Choices

August 10, 2015

Kimbell Museum

I suppose everyone comes away from an art exhibition with different impressions.  My wife and I did.  We went to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth yesterday and slowly soaked in every painting in the special exhibition, “Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland.”  Then we went back through the floor and played our game: “Pick out one piece you’d like to take home with you.”  That’s were you realize what you value.  I had to select two, but they both had one theme to me: CHOICES.

Gauguin Three Tahitians

I’ve never been a big fan of Paul Gauguin’s paintings, but this one, Three Tahitians (1899), gripped me.  In it, the young man is faced with a choice. The woman on the right with flowers represents virtue.  The woman on the left, holding a mango, represents sensuality.   I think every human being faces this choice at some level every day. Do we opt for virtue or vice, worthwhile or worthless?

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I’ve always been a fan of Vermeer, but this one is a little different that his usual style. Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (1655) depicts the New Testament narrative in Luke 10 in which Christ talks to Martha but points to Mary. Mary has chosen to worship the Lord and listen to what He has to say, while Martha is preoccupied with the worries of her actions and with serving. Certainly, nothing is wrong with serving others, but when we have a choice of good deeds (works?) versus worship, the latter is always the better choice.

In my more virtuous moments, I’m really interested in aligning my attitudes and actions with what delights God. I want my visible life to represent God’s work in my heart. I want a godly humility and gentleness to characterize my dealings with people. Sometimes it’s hard to be patient, showing tolerance for others in love.  It’s easier to be divisive and judgmental than healing and redemptive. In addition, since I tend to be a driver and a doer, I need to emphasize more of Mary’s attitude of worship and meditation over action. Way back in the Old Testament, God has made it clear that He delights in loyalty rather than sacrifice and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6) It’s hard for me to get past the notion of trying to please God or worse, to impress Him, with my hard work.

It’s hard to tell what any artist has in mind about the impact of his art, but when good art strikes a deep chord about what life is about, it transcends time and culture to stir many personal reactions. These are my reactions to these two pieces.


Counselor Training in Uganda

June 1, 2015

Sometimes up front sharing ideas I have . . .                                   GROUP

. . . and sometimes up close listening to them sharing their story,     HANDS

it was a fantastic cross-cultural experience, training 100 social workers in the basics of counseling.

The whole trip is best captured in this video (to view it, click on “this video”), produced by the Austin Ridge video team.  Fantastic group of people and an honor to have been invited to join them.

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Counseling in Uganda with Medical Team

May 18, 2015

What a stretching experience to provide counseling in Uganda as I joined with a medical team from Austin Ridge Church.  My role was to counsel with those who had just received their diagnosis of HIV-positive.  Jeremy Ezell heads the counseling program at that church and he invited me to join him in providing counselor training to 100 social workers in the southern city of Gaba. After our tasks were completed, we had two days free to join the medical team in the north, in Pader.  This video says it all.


Truth, Falsehood, Fire & Water: An Ethiopian Allegory

February 15, 2015

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I borrowed this allegory from Heather Forest’s book, Wisdom Tales from Around the World, but added my own conclusion.  At our monthly men’s group, we each present five minutes of our thoughts on the same virtue.  This month it was “Truth.”  So I share my five-minute contribution.  What are your thoughts on the value of truth and the virtue of seeking it?

Long ago, Fire, Water, Truth and Falsehood lived together in one large house. Although all were polite toward each other, they kept their distance. Truth and Falsehood sat on opposite sides of the room. Fire constantly leapt out of Water’s path.

One day they went hunting together. They found a large number of cattle and began driving them home to their village. “Let us share these cattle equally,” said Truth as they traveled across the grasslands. “This is the fair way to divide our captives.”

No one disagreed with Truth except Falsehood. Falsehood wanted more than an equal share but kept quiet about it for the moment. As the four hunters traveled back to the village, Falsehood went secretly to Water and whispered, “You are more powerful than Fire. Destroy Fire and then there will be more cattle for each of us!

Water flowed over Fire, bubbling and steaming until Fire was gone. Water meandered along, cheerfully thinking about more cattle for itself.

Falsehood, meanwhile, whispered to Truth. “Look! See for yourself! Water has killed Fire! Let us leave Water, who has cruelly destroyed our warmhearted friend. We must take the cattle high in the mountains to graze, out of Water’s reach.”

As Truth and Falsehood traveled up the mountain, Water tried to follow. But the mountain was too steep, and Water could not flow upwards. Water washed down upon itself, splashing and swirling around rocks as it tumbled down the slope. Look and see! Water is still tumbling down the mountainside to this day.

Truth and Falsehood arrived at the mountaintop. Falsehood turned to Truth and said in a loud voice, “I am more powerful than you! You will be my servant. I am your master. All the cattle belong to me!”

Truth rose up and spoke out, “I will not be your servant!”

They battled and battled. Finally they brought the argument to Wind to decide who was master.

Wind didn’t know. Wind blew all over the world to ask people whether Truth or Falsehood was more powerful. Some people said, “A single word of Falsehood can completely destroy Truth” and “Falsehood is easier to market to the masses than the truth.”  Others insisted, “Like a small candle in the dark, Truth can prevail and drive out darkness. After all, falsehood has no substance of its own. It’s simply the absence of truth.”

Wind finally returned to the mountain and said, “I have seen that both Truth and Falsehood are equally powerful and one cannot prevail for long against the other. And it shall be that way forever.

Then Spirit spoke from a cloud on the mountaintop. No! This leaves people with no hope. The one that is more powerful is the one who will withstand the test of time. Take one away and see what happens to the other. Take away Truth and, over time, Falsehood will not stand. It will stumble over itself. But take away Falsehood and, over time, Truth will continue to stand like a light on this mountaintop. Truth will remain the same till the end. So the contest is not so much between Truth and Falsehood but between the wise man who seeks Truth and the foolish man who settles for momentary satisfaction.


Focusing on Jesus, the Reason for the Season

November 30, 2014

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It’s easy to get distracted from the reason for this season of the year.  So about 30 years ago we installed our first nativity set to remind us to keep our focus.  We add a little bit each year.  This is how our day-after-Thanksgiving project turned out for 2014. The figures are mostly 12-inch Fontanini.

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The figures help me to remember that in those days 2000 years ago, people of faith were hoping for the coming of the Messiah.  The announcement of His incarnation came as “good news of great joy.”  This continues to be a season of hope for the future because God has come to us.

They help me remember that the message is simple, but profound.  God, Immanuel, came to us.  He came to us so that I could come to Him in my everyday life and respond to his initiative of love.

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They remind me that wise men still seek Him. I would like to be wise, so I want to remember Him, seek His face and worship Him.

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He changed history. I want Him to continue to direct my story.

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Free Training in Bible and Theology

November 17, 2014
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Richard Pratt, President Third Millennium Ministries

I attended a luncheon last week and heard Richard Pratt describe a wonderful method of training pastors worldwide. Third Millennium Ministries avoids a lot of the problems associated with providing seminary level theological education. For example, the major problem being addressed is that millions of pastors around the globe have less than one hour of formal training in the Bible. Three obstacles stand in the way of their education here in the US: (1) Language: If a church leader doesn’t speak English, he’ll be unable to get training here. (2) Money: the average annual cost of an American seminary enrollment is $15,000. That’s very restrictive for many pastors. (3) Educational prerequisites: A Bachelor’s Degree is required before starting seminary in the US. With the Third Millennium material, the pastor starts right in. Notice how none of these obstacles were present at Pentecost (Acts 2).

The Third Millennium material is currently provided in five languages, which include the areas where Christianity is fastest growing. It’s free and it’s very well presented. I just went to their website and watched a couple of their segments. The format is full of attractive graphics, like watching the History Channel, not simply shooting a lecture and copying it. I plan to use their materials to sharpen my own seminary training that I received 40 years ago.

Take a look at it. Click here and watch their video.  Watch one of their teaching segments.  See what you think. Use it for your own training. If you are able, make a contribution.  But more, if you know of a pastor in some foreign country who could use some training, let him know about Third Millennium Ministries.  Watch the testimonials of pastors who have used the material.  The website has testimonials of its effectiveness.

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Antithetical Complementarity

November 7, 2014

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Art does not often move me. I’m auditory; art is visual. But my son moves me and he is an artist. He recently commissioned a work by a Venezuelan artist, Rafael Araujo, and hung it in his office. My initial response at our family viewing/party was “l like it because I love him.” Then I kept looking. The more I looked, the more I saw. The more I saw, the more I was moved. Here’s what it stirred in me.

In the language of the artist, “Araujo creates an imagined mathematical framework of three dimensional space where butterflies take flight and the logarithmic spirals of shells swirl into existence.” What I saw was the stiffness and rigidity of the construction lines providing a realm within which the butterflies could flow along their patterned courses with fluidity. Rigidity and fluidity come together. Mechanical drawing all by itself is just that, pretty mechanical. A view of butterflies flying around by themselves is rather chaotic and, to me, pretty fluffy. Each has its own brand of “pretty” (or at least interesting) but when they merge in a complementary manner, mutually offering and receiving qualities to the other, they express a completeness that is fundamental to life. This concept resonates with my world of counseling.

I counsel couples. Often, one of them is very functional while the other is very aesthetic. So he leaves his “stuff” where things can easily be reached – in piles, in stacks, where he last used them. She objects to the visual clutter, the unsightly “mess” within which she cannot relax without putting it in order. The resolution of the conflict lays not in one side winning over the other, but in creatively finding ways for his functionality and her aesthetics to serve one another. Yes, to enhance and enrich the other so that the resulting unit thrives at a harmonious higher level.

Then, there’s the playful, spontaneous partner, tugging against the responsible, planned partner. One seems to be antithetically opposed to the other. Perhaps, with a little creativity, this couple can experience “planned spontaneity” or even “playful responsibility”. The goal is complementary enrichment.

Ultimately, beyond the possible myriad human experiences, I see a picture of the character of God himself! Is He a God of wrath or a God of love? Yes, perfectly! Is He just (executing justice) or merciful (granting grace)? Yes, perfectly.   God’s punishment of his people in the Old Testament was always accompanied with a compassionate plea to return to him so he could bless them. In his wrath, he never rejects his chosen people. He loves them. His holiness and justice require him to administer sanctions as consequences; his mercy and love require him to provide a way back to his caring arms and his blessings. So Paul can say

“ . . . that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”   (Romans 3:26)

and the psalmist can (without fully realizing it) anticipate how God’s complementary nature showed forth on the cross, where Christ took on the wrath of the Father and provided loving access to his eternal security.

Lovingkindness and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.   (Psalm 85:10)

My friend, Dr. Larry Waters, recently presented a talk at the Dallas Theological Seminary chapel in which he described the personal traits of that great man of God, Martin Luther. Listen to how he was described: “Rough and tender; poet and boxer; boisterous and devout; deadly serious and a possessor of keen wit; exquisitely sensitive and volcanic invective; and bold before men while humble before God.” I think that as we surrender our lives to God, we take on more and more of His characteristics even the blending of those characteristics that don’t seem to fit with each other.

Would that this goal of conciliatory complementarity would infect our political system. In the wake (wave) of last week’s election returns, I’m reminded of why I’m frustrated with politics. If God is present at all, the Republicans believe that their emphasis on balance budget, family values and small government is aligned with God’s priorities. But the Democrats believe that social need provided by the government is the priority that is closest to God’s character. Why can’t the answer be “Yes.” Then our work could be characterized by creating an enriched harmony of antithetical complementarity.

IMG_0040Back to butterflies. My son’s painting moved me because it pictures a timeless universal reflection of how the world ought to work. There is no winning in the war against one good thing versus another. There are no “trump cards” in the deck of antithetical complementarity. Real victory comes from rigid structure and free mobility integrating harmoniously in an organized fluidity.