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Posts Tagged ‘Metaphor’

I could see this backyard lawn without any detail other than the fairly short grass. As I observed, I* walked over to the center of the yard and drove a narrowly triangular stake into the ground. Then I tied one end of a small rope that was curled up on a spool onto the stake and began unwinding it as I moved away from the stake. I always kept the rope taut but it danced up and down as I went. After a few moments I paused and looked back at the rope and the stake. As my eyes focussed on different segments of the rope, I saw knots tied at irregular intervals. I compared these knots to their distance from and similarity to the stake. Only in daydreams and dreams can Physics laws be overcome. For then I released the rope, which stayed taut, walked back to several of the more noticeable knots and drove stakes into the ground through the knots. I stood back, observing, as the rope continued to unfurl for what, with a pause**, would be eternity future. 

When the scene vanished from my mind, I immediately realized that it was a metaphor for my life and salvation. The ground, which like a plane, receded off infinitely forward and backward, but unlike a plane had depth of soil, represented salvation. I was being grounded in a salvation that was decided in eternity past and would be executed throughout all of eternity future.

The stake was my moment of salvation. And here is the reason that I believe this line of musing came upon me. I had been considering Jesus’ words to Zaccheus, “Today salvation has come to this house, because, he, too, is a son of Abraham.” When I read “today”, I understood that Jesus meant that in that moment, in space and time, Jesus had come to Zaccheus in salvation. I have been among varying brothers over time as concerns their understanding of Jesus’ work of salvation. Some say you must receive Jesus; it is your choice. Others say that to ask someone to receive Jesus is wrong and counter to God’s ordaining of salvation in a person’s life. Salvation is wholly of God and “it is your choice” puts man in the driver seat of a vehicle he can’t control. It is wrong. But God is both eternal and transcendent while personal and present. He works in eternity and He works in time. He has predestined those who will be saved and brings it about- all glory to Him. But we do not know the when, the how, or the who, so we plead with people to believe and receive Jesus. When they do, God has accomplished in that moment what He ordained long ago. There is a stake planted in time and eternity. 

Some people know when that stake was planted; some do not. It is planted nonetheless. When a person does not know, perhaps it is obscured by the fog of life or the mysterious moment and work of God was not by Him revealed to that person. When a person knows the when, it may be a helpful source of assurance. Our little rope is firmly attached there and our life is subsequently unfurled. But the main source of assurance is those ancillary stakes in our lives resulting from knots or difficulties in our lives. When we continue to believe and act on that belief throughout our life, we confirm and deepen that faith by driving another stake into salvation. We become more assured. God provides the event in our lives, the stake of faith, the hammer of confirmation, and the strength of remembrance. He animates every part of our faith, but He involves us. All of those stakes ground the rope of my life in the ground of eternal salvation. Jesus holds them firm in Him.

I feel certain that someone could punch holes*** in my metaphor, but the the points I intend are 1) God accomplishes salvation in time and eternity, 2) God involves us, and 3) We have assurance through faith in God throughout the events of our lives. That assurance is described in the letter of I John. One phrase, “by this we know”, occurs 8 times in the book along with other similar affirmations of assurance God gives us that we belong to Him. The best way to have assurance that you believe is to believe right now, which builds more assurance for those trying times when it is harder to believe. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31) is a stake in the ground of salvation then and again and again and now and in the future. Faith does not provide salvation; Jesus provides salvation. Be always clinging to Him.

*It is weird to think of yourself as watching yourself in a dream or daydream.

**For the believer death is not an annihilation of life but a mere transition or pause.

***That pun has holes all in it, but I’ll stake my writing on the truth of it.

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Some things you learn through “book learnin'”, and I’m not adverse to that since I can’t be everywhere at once or in one life time. But learnin’ by experience is better when you can get it. I have a friend who is a very talented artist. He produced several insightful and intriguing stippling pictures (check out “Business on Parade”). And at one point when I was underemployed, he gave me a little work. One of the projects he gave me for some graphic design work he was doing was a stippling of a 8 1/2 x 11 sheet from white graded to black. I guess we would produce that by a digital method now, but he said at the time that the random process of poking a pen at a paper produced a far better picture.* I think that I remember it taking about 10 hours overall.

On my way to church this morning, I was praying that God would give me something to make the Sunday School lesson more interesting. As I drove the interstate the drizzle (or mist) slowly intensified and then later let up. I turned on the intermittent wipers to a slow setting, but I did not increase it as the rate of drizzle increased. I began to notice what reminded me of stippling on the windshield and every 5 seconds or so it got wiped off and started over. Artists that stipple use different sizes of pen tip for a given picture or on different elements of the same picture. The windshield stippling was far more complex in its randomness, utilizing multiple droplet sizes and some streaked upon impact. The effect was quite interesting. To our eye randomness brings some level of pattern. Three dots even nearly in a row look like a line and catch the attention. Four dots can suggest a square, rectangle, or rhombus. But looking at the individual dots is not the point (or points? ha ha). One must step back to see the artistry. The windshield would still look random, but when an artist is involved the result can be detailed beauty and communicate mood.

There is a metaphor here. Our lives are stippling drawings. Each strike of the pen can seem random for which we are thankful or annoyed or perplexed or overwhelmed or exited or challenged. But from these many seemingly random events God is designing a beautiful picture that reveals the Artist’s involvement in the process. Randomness alone cannot produce ordered beauty.** God is giving glory to Himself and benefiting us and others through controlling each strike of the pen on the paper of our lives. No unforeseen events ever mar the picture He is making.

I began the Sunday School lesson with this illustration and then in Luke 9 showed how Jesus was sovereignly controlling every detail of the events before, during, and after the feeding of the 5000, including what details were recorded. Jesus tested Philip’s and Andrew’s (indeed, all of the disciples’) faith when He knew what He was about to do. Every detail filled out the picture He was painting. Before the big reveal of everyone satisfied and 12 baskets full of leftovers, the questions and commands must have seemed trying and confusing. God, give me patience and perseverance as the pen contacts my paper in seemingly random spots and ways, knowing You are in control and this process is for Your glory and my good.

A stippling ball

A Stippling Ball****

*Yes, I enjoyed making that predominantly “p” phrasing.

**Crystal patterns in rock or snow flake form randomly but have underlying chemical design. I could get into the whole evidence of design argument, but you should read my blog entries because it is a frequent theme.

***In fact, the painting seemed to be focused on an extended metaphor of bread. Let’s talk about that another day.

****It would take more time and far more dots to make a good picture of a ball and its shadow, but I feel like it represents the intended purpose.

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I don’t know exactly what happened to my old chainsaw. It lasted 20 years and I rarely went easy on it. One day it just locked up. When I went to buy a new one there was a polarity of prices for seemingly similar saws. I asked why. The answer was basically that you pay $700+ for one of similar durability of the old one or you could pay ~$400 for one that was assured of wearing out in less than half the time. The store manager also said that all of the chainsaw companies have gone to this model: professional/homeowner grades. In the case of the homeowner grade, there is a predetermined and decided lack of quality that is sufficient to last a few years but not many. The plan is to sell more chainsaws at an affordable price, knowing they will have to come back for another one in a few years. The term for this “weak link” or introduced design flaw that results in an “artificially limited useful life” is planned obsolescence.

My wife has a nice crockpot that she uses regularly. It seems quality enough and I see no reason why it shouldn’t cook food for many years to come. However, recently the plastic handle on the glass lid broke. When I looked at it, two terms came to mind: cheap and planned obsolescence. If taken reasonable care of, there is little to break on this crockpot, except for the lid handle. If you can’t get the hot lid off of the crockpot safely, then you can’t really use it. Most people would throw the crockpot away. Some small percentage, probably less than one percent, might search for the part and buy it on Ebay or from the manufacturer. An even smaller percentage of people would make a durable replacement handle. I am part of this latter demographic, this smallest of tribes. The handle needed to be durable, easy to handle for my wife, and look at least reasonable.

About the time this all happened I was teaching my Biology students about cells. I had forgotten to discuss a term for programmed cell death- apoptosis. So, the day I took the lid and my materials into school to make the handle in the wood shop, I presented the parts before my classes with an explanation of planned obsolescence and my plan to reuse rather than recycle the crockpot. Then I proceeded to a segue into apoptosis. Cells have a weak link, as it were, to prevent them from going rogue, i.e. cancerous. Obviously, it doesn’t always work, but it prevents harm far more than allows it. 

I had a student ask me if that means that “death really is a natural part of life.” I replied that on the contrary, the programmed death of cells when external or internal cues of stress arise is a way to prolong the organism’s life at the expense of individual rogue cells. Oh, that corporate entities were so altruistic and sacrificial, but perhaps I am looking at the situation from the wrong perspective. Perhaps the crockpot is the sacrificial cell that rescues the corporate organism by not outlasting its economic value. After all, whose survival are we concerned about here?

At any rate, planned obsolescence in cells is a good thing. I guess it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, “stressed out”. Check out my new durable handle.

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Chicken is done!

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Custom made, prime, aged, ergonomic hickory wood handle from a tree where I grew up!

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You know a metaphor to be a word picture, that is, words that bring to mind certain scenes or ideas. I was looking for a word whose definition is a picture that suggests words. Perhaps some of you wizened wordsmiths could help me out here and come up with the word. Unless and until that happens, I’m going to attempt to coin my second(1) word. Pictometaphor(2,3)- a picture or other visible art meant to suggest words. Now, you know we see these all of the time, but I don’t know if anyone has given it a name. And we say a picture is worth a thousand words, to which I say, of course, pictometaphor.

So, I want to try out my new word on you. I am making wedding rehearsal dinner decorations (That was a mouthful.). I am not really creative in this realm, so that the contrivance of my wife and I is a modified copy of things we liked online. It is in some respects simpler, and by me making it, much cheaper. But all that is not the point here, and I can’t give away too much before the dinner, so the pictures are limited. My point is for you to look at the following picture and write down pairs (in this case) of words that immediately come to mind. To see the quality of my pictometaphor, please don’t look at my answers until you have written down several pairs. It is totally fair and desirable to consider that this pictometaphor is in the context of an upcoming wedding. It needs context.

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Before I give my answers, let me further comment on the quality of a pictometaphor. The picture, sewn cloth (in this case), statue, etc, should universally suggest the same words to all people. This might be too much to expect given different cultures, so perhaps, it should at least be universal within a given culture. Or perhaps it becomes a code word (code picture?), a sort of jargon joke for the initiated.

When I look at the picture above in the context of marriage, I immediately think male/female, strength/beauty, utility/luxury, mundane/special (plano/fancy?), daily/special event. How do your pairs fare? Do they align with mine, mean the same thing with different words, contradict at points? Share by commenting.

Now, I like extended metaphors, as long as they don’t verge on the ridiculous. So I have added some possible additional accoutrements to the decoration. (This is somewhat tongue in cheek, and my wife said that was not happening when I suggested it.) Make your list of pairs again and let me know how you did.

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The selection of additional items colors(4) the connotations of the pictometaphor. Because I have selected two items that involve work or chores, the suggestion is not work versus play, but what kind of work. Probably for many of us, they suggest traditional gender roles. I am not going to apologize for that. I have hung up many clothes, particularly as a child, and my wife has helped me by hauling lumber and bags of concrete, but there are differences in our roles as male and female, and those have quite naturally and thankfully expressed themselves in our culture in nurturing and supporting ways. Much that is wrong with our society at present revolves around the abandonment of God ordained, given, and declared gender roles within the family, church, and society. Therefore, the first pair that came to my mind when seeing the nails and clothes pins was male/female. Also, I think home/job.

I could have directed the pictometaphor in a completely different direction by some simple change like replacing either the clothes pins or the nails with a few Lego bricks or a small doll. Then I would be driving the picture toward work/play, responsibility/privilege, chore/leisure, or even childhood/maturity depending on the exact toy I select.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading my comments and selecting your word pairs for the pictometaphor. The connotations of the pictometaphor need not be pairs, but the ideas must be ones that are widely understood. That is where culture and history and language come in. Language and art are at least partially an archive for culture and history. We should not revel in language and art changing so fast, because that blurs and eradicates much that can be learned and shared between generations. For instance, Western Culture has a rich language and art based on a biblical understanding. Many pieces of literature and art can not be understood in isolation from an understanding of the Bible. Of course, some want to rush the change, obliterate the references and understanding for the Bible given by language and art, and wholeheartedly reinterpret both, but that is a pictometaphor for another day.

1- The first word I tried to coin is “momentaneously”- circa 1995- used in response to impatient inquiry to mean you are high on my priority list and I will get to you with all speed as circumstances allow. Used in a sentence: “I will answer you momentaneously, but you are interrupting Jane at the moment.” For evidence of my coinage I site numerous classrooms full of students. Please spread the word since this may be my best possibility at fame. And, oh, by the way, don’t take me too seriously.

2- I considered iconometaphor, photometaphor, or imagometaphor, but each of these suggest connotations not in line with my definition, so I settled on pictometaphor.

3- “Hey, George.” What, Frank?” “How about photaphor or imaphor (or imagaphor) or iconaphor.” “Oh, Frank, that last one sounds good, but do you think people will understand what it means?” “George, the sound of a word can help the availability of its meaning, but ultimately, there is nothing like a clear and consistently used definition. ‘Is’ means ‘is’ even if some people say it ‘ain’t’.”

4- I am also partial to puns.

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Recently, I gave each of my older grandchildren (that’s 4 out of 6, who are old enough to understand what I am saying) a polished black rock. I told them that every time they look at it or rub it with their thumb to keep it shiny, they should think, “Jesus is  like a rock that is unchanged.” He is firm. He is sturdy. He is dependable. He provides for us. The Scripture describes Him as a rock in I Corinthians 10:4: “and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from the same spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ.”

The illustrations for Paul’s comments in I Corinthians are found in Exodus 17:1-7, Numbers 20:1-13, and Deuteronomy 8:15, 32:1-43 (The Song of Moses). If you read the Numbers passage, you will see that God got angry with Moses and Aaron for striking the rock this second time instead of speaking to it as God had commanded. Even though Moses’ anger showed a presumption on his part, what God says to them reveals the source of God’s anger as resulting from them not treating (or representing) God as holy before the congregation. They had disobeyed God’s direct command. I have long wondered why God got so angry. I believe ultimately it may be because Moses’ careless and angry action destroyed a symbol God had designed to explain His work with man. The first time before a rock (Exodus 17), God commanded Moses to strike the rock. The second time (Numbers 20), God commanded Moses to speak to the rock. The first time Christ came He was struck on the cross to deliver us from sin, for “in that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity.” (Zechariah 13:1) Just as the rock poured forth life giving water for the people when Moses struck it, so Christ poured forth life giving blood when the nails were struck into his hands and feet. The second time Christ will come “having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await him.” (Hebrews 9:28) He will gladly provide all we need and more for those for whom He was struck to rescue them. “Ask, and it will be given unto you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the it will be open to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened to him.” (Matthew 7:7-8) 

In Deuteronomy, Moses teaches Israel a song about the dependability, consistency, strength, perfection, faithfulness, righteousness, and jealousy for His people of Israel’s God, their Rock.

David helps to solidify our understanding about God as our Rock. His most direct explanation of the rock metaphor comes in Psalm 18. In verses 1-3 he sets forth the idea of the Lord as his rock:

“I love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”

The rock metaphor becomes a shorthand for David of security, protection, salvation, strength, victory, and all else that God means to him regarding physical, mental, and spiritual rescue from all variety of enemies. God is for him a firm place where his foot doesn’t slip and his enemies don’t overcome him (v.36-37)

I know that my grandchildren can’t understand all of that right now, but learning dependence upon God is a good lesson to begin early. We will always need to come around to learning it at a deeper level and life provides many opportunities to review that lesson.

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Being observant makes life interesting. Being intentionally observant is more interesting, and being in a group of people who enjoy discussing intentional observation is much more interesting. One evening I was walking out of the tower door of the church, which faces west, with two brothers. The sun was low and directly in our faces, making it hard to see. We were discussing what we intended to do when I pulled up short and said, “What in the world?” They both seemed surprised and said, “What’s wrong?” “How can this be?” I replied more to myself than to them, “The sun is shining in our faces but there are shadows in front of us.” I turned around to see if there were shadows behind us where they should be and discovered the truth of the bright shadows in front. The sun was equally blinding reflecting off of the glass door we had just exited. “I thought the laws of Physics were overthrown for a moment.” One of those two men still gives me a hard time about my observation and utter amazement.

I only hope that I may one day be such a good reflection of my Savior’s glory as to caste bright shadows over the lives of those who are blinded in His presence. And will there even be shadows in heaven where the light of His glory penetrates and purifies all its surroundings, where sin cannot abide, and praise arises uninterrupted before His throne? Even in the shadows of my continued sin nature, the world’s wicked system, and the devil’s devious temptations, I look forward to brighter days of knowing and serving Him through the grace He daily provides. Though shadows fall all around us, His presence brightens even these.

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Following after Jesus has its many rewards and challenges. The challenges all originate from our sin nature, and “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence,” (2 Peter 1:3) we really have no excuse. This enabling power given to us through the agency of the Holy Spirit helps us to “enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

God is at work in us for our sanctification, but He also commands us to be diligently about increasing our sanctification: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) Because of the lie of Satan that induced the original sin of Adam, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5), we now have a sin nature. As a result “death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam” (Romans 5:14), and there is still “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (Romans 7:18-19) To put it plainly, the lie of Satan was that you can do it on your own, that is, be good enough, be like God. Every religion is a way to work your way to heaven or attempt to please God. True Christianity is not this way, that is, works oriented, but grace oriented, because God has and is accomplishing all that is needed to please Him and secure for us a place in heaven. But we sinners by nature and by practice are hooked on the Lie and must throughout this lifetime be diligent to believe what God has said and done in and for us.

I love analogies and metaphors and thought of this situation today as I was describing a friend’s need to find a church where grace is preached. We should seek a church where truth is preached, the Gospel is preached, and the whole counsel of God is preached, right? Most definitely we should, but we are like an old pick-up truck that has a badly mis-aligned front end that constantly wants to steer us into the left ditch which we must persistently fight by holding the steering wheel to the right so that we may track straight. The mis-alignment is our works oriented sin nature; steering to the right is a constant placing of God’s grace before our eyes and in our thinking; the straight track is the narrow way that God is guiding us along toward Himself.

Or we are setting a course of the narrow way by turning the tiller of grace that has us tacking into the wind of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are always empowered by God, but He frequently accomplishes that through the effort of faith we put forth. This “steering” or “tack” is not a new level of works, but a clinging to God, the only source of life and godliness, joy and heaven.

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