes in one sense and No in another. I am a ‘mystic’ in that I have a spiritual union with God through the indwelling Spirit of Jesus.  I am not a ‘mystic’ in the sense that everything is God and God is everything. I consider a better spelling for followers of Jesus could be myster[ic]As a ‘mysteric’ I am one who believes in the ‘mystery’ as I see Paul uses it in Colossians, but not what might be understood as worshipping the creation rather than the creator.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.   Genesis 2:15

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. Deuteronomy 5:8

He [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  Colossians 1:17


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr Blog Meditation,  Summer 2021

Grace

Art:

I PAINTED THIS sunrise Acrylic of the pond in front of our home in Rosemount, MN in June.

I chose it for today’s Thought—‘Grace’—because I see here the difficulty of separating the ‘fountain’ from the ‘pond’ in the full ‘water feature’.  

Thought:

The Question

I POSED THIS thought to Marj over breakfast the other day: If someone asked you; how would you define the difference between ‘love’ and ‘grace’?   After a few seconds she responded: “I would have to think about that.” Excellent answer! Where does one even start to answer such a question?  Both words are familiar to us. ‘Grace’ may more often be associated with church or legal documents. But ‘love’, in some context, is with us every day. Question: So, why bother asking in the first place? Answer: Because, …

That week, I had picked up Philip Yancey’s 1997 book What’s so Amazing About GRACE?  I first read, in 1998 then again in 2008 and 2014.  I wanted to review his thoughts on ‘grace’.  I hope I ‘ve grown in my understanding during each gap between my reading of books. All this to say that I was uncomfortable with one thought Yancey expressed… ‘the most important word in the Bible is ‘grace’’.  At least on the surface, that did not fit with my vote for first choice—‘love’.  Which is it? Is there a difference?

The Debate

“DURING A BRITISH conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, was unique to the Christian faith.  They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation?  Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form.  Resurrection?  Again, other religions had accounts of return from death.  The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room.  “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.  Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

“After some discussion, the conferees had to agree.  The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity.  The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval.  Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.” [1]

The Presence

I FOUND IT INTERESTING that to make the case as to why ‘grace’ was touted as “Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions” (or, the most important word in the bible) it was necessary to connect ‘grace’ with “God’s unconditional love”.  Which comes first: ‘love’ or ‘grace’?  Is this something like the chicken or egg question?  Defining these two biblical words may help. My current definitions are:

The Definitions?

LOVE’ IS TO WILL or promote the good of others. We love something or someone when we promote its good for its own sake. ‘Love’ seeks the good of what is loved. ‘Love’ is born of an earnest contemplation of the object (person) loved. And ‘love’ follows knowledge. “…God is ‘love’” 1 John 4:8

GRACE’ IS GOD ACTING in our life to do what we cannot do on our own.  ‘Grace’ is not opposed to effort, but to earning.  Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. ‘Grace’ is not just about forgiveness.  His ‘Grace’ is what we live by, and the human system won’t work without it.  Followers of Jesus use grace like a 747 jet burns fuel on takeoff![2]

The Summary

SO, HOW WOULD I answer my question to Marj concerning defining the difference between ‘love’ and ‘grace’?  My answer is a work in progress.  I would not presume to seriously question Godly scholars like Philip Yancey or C. S. Lewis on any topic.  I respect both men and the work of the Spirit through their lives.  I do find it difficult to separate the two ideas.  To me it will always be: ‘Love’/’Grace’ or ‘Grace’/’Love’. I find it difficult to imagine one without the other.   

To me it is divine ‘grace’ when God in ‘love’ acts in our life to accomplish what we cannot do on our own.  As we follow the ‘greatest commandment’ of Jesus (Matthew 22), the Trinity radiates ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5) to and through us into God’s creation.  God’s ‘Divine ‘Love’/’Grace’ supplies His intended results via our faithfulness, even though we may not follow perfectly.

This is the first and greatest commandment  Matthew 22:38

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  2 Corinthians 12:9


[1] What’s So Amazing About GRACE by Philip D. Yancey, 1997  p. 45

[2] These ‘definitions’ are drawn together from various sources in my reading including Thomas Aquinas and  the late Dallas Willard being primary

Artists

Art:

WITH THE HELP of Bob Ross, this is my first Oil painting completed after Christmas in December 1997. It hardly seems like a quarter century since Marj gave me that Bob Ross Oil Painting set with book, video, paint, and brushes.

Since retirement fifteen years ago I have had more time to spend with Art in Oil, Acrylic, Watercolor and Ink with Pen and Brush.

Thought:

Art As Service

MY ATTENTION WAS captured last week by one of Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations: ‘Art as Service’. He said,“Few of us feel called to be formal or fine artists, but all of us are called to be creators. Each of us is called to bring creativity, purpose, and passion to our vocation, no matter what it is. Artist and author Julia Cameron reminds us that we will know what ours is ‘to do’ when we are open to the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit in service to others. She writes:

‘In centuries past, art was made for the honor and glory of God. Viewed in this light, a career in the arts was a career of service, not egotism. There is a cue there for us. The dedication of our work to a higher cause than our own self-promotion frees the work from preciousness. It becomes not about how good we are but about how good we can be in selfless service to something larger than ourselves…

‘When we make our art in a spirit of service, it lightens the burden of our ego. It makes for clarity of focus, purity of intent, and follows a spiritual law that might be simply stated as “Form follows function.” When the “form” of our work is open to higher consciousness, its function is raised as well.’”

I might ask where is the creative, artistic spark God has placed in you shining into your world? I thought sharing answers to questions, sometimes ask of me, might be helpful for you and for your influence on someone else. Here they are:

Q:  When did you, or someone else, first realize you had art talent?

SOMETIME IN THE second grade the picture of a white bird on the wall at my aunt’s house caught my attention.  I ‘drew’ it and the adults said it looked like the one on the wall.

Q: How did you train to develop your art ability?

  • In high school I purchased a copy of How To Be A Chalk Artist, by George Sweeting.   I built an easel, used black light, ordered supplies, and created a few public chalk presentations for Church Youth events.
  • Not long after Marj and I were married I responded to an ad from the Famous Artists Schools in Westport, Connecticut, and enrolled in a three-year correspondence art course.  Despite a very busy life, I finished and received my “Certificate of Recognition” August 14, 1964. 
  • Fourteen years after we began ministry in Minnesota, Marj gave me a Bob Ross Oil Painting Master Paint Set  for Christmas, with an instruction book and video.  I completed my first Oil painting (the one shown above) that December 1997.
  • For my birthday in 2007, one of our sons and his wife gave me a copy of the classic book, Rendering in Pen and Ink, by Arthur L. Guptill.  From time to time over the years I have subscribed to Art magazines.

Q:  Who are your favorite Artists:

FOUR OF MY MORE contemporary favorites are: Terry Redlin, Thomas Kinkade, G. Harvey, and Andrew Tischler.  Dozens of other have been a great inspiration.

JULIA CAMERON CONTINUED… “We disenfranchised ourselves from our birthright as creators and we lost the understanding that art was an act of the soul and not of the ego. Whenever we take art back to the realm of the sacred, whenever we make it an act of service in any form . . . we again experience the ease of creative flow and the lessening of our creative doubts.”

Q:  How can you encourage yourself  and others in the development of art skills?

IF YOU EVER feel the urge to draw, don’t hesitate!  Don’t talk yourself out of it because you think it won’t be any good.  You will be exercising a part of yourself created in the image of God (the creator of all creation) to create! Just take pencil to paper and do it! Encourage children and other adults to do the same!


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

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Colossians 3:17

Police

Art:

I chose his Acrylic to demonstrate beauty when White and Black are blended.

Thought:

OUR OLDELLST SON, Jim and wife Suzi have five children, all adopted.  The three oldest self-identify as “Group A” Guatemalan. ‘Group B’ came along ten years later as ‘twins’ of African-American descent. The kids are all grown now, but whenever they would go anywhere as a family they got interesting looks. Two white people with three Hispanic kids and two Black kids brought a mixed bag of reactions. Jim publishes a weekly blog, ‘Engager Dynamics’.  In our present culture, I thought you would be interested in Jim’s August 23, post,  “A White Cop and a Black Kid’..

The Car

THE TWO YOUNGER ones got jobs and so they needed transportation. They borrowed some money from their big brother and bought a modest sedan from a small dealer. That was just as the pandemic was shutting everything down back in March of 2020. The DMV was one of those entities that shut down. The dealer turned in the paperwork for the sale of the car by mail and paid the fees. For months no tags or registration came so the kids drove on the temporary dealer plate.

As I write this in August of 2021, they still have not received the registration and plates for that car. The DMV is conducting an investigation into what happened. The dealer paid the fees as his receipts show but somehow the system shows them still outstanding on the car so it won’t issue tags. It’s quite a mystery and it puts the kids in a quandary. The car is not technically legal, but they still need to get to work. So, they’ve been driving it.

The Black Kid

OUR YOUNGEST SON, Jordan, is a winsome and gregarious young man who seems like a natural at whatever he decides to try. He is an athlete musician. In High School, he ran track, swam, played water polo, and was in the band. In band he easily picked up and switched back and forth between multiple instruments, woodwinds, and brass. He also loves helping children and was involved in a high school program that mentored children with disabilities.

When our family moved to China for two years, Jordan and his sister were nine years old. I guess that was just the right age for him to catch a bug for living overseas. He’s dreamed of moving overseas since then. A Multi-Country European excursion with two friends right after High School graduation only added fuel to that fire. He also has a knack for languages. I remember how funny it was to see this young black boy successfully hail a cab and tell the driver where we wanted to go … in Mandarin! In High School he studied German.

He recently completed a course in teaching English as a second language and has accepted a job offer to teach next year at a small school in Spain. Seems like a fitting combination for him. He’s very excited and is working and saving money to make the move. He even opened a Go-Fund-Me page to help raise moving money.

The White Cop

AS A RESULT of the car tag fiasco, Jordan has been pulled over no less than five times for the expired dealer tag. Each time has resulted in a warning to get the situation corrected. He has a court date later next month but still needs to get to work so he continues to drive, often late at night when he closes at the fast-food restaurant where he works.

On a recent stop, after the usual explaining why he’s driving the car like that, the running of the driver’s license, and the officer telling him to get it taken care of, the cop didn’t ask him to step out of the car or begin to search him or draw his weapon, instead, he started making conversation. During the conversation, he heard about Jordan’s plans to teach English in Spain.  Then he asked an unexpected question, “Do you have a Go-Fund-Me?” Jordan was a bit startled by the question but told him he did, and the conversation ended shortly after that when the officer had to get on with his work.

Later that day, Jordan got a notification that someone had contributed to his Go-Fund-Me account. He looked to see who it was and was surprised to find that the officer who pulled him over had donated to his fund.

That’s not what you might expect to read these days when you see a title like “A White Cop and a Black Kid” so thought this might be a good story to share in the current climate. Thank you for reading.’


…if it is to encourage, then give encouragement  Romans 12:8

Family

Art:

I drew this Ink with Pen & Brush of our home on Derby Circle in Rosemount, Minnesota two Summers ago. We moved from Andover, MN almost three years ago to be nearer our two sons and to have a home without stairs.  We love it!

I use it this week in keeping with our Thought— ‘Family’.  We moved from 2,200 to 1,500.  Sq. feet. You’ll see the significance below.  

Thought:

The Invitation

THE ‘GENESIS’ for today’s Thought began two years ago with an invitation.  Marj and I invited her younger sisters (Sharon, 75 and Lana, 69 ) to be our guests and join us for a couple days in Mackinaw, Michigan, in early September. We drove across Wisconsin on US 8 and connected with US 2 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  They drove from Royal Oak and Eaton Rapids, Michigan, to meet us in Mackinaw. We had a great time and ended with a plan to meet at our home in Minnesota next year–2020. COVID-19 changed everything.

The Question

LAST MONTH MARJ received a message from sister Sharon with a question: “Will we ever be able to visit you in Minnesota again?”  It had been ten years since they drove here for a visit when we lived in Andover. We had been back to the Detroit area only one time. Marj’s response was essentially: “Is that a possibility!?”  Sharon: “I haven’t even talked to Lana about the idea yet… Let me check!” Lana was 100% in agreement and the wheels were in motion.  No pun intended. Sharon uses a walker and wheelchair and has no driver’s license.  She is not fond of flying and doesn’t have proper ID to purchase a ticket.  They would need to drive.  Not a favorite thing for Lana.  Now what?  Walking was out of the question!

The Rescue

THE “KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR”, from two years ago, surfaced again!  Hannah (Lana’s youngest of four daughters) loaned them her car in 2019 to drive to Mackinaw.  Now, hearing of the plan and transportation need, rearranged her ‘work from home’ schedule and rented a larger vehicle to drive them to Minnesota. Their schedule was to depart for Minnesota August 5th, overnight in Janesville, WI, and arrive at our home Friday afternoon.  They would be here the full week and depart the following Saturday.  Hannah’s husband, Ben, would fly from Detroit to Minneapolis on Thursday evening and help drive back—a loving investment for ‘Family’ time from Hannah and Ben to make all this happen!  

The Serendipity

ONE OF MY PRAYER concerns has been how God’s love may flow through my life to our family in word and deed.  This is an extra challenge when family lives in so many different places.  A serendipitous event was about to unfold.  When family began to hear of the plan to visit with Marj and Jim in Minnesota…suddenly nearly everyone was looking for a way to be involved.  Lana’s daughter, Jodi, flew in from California for the first weekend. Daughter, Lori, and husband Phil drove in for the weekend from Kansas. Daughter, Sara, was not able to make the schedule. Our sons and family from Apple Valley and Hastings joined for the first Saturday.  Our son Jim and Suzi, (in the midst of planning their move from California to Nebraska) could not make it work with such short notice.  Total number involved at some point in the week was nearly twenty. 

The Accommodations

DID I MENTION we scaled back to 1,500 sq. ft. of living space?  Where will they sleep?  Marj and I are part of a Small Group Bible Study that meets every other week.  We begin each week with sharing our “Highs and Lows” since we last met.  Our “High” was the family that was coming! Our “Low (challenge)” where will they sleep? Two couples offered their guest room for the whole week if we needed it.  As it turned out, we only needed to use one guest offer for Hannah and Ben.  Thank you, Shari and John!

The Purpose

MY PRAYER FOR MORE opportunity to demonstrate God’s love to family was answered in a big way.  Thank you, Lord! Marj’s sisters, Sharon and Lana, spent the full week with us.  Friday night everyone arriving from out of town gathered in our home for dinner. Saturday – Friday we all met at Steve and Lona’s for evening meals with various ‘Family’ members providing food and cooking meals. We went from a simple question: “Will we ever be able to visit you in Minnesota again?” to a great celebration of love with “Family”. I trust you have had similar experiences with “Family” this Summer.


No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  1 John 4:12

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.                          

Romans 12:10