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Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

I recently completed the book, “Visual Theology”, by Tim Challies and Josh Byers. I can recommend the book as a good overview of practical theology and encouragement in godly thinking and living. The book has colorful, well explained diagrams, infographics as the author calls them in keeping with the latest buzzword. A friend at church gave me the book because she knew that I like to teach using diagrams. I pursue diagram making to organize, simplify, help memory, and give insight into complex or voluminous concepts. I think my diagrams and tables have insight and are useful, realizing they may not communicate to all minds. A few examples include “Effort and Empowerment“, “Spiritual Growth“, “God’s Word and Community“.

A number of the diagrams in “Visual Theology” are instructive, convicting, and sufficiently deep to draw you into figuring them out. The one I found most useful and convicting was the one on pages 96-97 that is a flowchart about “How to put sin to death” by biblical thought and action. It rightly does not let one get off the hook with excuses. It does this by directing you to see that either you aren’t a Christian, you aren’t believing what God says about His power to overcome sin, or you don’t believe in the seriousness of sin. The flowchart then cycles back around to how to confront these problems.

Also, the summary diagram on pages 104-105 that shows the spiritual disciplines enabling movement from “putting sin to death” to “putting on the new” is beneficial. The color scheme of red to green speaks death to life. I only wished the diagram had started low with “putting…to death” and come up to “putting on…new”, instead of the other way around.

Perhaps the best infographic is the very simple one on page 108, “True Life Change”. It features two arrows cycling around amongst four major spiritual changes continuously going on in the believer’s life: “spiritual awakening”, “true repentance”, “new behavior”, and “receiving forgiveness”.

I am disappointed with the scope and depth of many of the other infographics in the book for three reasons. First of all, as my son-in-law commented after a cursory glance through the book, “It has too many words and not enough diagrams.” After reading the book, I saw the words were indeed good explanations of the points, but they did make the diagrams seem less useful. Perhaps the diagrams should have spoken for themselves and then minimal explanation given for the purpose of preventing misunderstanding.

Secondly, I feel as though several opportunities to deepen the diagrams’ messages by multiple levels interaction between the parts rendered many of the diagrams monochromatic or merely one-dimensional. For example, in the last section on vocation, the authors have a diagram called “The Work Of A Christ Follower” (page 122) that diagrams the three areas of vocation, “being”, “calling”, and “passions”. These are connected by lines to various vocations of the Christian like artist, father, husband, neighbor, athlete, etc. These vocations are placed randomly on a circle around a center circle labeled “You have many vocations”. Why not rather make the center circle say something like “What God has given you to do.” Then each concentric circle could be a priority list of vocations. In my case I would diagram what God has given me to day in this order from the center outward: Christian, husband, father, grandfather, church member, citizen, neighbor, carpenter, rock climber, writer, etc. Then connect the three areas of vocation to these. The only real difference I have made to the diagram is priority ordering the vocations rather than randomly listing them. To me that gives the diagram more depth.

Thirdly, I reflect that many of the infographics were merely pretty bulleted lists. They did not in themselves communicate or extend the concepts they presented. An example of this is the diagram in chapter 5 titled “Doctrine Leads To” on pages 82-83. These words form the center of the circular diagram with the words “Love”, “Humility”, ” Obedience”, ” Unity”, and “Healthy Growth” surrounding the title. On the adjacent page the words are bulleted with explanation. On the pages before and after this diagram explanation is given for how each of these words proceeds from doctrine. The explanation suggests a much more in depth diagram that shows progression.

Following is my attempt at making a diagram that represents the author’s own explanation of the benefits of doctrine in the life of the believer and the church. Notice that “Knowledge”, “Assent”, “Affection”, and “Trust” are not in the above list of items on his diagram. But these words do appear in his explanation and I think are the key to the sequence of changes that begin to take place in the believer that result in actions. Notice also that I do not say that this process is one-dimensional, always following this single pathway. “Doctrine” results in an acceleration of “Growth” in many areas at once. I also began to see that doctrine changed the will which changes the emotions which results in right actions. The penciled in “trust?” and “humility” are suggestions of friends as to possible changes to the diagram. And that is the benefit of more extensive diagrams of ideas: thought, discussion, musing, critical thinking, deepening.

The husband of the lady who gave me the book reflected that the book was “ground-breaking” in the area of communicating theology using graphics, and it would lead others to do more and better efforts at diagramming theology because the idea had been initiated and because we have become such a visual, quick information acquisition society. He urged me to write a follow-up book, which I said I would call “Theology Diagrammed”. The main problems with that are lack of time and a lack of completeness and coherence to the diagrams I have made. But perhaps with time, encouragement, and help, it might happen.

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Snow delayed church today, enabling extended, much needed sleep and more time for personal worship. I frequently recall the phrase “Prophet, Priest, and King”, which pretty much summarizes all that Jesus is to us. But as this thought returned to me as I was reading the Davidic Covenant in II Samuel 7, I began reflecting on who this King, this Messiah would be, and was, and is. In the next hour I listed and referenced the following names, titles, and functions of our Lord. It is not exhaustive*, but it is glorious.

Messiah shall be…

  • Creator Genesis 1:26, John 1:3, Colossians 1:16
  • Seed of woman Genesis 3:15
  • Seed of Abraham Genesis 12:3, 17:19
  • Prophet Deuteronomy 18:18-19
  • Captain of the host of the Lord Joshua 5:14
  • Holy One of Israel Isaiah 48:17
  • Suffering Servant Isaiah 52:13 – 53:11
  • Root and Branch of David Isaiah 11:1, 53:2; Revelation 22:16
  • Redeemer Job 19:25, Isaiah 54:5
  • Son of Man Daniel 7:13
  • King Daniel 7:14, Isaiah 23:5, Matthew 27:11
  • Messiah the Prince Daniel 9:25
  • Priest and King Zechariah 6:13
  • Son of God Matthew 26:63-64, Luke 22:70, John 1:34, 3:18
  • Word John 1:1
  • I Am John 8:58
  • Savior Matthew 1:21, Luke 2:11
  • Sustainer Colossians 1:17
  • Head of the Church Colossians 1:18
  • Resurrection and Life John 11:25

As a recent documentary my wife and I were watching said, “He is worth it.” Worth what you may say? He is worth giving up all that we desire and pursue, worth pain and persecution, misunderstanding and dismissal, and loss of all for gain of Him. My life doesn’t always reflect that worth in all I do and say and think, but I believe it and am wanting it more as time goes along.

*He is God, The Door, The Good Shepherd, The Alpha and Omega, Lord, Friend, The Lamb, Warrior King, and on and on the Scripture reveals. Extend my list and reference it. It will focus your mind and strengthen your heart.

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Blue Ridge Parkway Milestone

I enjoy the occasional foray into the realm of etymology. Word origin provides insight into the many and varied meanings and connotations of words and metaphors. There is a humorous twist on the origin of the terms mile and milestone. I assumed that since mile is a thoroughly English measurement of distance that the word, though perhaps not the concept, came from bloody ole England. Afterall, the U.S. is the only major country in the world to still be using the English system. But no, when traced back, mile comes from the Latin mil, or one thousand, which is quite base ten, or metric. Milestones then were stone markers called mille passus, meaning one thousand paces (1), along Roman roads. They were first placed every one thousand steps along the Apian Way out of Rome. Even then they would not have actually paced off the distance, but would have used a standard chain or rope length, the stade (eight stades to a mile). (2)

Etymology was only a small part of why I’m writing this blog entry, but it is fascinating. Metaphorically, milestones are visual, emotional, mental, or group markers for significant events or changes. Milestones typically include salvation, graduations from educational institutions, marriage, arrival of children, job changes or promotions, retirement, lifestyle changes, or significant personal goals reached like weight loss or the first marathon. The term can be overused, particularly in the business and education worlds it seems to me, and there is definitely a difference in significance levels from eternal to trivial. Nonetheless, the idea is solid and shows up in Scripture, even promoted by God (Joshua 4:1-7), and used by prophets (I Kings 18:31, I Samuel 7:10-12).

I have been privileged to have many profitable and enjoyable  milestones in my life, and a few significant ones of late. All five of my children are now married and I have just recently retired.

I passed a small milestone in blogging, which I only inadvertently realized while rereading a few blog entries. This very entry is my 500th blog entry. Having written in this blog since July of 2007, it is quite an accomplishment for me to have continued with only a few months in all of that time of not publishing at least one entry. In fact, the average number of blog entries per month over the that period of 13 years has been just over three entries. It causes me to muse upon why I would be so consistent for so long. The obvious answer is a love and a need of the this forum. I need an outlet for my thoughts and love this particular one that is potentially interactive (3). It gives me a voice, an influence, if ever so small, and a sense of not forgetting what experiences and insights God has so graciously given to me, that is, an online journal. It may hopefully be part of my intellectual inheritance to my children and grandchildren.

But a question arose in my mind: Would a milestone be a milestone if we were unaware of it? I don’t think that this is the existentialist argument about a tree falling in the forest (4), because we are talking about a metaphor for the perception rather than a physical mile marker. When I consider this idea, it reveals to me how dull and fickle our perceptions are. They are dull because we do not perceive significant events that have eternal consequences for good or for ill (John 3:7-8), and they are fickle in that we may see them as significant in one situation and for one group or person but not for another or not at another time. What revealing of missed opportunities and privileges may be ours when our lives are reviewed in eternity. I am thankful for God’s grace to test all things by fire and reveal those works which were by and for Him (I Corinthians 3:10-15, 21-13), for I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

So, I conclude this 500th mille passus of sorts with one further testimony to God’s goodness in my life. He has been and will be at work in my life to bring it to a good and completed conclusion (Philippians 1:6), not because I am deserving or always willing or cooperative or able, but because He is good and powerful and has attached me to His riches by His grace. To Him be all praise.

 

1) How our mile got to be such an odd number, 5280 feet, is more complicated, though the origin of the whole measurement seems to have been the Roman’s copying of the distance around a Greek stadium track for running events, and thus the unit stade.

2) I wonder if they had workers who held signs for travelers to avoid collisions in construction zones?

3) Oh, that it were more so, that I had to moderate multiple comments, questions, reprimands, and encouragements on each entry. Alas, life is busy.

4) If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? Being a Christian and a student of Science but not an Existentialist, I would retort that of course it makes a sound. It vibrates air particles, following God’s physical laws.

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The following blog entry was written several months ago, but the mental state of the time, the ambivalence about publishing it, the time constraints to finishing it, and the arrival of better emotions and thoughts prevented me from publishing it until now. Now it is time and it will add some balance and veracity to my blog by telling more about who I am. People enjoy a good story, but how about a melancholy tome? It may be instructive to those who don’t struggle with this problem and encouraging to those who do.

I have been struggling with a touch of depression lately. I purposefully state it that way because it is nothing compared to times past. It will be passing, which I can say with confidence because I know how to get help and from Whom. But is it depression or could it be, particularly since I say passing, discouragement? Or might it be desperation? Now I could refer to the dictionary and sort these out, but I am going to give a personal, experience based definition, which may not ring true for you, or better yet, may ring all too true and give you encouragement and tools for dealing with them or it, as the case may be.* These definitions will by no means be totally devoid of knowledge gained from study.

In my experience, depression is an emotional background noise or foreground roar that is hard to define in terms of its source, and harder still to get rid of. Many people excuse it as a chemical imbalance that is not of the person’s doing. I believe that chemical imbalance is a problem for some people, but even then there are ways out, most of which don’t involve drugs in the long-term.** It is not helpful to dwell on the depression itself, but it is profitable to study your own modus operandi during depression for the purpose of recognizing when there is an onset. You are experiencing one of my quirks of depression by reading this passage. When I am depressed, I get very wordy, verbose, articulate, long-winded, redundant. That is most likely the source at present of my long sentences. Another way I deal with depression is to become very silent, but because I have learned to attack it, I now do the opposite and become verbal. Oh, that is the reason for quirk #1. And here is a help for you, dear friend, if you suffer with depression. Talk yourself out of it, not by any random droning of your voice, but by declaring out loud truth. The form it takes in me most often is singing hymns. So, I knew that I was dealing with mild depression this morning because I felt compelled to sing. The odd thing about my singing is that I can be loud and enthusiastic and crying, either inside or literally, all at the same time. I don’t know if the crying is repentance, thankfulness, remorse, release, or sadness, but I do know that if I sing long enough the cloud dissipates. That occasionally is too much for my wife because she is a stroke victim and the continual sound and language overloads her aphasic processing. If it is a hymn that I know well, whistling works so that I can think about other things or tasks simultaneously, but whistling is particularly problematic for my wife.

Desperation is more easily recognized and pinpointed. I was desperate yesterday because I had so much paperwork to do and a sense that it would never end. Perhaps that was part of what brought on today. Planning ways to lessen the load, spread it out, or see light at the end of the tunnel are ways I usually deal with that short-term irritant. Finding the purpose in the mundane and repetitive and distasteful makes it more palatable. Procrastinating is something we have all done to avoid what we don’t like to do, but it is counterproductive because it just prolongs the mental desperation. Desperation, then, usually comes from a fear, be it fear of purposelessness or fear of harm by whatever traumatic or long-term means (e.g. old age for example).

Discouragement can be short-term or long-term and its source obvious or not. Unfulfilled goals and dreams are the source of most of my discouragement. Inability to do something at a higher level of my own making or meeting someone else’s expectations can weigh heavily on me at times but do not usually cause discouragement. I guess that I understand that despite my attempts to be exceptional in various areas of my life, I am just a “common Joe” with perhaps a little better than average ability. I am profoundly limited in some areas. Failure or rejection are high on the list of what brings discouragement to many people.

In all of these areas, particularly depression, I have several coping mechanisms that are my go to’s. I have already listed 1) identifying when I am depressed by things I do and think when depressed and 2) singing my way out of that mode. For me, and these must be specific for you individually, I 3) rock in a rocking chair and think, 4) write to organize my thoughts and identify how I am feeling, 5) talk it out to others***, 6) walk, 7) do anything active, particularly climb, run, bike, or hike, 8) experience nature, contemplating God’s goodness, and 9) organize and propound truth on any subject, though theological and scientific areas are my most common subjects. What is your coping mechanism? Don’t know? Try one of mine. Experiment with things that are true and good (Philippians 4:8). Make them edifying pursuits, not destructive ones like drugs, alcohol, binge eating, binge videos or computer time, or pornography or illicit sex. Look for a way out, not a way further in.

I have purposely separated my last help for depression, desperation, and discouragement: 10) Spend time in prayer specifically about the source of your feelings, or about the emotion itself in the absence of knowledge of the source. To not just be talking to yourself, several things must be true: 1) You must be a believer in Jesus as your Savior, 2) You should be seeking to be repentant of sin, and 3) You should seek to discover what expectation you have that has not been given you by God and give it up to Him. Frequently either #2 or #3 is the source of the depression. If #1 is true, then you have power given to you by God to repent of sin (I John 1:9) and overcome temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). 4) Persist in prayer until you get past distraction, temptation, doubt, and waiting. Your circumstances may not change, as God sees fit, but your peace and joy can return in the midst of the sorrow.

Life is a journey with a destination rather than a destination only. Therefore, be patient with yourself. Conversely, don’t let yourself off the hook in the sense of ‘oh, everybody does it’. Instead, seek to make progress. Growing requires effort, but in the same way as you can not pull yourself up by your boot straps, you need an outside force, the power of God, to make real and lasting progress. May God enable you with His power to grow and may you find those coping mechanisms that work for you to ease your pain by pointing you to truth.

*Long sentences are so fun to attempt, because they are so easy to get wrong, particularly concerning commas, and therefore challenging. I think mine are right.

**How could I be so unfeeling and arrogant as to suppose I can make declarations about others people’s difficulties? Well, not only because I have studied this issue, but because I have personal experience with serious, dare I say, clinical depression, I am speaking up. You may need drugs to steady the boat, but they are a poor way to propel it forward.

***Thank you for your patience, friends.

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‘For me this place is therapeutic, but I don’t know why exactly’, my partner mused.

Black Fork 1

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Table Mountain Pine

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Clouds cruising over the ridge (Colors were more vivid in person.)

It is the most isolated place in our county, thoroughly quiet and secluded, but opens up on a view of the valley a distance across several miles of woods. It feels like you are alone with God in this small wilderness with time to reflect.

The clouds and low sun made a significant distinction and contrast between the wooded draw and the valley and mountains beyond. We felt set apart. The clouds with evening colors rushed over the ridge like great ships entering harbor and yet there was no wind at the surface. The barren trees lay quietly in their winter snooze. A lone train whistle on the far side of the ridge quietly reported its presence at a far distance in the next valley. It was a time to praise God in prayer and quietly reflect on the peace it brings to the beleaguered mind and heart.

The Table Mountain Pine is not common unless you are on a south facing, shallow soil of a flat cliff top. It’s spiky cones suggest the struggle it has to tolerate the harsh heating and drying conditions where it outcompetes other conifers. My rough fingers, tape, and chalk suggest the cherished struggle I had with rock faces moments before.

It was a good day to climb, a good day to reflect, and a good day to imbibe the tranquil therapeutics. I am so blessed to have this outlet in seasons of stress. The focus and intensity of climbing and the reflection and relaxation of time in the woods and views from the clifftops are a gift.

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Life is good because God is good.

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Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

CreatorWorship

Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains