Transparent

Art:

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

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

Thought:

Transparent

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

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

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

Transparent Jesus Followers

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

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

A Metaphor

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

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

Application

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 2:13


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

Scruples

Art:

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

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

Thought:

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

Principles over Conscience / Scruples

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

Conscience as our Guide?

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

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

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

Following an Accurate Compass

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

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

Congruence or Disparity

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

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

Where the Choice Begins

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

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

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


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

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

Enoughness

Art:

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

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

Thought:

Enoughness

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

[1]Richard Rohr

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

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

Richard Foster

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

Principles

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

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

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

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

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

Fifth:  Learn to enjoy things without owning them.

Sixth: Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.

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

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

Ninth:  Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.

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

Action!

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

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


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

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

Doubt

Art:

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

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

Thought:

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

What are doubts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How may I best deal with my doubts?

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

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

Remember

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

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

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

Words?

Art:

I completed this Acrylic a few months ago.  I imagine a small farm high in the foothills of western mountains. It’s late Spring. As final remnants of a snowfall recede, green grass and first blooms of the new season emerge. We Minnesotans are not quite there yet!

I choose this for today’s Thought—Silence. Why? That’s what I want us to think about. Start by looking carefully at the painting.  In Silence, what are you seeing?  Don’t rush.

Thought:

I was conflicted. Which of two would be a best choice for today’s Thought: ‘Words?’ or ‘Silence?’ Two stories may help identify my conflict. But first let’s look at definitions.

Definitions

It seems to me Silence and Words may be thought of as either antonyms or progressions. As antonyms they represent opposites: we have either Silence or Words. The Words we use (whether we are aware of it or not) I see as a progression from our Silence.

Silence:  Someone says: “I spoke too soon: I spoke before thinking.”  That’s not the way it normally works.  We use Words (in any form) to communicate to another person, the thought or idea in our mind, as completely as possible, into the mind of the other.  

Ideas form in our mind.  That process takes place in the Silence of our mind without Words in any form (unless you talk to yourself audibly). Most people don’t do that. Silence then gives place to thinking: the action of using your mind to produce ideas, decisions, memories, etc. From this Silence, progressively comes Words. 

Words:  When we think of Words, we think of either visual or audible ways to communicate with others.  Visual markings representing an ‘alphabet’ in a language (or drawings) presented in print, electronically or in other ways are visual examples of Words.  Audible is sounds we create with our voice or with some instrument from our environment to communicate Words. Either way (visual or audible) Words begin sequentially from Silence. Now for the two stories.

First Story: Biology 101

It was the first day in Biology 101. Twenty students are in their seats: five at each of four tables. The professor entered the classroom and placed a white plate, with a fish on it, in the middle of each table. “Class, here is your assignment.”  He spoke as he wrote on the whiteboard: “Observe and write down your observations. I’ll collect your work at the end of class”.  With that he left and didn’t returned until just before the class ended. Within five minutes, everyone had completed the assignment.  A student commented: “That was a piece of cake!” 

The professor repeated the very same assignment daily for a week or more.  Each day the students found new ways of ‘seeing’ their fish.  By the end, (they used science instruments available in the biology classroom, researched online and in books) they knew lots about the fish they had identified to be a perch.  Each student created several pages regarding their specimen and could speak with confidence on their observations.

Second Story: Jesus on Trial

The second story takes place in Jerusalem near AD 33.  Jesus spent a long night without sleep. He was arrested and brought from the hill (where he often gathered with his followers) through the Jerusalem gates (where accusations were being brought against him). I like the way Eugene Peterson’s contemporary language paraphrase–The Message—treats Matthew 27:12-14.  

 But when the accusations rained down hot and heavy from the high priests and religious leaders, he [Jesus] said nothing. Pilate asked him, “Do you hear that long list of accusations? Aren’t you going to say something?” Jesus kept silent—not a word from his mouth. The governor was impressed, really impressed

Application

The Biology professor’s assignment required each student to ‘see’ the fish at a deeper level. Then they could apply Words (visually or audibly) to articulate the life profiting assignment.  They would never see a perch in the same way!

The Silence Jesus demonstrated gave time for his accusers to consider facts contradicting their accusations: ‘Remember what your prophets said, reflect on these miracles you have witnessed’.  Their accusations [Words] rained down hot and heavy not realizing that when Jesus said nothing and kept quiet, he was graciously providing a way to reconsider the Words they might use.  They didn’t.  We can.  

In the quiet of Silence, may the Spirit of this Psalm inspire my/our Words:

10 Be quiet and know that I am God. I will be honored among the nations. I will be honored in the earth. 11 The Lord of All is with us. The God of Jacob is our strong place.   Psalm 46:10,11 (NLV)

Ginosko

Art:

I COMPLETED this Watercolor last week from a Javid Tabatabaei tutorial reference on YouTube. I like the composition, colors and the unique landscape with water suggesting flooding may have taken place. Watercolor is relatively new to me, but I keep experimenting.

So, how does this Watercolor fit with our Thought for today—Ginosko?  I’ll let you have a go at that connection.  Let’s just say, what we ‘see’ and how we ‘interpret’ a connection may have lots to do with who we ‘are’ and ‘are becoming’.  Our perceptive lens is probably tented with ‘experiential Ginosko’.

Thought:

The Translation

GINOSKO?  No, it’s not a misspelled TV ad featuring a lizard. It’s the transliteration of a Greek word from the New Testament, most often translated in English as ‘knowledge’.  Having identified the English translation as ’knowledge’: What does it mean?  What’s in my mind when I use the word?  What’s in your mind when you hear me use it?  Are we ‘on the same page’ with our understanding?  Hopefully (at least most of the time) we’re probably pretty close. If not, we may experience some communication challenges. 

Typing Class Illustration

THE GREEK WORD ginosko goes beyond simple ‘information’ about right or wrong for example.  It carries the meaning of ‘experiential knowledge’ to the point of a near automatic response behavior.  I took Typing Class in high school.  The ‘information’ said each blank key in front of me represented a letter or symbol in our English alphabet.  Understanding that fact did not make me a typist. Memorizing ‘home keys’, with lots of practice, brought me to ‘experiential knowledge’ related to typing. Now I don’t have to keep reviewing the information.  While not always accurate, typing is now part of my true ‘knowledge’.  Not only has my behavior changed but it’s an automatic behavior change—I type without looking at the keyboard.

Knowledge vs Information?

IT SEEMS TO ME English speaking followers of Jesus often confuse ‘knowledge’ with ‘information’. Example: According to American educational psychologist David Reading Krathwohl, “Knowledge can be categorized into four types: (1) factual knowledge, (2) conceptual knowledge, (3) procedural knowledge, and (4) metacognitive knowledge.” But is this accurate?  When we understand the true Greek meaning of ‘knowledge’, I don’t think so.  I feel it would be more accurate to replace ‘knowledge’ in this statement with ‘information’. Why?

Pharisees vs. Jesus Example

PERHAPS A GOOD way to distinguish the difference in meaning between ‘knowledge’ and ‘information’ from Greek New Testament literature is to observe the difference between the aim or objective of the “Pharisees” and that of “Jesus”:

            Aim of Pharisees: “Information” so people will follow the right rules (more than 600 of them!).

            Aim of Jesus: “Knowledge” for people to become the sort of persons who would automatically do right things.

Jesus ‘Unpacks’ the Difference

I SEE JESUS unpacking this connection in conversation with the Jews.

Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. [Some Jews found their ‘information’ about following rules wasn’t working.  They claimed they actually wanted to follow Jesus. What was Jesus’ response?] “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. [stick with me, listening and watching and obeying, that’s what a true disciple or apprentice does] Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.” [ Then you will see that what I said and did is true every time.  Continuing to follow me will change you from bondage to rules to freedom of my Spirit at work in and through your life every time! You will actually ginosko—have ‘knowledge’ experientially.]–John 8:31 The Message

‘Experiential Knowledge’

I DO BELIEVE ‘information’ is not only important but essential.  Scripturally It’s called the truth and the word. However, It’s when the ‘information’ is followed, and found to be true, that followers of Jesus are directed by ‘experiential knowledge’. They have come to naturally follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit when opportunity arises in his or her environment. It becomes a correct and automatic response.  I may hit a wrong key now and then, but He will help me admit and correct it! 

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 

Matthew 7:24

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. 

Philippians 4:9

Anxiety

Art:

I completed this Acrylic last week.  Inspiration came from artist Kevin Hill and my desire to use some bright colors of Spring in Acrylic.

Understandably, you may wonder how this scene fits with our Thought—Anxiety. Perhaps there is no anxiety lingering in your mind…at the moment.  But many are anxious about the Summer of 2021 and how COVID19 may change plans.  Our hope is that we will begin to see the pandemic receding in our rear view mirror by summer.

Thought:

Anxiety vs. Anxiety Disorder

Were you ever hungry? Literally starving? There’s a huge difference.  Hunger is common from time to time. Starvation isn’t and can be life-threatening, requiring professional help.

Were you ever anxious?  Suffer an anxiety disorder? In life, everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. This includes both adults and children. For most people, feelings of anxiety come and go, only lasting a short time. However, when a person regularly feels disproportionate levels of anxiety, it might become a medical disorder, requiring professional attention. 

‘Normal’ Anxiety?

This blog is about anxiety that’s a rather normal and often healthy condition, experienced by all of us from time to time. Normal anxiety can include nervousness, fear, apprehension and worry. Are you anxious? Maybe you’re feeling worried about a problem at work with your boss, coworker or neighbor. Maybe you have butterflies in your stomach while waiting for the results of a medical test. Maybe you get nervous when driving home in rush-hour traffic. Maybe you have a written test for a class.  

Recent Experience

I’ve experienced anxiety twice in the last two weeks.  First was related to the Government ‘stimulus check’.  Last year I received a check in the mail and deposited it.  No brainer. This year I received a ‘debit card’. Is this a scam?  No.  Activate the card, open an account in a bank I never heard of, determine how to deposit the ‘debit card’, discern how to transfer into my bank, follow the progression to make the transfer.   When it didn’t show as deposited, wondering if I had made a mistake. I didn’t.  Discovered it may take a few days to post. It worked, but I confess to anxiety.

My Second Experience

My second anxiety experience was with the computer.  I have a wireless keyboard and mouse for my desk-top iMac. The message popped up: ‘mouse needs charging’. Easy enough (I’ve done it before). I plugged into the port and left it to charge. When I returned, the mouse didn’t work.  Cursor was frozen in the upper left-hand corner. It wouldn’t budge. I was out of business.  It was late in the day and I expected to see my ‘computer savvy’ son in the morning.  He tried, with no response. I’m becoming anxious. Options?  Call the Apple Store. I prayed for wisdom and placed the call.  While waiting for their, ‘next available assistant’, I moved the mouse yet again, …the cursor moved!  Thank you, Lord!  I hung up and called my son with the good news.

 Insight Into My Anxiety

I had already been contemplating today’s Thought—Anxiety—when these happened.  As a Pastor, for more than twenty years, God often allowed me to personally experience some ‘taste’ of the point He wished to be made in the sermon.  Here I was experiencing two examples of the very thought for the week—Anxiety.  What did I learn?  What tends to cause me anxiety?

As a follower of Jesus, my desire in all of life is “your [God’s] will be done”.  That’s what being a ‘follower’ means. I desire to comprehend when the desire to please God and please myself are synonymous and when they seem in conflict. When it becomes unclear, I become anxious. I must trust these truths for ‘normal’ anxiety.

Truths For “normal” Anxiety

Ask God about my heart:

Search me, God, and know my heart;  test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me,  and lead me in the way everlastingPsalm 139:23, 24

Tell God how I feel:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you1 Peter 5:7

Make my request(s) and accept God’s peace:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6, 7

Even Mary and Joseph Became Anxious!

When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”  Luke 2:48

Amen!

Paradigm

Art:

I FINISHED THIS Acrylic last week. It’s one I started many weeks ago and put aside until now. Its styled after Russian artist-composer Victor N. Yushkevich, a YouTube favorite of mine. I was drawn by the composition and color. It’s a bit above my skill set, but I attempted it anyway. ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Right? Hope I gained.

I thought it a good fit for our Thought this week—Paradigm.  I see the landscape celebrating the ‘paradigm shift’ from early Spring to visions of Summer’s coming attractions.  Snow is receding in fields, water is flowing in the creek, and birds are returning.  Yes, I know it’s still Winter in Minnesota but the ‘idea’ seems attractive right now.

Thought:

What’s Next?

ALONG WITH YOU, I’ve given thought to what’s next as our nation morphs from ‘2020 life’ to a ‘2021 life’.  We need better results on nearly every conceivable front: pandemic, racism, politics, social stability, to name a few. Someone once pointed out the obvious: using the same methods produces the same results.  We need a ‘paradigm’ shift. I sometimes read Richard Rohr’s online Daily Meditation.  Here are a couple quotes from Monday, January 11. I don’t always agree, but I see a rudiment worth inspection in these quotes.

Paradigm Shift

“THOMAS KUHN’S  book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions popularized the term “paradigm shift.” [1] A paradigm is a set of beliefs, images, concepts, and structures that govern the way we think about something. Kuhn (1922–1996) said that paradigm change becomes necessary when the previous paradigm becomes so full of holes and patchwork “fixes” that a complete overhaul is necessary. The shift in thinking which might have felt threatening at one time now appears as the only way forward and as a real lifeline. I hope we are at one of these critical junctures again. Might we be willing to adopt a new set of beliefs, values, and systems that could change (and maybe even save) humanity and our world?

The “Framing Story”

“MY COLLEAGUE Brian McLaren is a former English teacher and has much to teach us about the power of stories. He uses the language of a “framing story” to describe the same phenomenon Kuhn observed. Brian says a framing story “gives people direction, values, vision, and inspiration by providing a framework for their lives. It tells them who they are, where they come from, where they are, what’s going on, where things are going, and what they should do.” [2] While we all have stories that answer those questions on a personal level, a “framing story” dictates the general beliefs of a culture, nation, religion, and even humanity as a whole.

“BRIAN WRITES convincingly that “our growing list of global crises [Richard: even before the COVID-19 pandemic], together with our inability to address them effectively, gives us strong evidence that our world’s dominant framing story is failing.” [3]

“He reflects: If it [our framing story] tells us…

  • “If the purpose of life is for individuals or nations to accumulate an abundance of possessions and to experience the maximum amount of pleasure during the maximum number of minutes of our short lives, then we will have little reason to manage our consumption.
  • “If our framing story tells us that we are in life-and-death competition with each other . . . then we will have little reason to seek reconciliation and collaboration and nonviolent resolutions to our conflicts. But…
  • “If our framing story tells us that we are free and responsible creatures in a creation made by a good, wise, and loving God, and that our Creator wants us to pursue virtue, collaboration, peace, and mutual care for one another and all living creatures, and that our lives can have profound meaning if we align ourselves with God’s wisdom, character, and dreams for us . . .

“Then our society will take a radically different direction, and our world will become a very different place. [4]”

Living a New Paradigm

Followers of Jesus live the paradigm of citizens in God’s Kingdom (now and forever) with access to the power of our Creator, individually and collectively, to demonstrate His light in our nation and world by releasing the Good News of His Love paradigm for all men and all creation. It starts with the King and His Kingdom!

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

[1] Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 4th ed. (University of Chicago Press: 2012, ©1962).

[2] Brian D. McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Thomas Nelson: 2007), 5–6.

[3] Ibid., 68.

[4] Ibid., 67.

Habit

Art:

I COMPLETED THIS Acrylic last week, inspired by a photo of the painting that reminded me of Currier and Ives’ (1835-1907) black and white lithograph prints, of work by fine artists, that were then hand colored. Currier and Ives is especially popular at Christmas and Thanksgiving as they depict a simpler home era.

I decided to paint this picture in Acrylic because I can’t safely paint in Oil (due to the fumes) until warm weather permits Oil painting in the garage. Also, I felt it represented a good example for our Thought this week—Habit.  When we get past Covid days, I believe church participation to be a good habit. 

Thought:

What are Habits?

MY BELIEF IS, it’s never too late to make changes. However, January does seem most popular for such contemplation.  Changes often center around habits: those we wish to discontinue and those we wish to commences.  Sometimes, it amounts to a desire to replace a bad habit with a good one.  What about you? Do you have a habit you would like to replace for 2021? 

It seems most of what I hear or read about habits, is framed as ‘bad’ habits.  I decided to see what the Bible has to say.  Interesting!  The NIV Exhaustive Concordance records only four reference: two in each of the Old and New Testaments.  All four reference are of ‘bad’ habits.  So, what do we mean when we use the word?  Merriam-Webster defines habit as: 1. a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior. 2. an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.

What others have said:

  • “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  Aristotle, Philosopher
  • “Our character, basically, is a composite of our habits. The maximum goes… ‘Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character, sow a character, reap a destiny.’”  Stephen R. Covey, Author
  • Habits are like a cable.  We weave a stand of it every day and soon it cannot be broken.”  Horace Mann, Educator [They actually can be broken.]

Habit(s) for 2021

DID YOU IDENTIFY a habit you would like to replace for 2021?  You considered it a ‘bad’ habit.  Why? What makes a habit ‘bad’ rather than ‘good’?   Simple question, requiring an honest answer, probably beginning with reflection on some positive goal you can identify in your life.  If your “tendency or usual manner of behavior”—your habit,  is a tool fulfilling that goal, it’s a ‘good’ habit.  If it detracts from that goal, it’s a ‘bad’ habit. It becomes a “behavior that is nearly or completely involuntary” … in the wrong direction! Not good. 

Habit as an Intersection

ONE AUTHOR DEFINED habit as the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire. Here is my application for a follower of Jesus:

Desire: is the motivation, the want to do. Let’s assume your desire is to spend more time, this year than last, caring for your physical body by exercising (as an example).

Knowledge: is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why.  Why? I am personally convicted that I am out of shape. I’m not being a good steward (or manager) of the body God graciously gave me.  What to do? Replace my bad habits with good habits.

Skill: is the how to develop and practice new habits that will support my Desire to be a better steward of my physical body.

I’ve inserted a fourth part to this ‘intersection’ I’m calling Capacity.

Capacity: is what puts Desire, Knowledge and Skill into practice. Capacity is the natural and supernatural power of you and God working in tandem.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength. –Philippians 4:13. 

Two Requests

IT’S MY CONVICTION, through study and personal experience, that changing a bad habit into a good one, for a follower of Jesus, will seldom be possible for the long haul, without ‘Capacity’.  The process of creating a good habit is going to require trusting the claim of James’ Epistle at two points. [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]

First: Ask God for wisdom in articulating your Desire, Knowledge and Skills and commit them to writing.

Second: Ask God to energize your ability to rely on your strength and His, in tandem, to actually experience this new 2021 habit! He will do it!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, Hebrews 12:1

Catalogue

Art:

LAST MONTH I completed this Ink with Pen and Brush, representing a farming village with its Church bell tower, inspired by a photograph and my interest in historic villages and a simpler way of life.

I chose this Ink to represent our Thought this week—Catalogue.  I imagine what this scene would be like with snow on the ground, farmers contemplating spring planting, and their wives searching seed catalogues for the family vegetable garden that would naturally include flowers for the table.

Thought:

Have You Consulted a Catalogue?

WHEN DID YOU last consult a ‘catalogue’?  Before answering, lets define the term: a catalogue can be a list of anything, arranged in some specific order. When you list things, you catalogue them in some order or grouping. Since we just finished 2020 Christmas Season, its likely you may have consulted a catalogue, in print or online, to aid gift shopping.

When did you first consult a ‘catalogue’? As a young child (depending on how many birthdays you’ve celebrated!) your first catalogue may have been that of Sears Roebuck. From the first edition in 1893, one could purchase something as small as needles to as large as a [1]house from the same catalogue.  One family I lived with called it their ‘Wish Book”!

Seed Catalogues

LET’S NARROW the selection to seed catalogues. In previous blogs I mentioned one of my four hobbies was flower gardening. I suppose I have always had an interest in plants, but my first experience was in third grade when I transplanted little Maple tree sprouts into paper cups then set up a stand on the front sidewall. I was open for business!  It failed.  In Middle School I worked in my uncle’s huge garden and part time at a Greenhouse.  

Not until Marj and I were married and living in our own homes, did I begin to design and plant flowers and vegetables.  I ordered ‘free’ seed catalogues. Once you order one…they never stop coming!  About this time of year, I looked forward to the seed catalogue arrivals.  The beautiful pictures arranged by flower color, alphabetically and zone was exciting. 

Application!

YOU MAY WONDER where I’m going with all this.  Actually, it’s a thought that was brought to my mind recently in my Psalm 46:10 time: Be still and know that I am God. As followers of Jesus, our purpose is to live God’s way. Then what happens?

But what happens when we live God’s way? We become His ‘catalogue’ of gifts available for everyone!

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. Galatians 5:22  The Message

Following a year like 2020, nearly everyone is shopping for ‘gifts’ that can bring ‘hope’ into 2021.  As a follower of Jesus, your life is a living catalogue of what they are looking for.  And (to use a familiar phrase) it’s not only ‘free shipping’ but the gift itself is free! That’s one of the ‘good’ things about the Good News in our catalogue.

Becoming an open Catalogue

MAY EVERYONE we contact examine the catalogue of our lives and see what God has available— ‘Hope for 2021’ from the God who loves you and them.  How can we do this?

  • But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  [And]…
  • 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  NIV

My prayer is that you and I will have many opportunities to bring this gift of hope to those we meet this week and year. May the ‘Catalogue’ of our life be open wide for everyone to see what God is and wants to do!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control   Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV


[1] Sears sold 75,000 DIY Mail Order Homes between 1908 and 1939, and transformed American life.