Friday, July 10, 2020

Sequoia and Red Woods

Sequoia and Red Wood trees are the oldest and largest living things on earth. Towering three hundred feet above the forest floor and drinking 800 gallons of water a day and living thousands of years they are the subjects of legends.

One story is that a well-hidden Giant Sequoia that outsizes the General Sherman Tree has been discovered in Sequoia National Park California, making this mystery tree the largest living thing on Earth. This tree towers some 378 feet and is thought to weigh over 2.7 million pounds. Interestingly this giant “Garganteum Sequoia,” that grows along the foggy coastal areas of Northern California is a different species than the highlands Red Woods.

I know that you can drive a car through one of the trees and a football team can’t join hands and reach around the largest, but for me this is not the lure. It is the awesome presence, the silence of a Red Wood grove.  It is like entering the sanctuary of the Most-High God. Actually it is far more overwhelming for me than the giant cathedrals of Europe, even with the brilliant color display of the stain-glass windows. These relics are dead and in most of the world lie empty, unused to worship God and sing His praises.

Entering a grove of  Sequoia takes me away to a far off, yet intimate place with God. It is one of His most magnificent creations, given to us to remind us of His grandeur and grace. In the silence and solitude of the forest we can find peace in the secret place of His presence. This peace transcends all understanding, as we trust in Him.

The path of peace that meanders through miles of undulating heaven-like cloisters brings out creativity. One of my favorite Psalms read, “In His presence is fullness of joy, at His right hand pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). This is the feeling I receive when in His presence in the Red Woods. Genesis 2:9 talks of that “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground-trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. I the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9).  We know this story as it is the beginning of mankind’s separation from God because of the disobedience of the first couple. Even so man has continued to reach out to fill the hole in our hearts.

Trees like the great Sequoia played a part in the building of the temple by Solomon in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  The Cedars of Lebanon were the largest and most beautiful trees in the Middle East. This cousin of Red Wood formed David’s Palace as well and was greatly prized.

The Psalms are my favorite part of Scripture bringing intimate descriptions of every emotion with metaphors like Psalm 1 begins speaking of the man who walks in the counsel of God. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (Psalm 1:3). In Matthew 12:33 Jesus tells us “a tree is recognized by its fruit.”  God wants us to bear fruit in our lives as we “abide in the vine” (John 15:5).

Where can I go from your presence is a question King David asked of God in Psalm 139 saying, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me” (Psalm 139:7-9). This plea and praise is not one attempting to run from God like Jonah. It is an adoring description of how God is always with us, guiding us as we seek Him in His faithfulness. This description is a simile for me of the presence of God in the Red Wood forests of California. It is as if these trees speak life into me as I walk by and touch them, as I sit on the giant trunk and meditate on their immensity. I stare upwards into the lofty spires, the misty rays of the suns brilliance shooting warmth through the branches and above the cobalt blue heavens. This cathedral is indeed alive with God’s awesome presence and enrapturing hand holding me tight.  To me it is like the description of the father of the prodigal son in Luke 15, "But while he was still far off, this father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). I have experienced this feeling once palpably as I prayed for the love of the father in my secret space. I am reminded of how He lifted me off the ground and held me tight for what seemed an eternity, His warmth and love sourcing through me- it was ecstasy.
So is the glow and love of the Red Wood forests of God.

The next writer in the woods put it exquisitely as he wrote about the experience of the sanctuary.

My heart soars as I write and re-experience the full sensual nature of this sacred walk that I have so often taken with my wife Pam. It is her favorite place to be or next to the sea, where the breakers overwhelm and fill us with His coursing love and life. The sight of the trees rising to the heavens breaks into smells of pine-like incense that wafts from the trails. The embracing warmth of the suns rays searching us through the towering branches just seems heaven sent and not of this earth. Sound? It is silent and there is solitude standing small amongst such greatness. Who am I as David said to Saul and Moses to God that He would consider us? It is a time to meditate on that thought of a Creator God who would stoop down to save and lead us through the forests to a place of safety in His sanctuary. “I am who I am,” God told Moses in Exodus 3:14. He wants us to feel peace and uncountable joy in His presence. He provides us with living sanctuaries that we might find a more intimate understanding of Him and His powerful presence. 

Monday, July 6, 2020

Always True

Always True
It is written in 2 Peter 1:3-4 “As His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises.”
1.   God is always with me (I will not fear) “It is the Lord who goes before you, He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. Deut 31:8
2.  God is Always in control ( I will not doubt) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him , and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6. Conquer the wave of doubt, live by faith, trust, He is sovereign. God’s promises are an assurance God gives his people so they can walk by faith while we wait for Him to work. God’s promises never fail.
3.   God is always GOOD (I will not despair) “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose.”Rom 8:28.  I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Ps 27:13.
4.  God is always watching (I will not falter) “No temptation has overtaken (seized) you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted (tried) beyond your ability, but will provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13.
5.  God is Always Victorious (I will not fail) “No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the lord, and their righteousness in from me.” Isaiah 54:17 NKJV

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Happy Independence Day

Happy Independence Day

Praise God for the Freedoms we do have in America of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  I believe Scripture tells us to “be content in any and all circumstances.”This is the “secret” that the Apostle Paul learned in the middle of troubles pressing hard on him. We can worship freely and praise God for all His benefits from forgiving all our sins and healing all our diseases as He fills us with His love and compassions and satisfies our desires with good things as Psalm 103 tells us. 
The following is a rendering of our National Anthem that brings tears.

Friday, June 26, 2020


“In vino veritas” is a Latin phrase suggesting that people are more likely to say what they really feel under the influence of alcohol. It means, “There is truth in wine.”  Really, perhaps the “The good, the bad and the ugly” a Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western is another metaphor for a sweeping generality of brutality and violence on screen encapsulated in the title. But actually, throughout history, wine has played a major role, not just in drunkenness but calming and healing as well.

Wine is the most consumed drink after potable water in the world. It sometimes is the only thing drinkable that is available. It has multiple medicinal purposes as well. Recall the Apostle Paul advising his young protégé Timothy saying, Stop drinking just water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23). Actually, the Bible uses wine some 240 times, expressing its purposes, practical, ceremonial and spiritual as well as improperly when leading to drunkenness.  Perhaps the latter reference is most dramatically expressed in Scripture with, Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit”  (Ephesians 5:18). Yes, a life in the Spirit is life and health, but a life in wine generally does not lead down the right path.

My mother was an alcoholic with Alzheimer’s and mental illness. She loved wine of any kind. She traveled the world with my father trying new vintages from the East to the West finding French their favorite. Their were always memories attached to the bottle.

I was once a member of the Confreries des Chevaliers du Tastevin, an ancient societe gastronomique started in France dedicated to promoting better understanding of great wine and food, particularly from the Cote d’Or or Burgundian region of France. Well really it is an exclusive and very expensive Bacchanalian “drinking club” throughout the world. My father was a national Commander Generale and my brother is now a member. I resigned in order to not be hung-over at work running hospitals the next morning. However, I did learn quite a bit of history and it enhanced my interest in such things. My own travel and work in France was even more greatly enjoyed because of great wine and food.  Interestingly, many men in my family were members of German Pudel Club here in the Milwaukee area in the late 1800s and turn of the 20th century. We still have several very ornate drinking goblets and steins to commemorate the era.

But let me return to wine more broadly. When you think of wine you might think France, Italy and the United States. Yes, these countries are major producers and drinkers. But interestingly, per capita, Vatican City is first followed by Andorra and then, Luxembourg, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Portugal and Switzerland. The Vatican consumes some 54.78 liters per person with Italy at 42. The U.S. is at about nine liters comparatively. I think one of the big reasons is that we have had good sources of drinking water, particularly the Great Lakes from the beginning.

This essay now returns to Biblical usage of wine. I love the admonition that we must not be filled or controlled by wine or anything else other than the Holy Spirit. But starting with Genesis we read stories of wine leading to drunkenness and begetting of sons and daughters for good and not good purposes. The drunken Noah of Ark fame had to be covered up by his sons in his drunken state. In Genesis 19 we read of Lot’s daughters getting their father drunk so they could lie with him and become pregnant to carry on the family lineage.

In Exodus and Leviticus we read of wine as a sacrificial drink offering to God. Numbers first treats the idea of abstention for purity in a Narzirite. New wine in Deuteronomy is a sign of blessing at harvest for sustaining the people. In Judges we read of Samson who was to abstain as a Nazirite, who got sidetracked by women along the way. Also, the winepress ironically is where Gideon hid from the enemies, when God found him to empower him to become a warrior for God.

I find it fascinating that in 1 Samuel, Elkanah a drunken father himself, found his daughter Hannah, a godly woman in prayer to be drunk on wine. David was sent with wine as a gift for Saul and later Abigail used it as a gift for David to keep him from murdering her bad news husband. Traveling on to Nehemiah we find a leader who was allotted bounties of food and wine, giving it all away to the people who were laboring for the good of Jerusalem. He was a rare leader indeed.

The Wisdom books of Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes speak of wine gladdening the heart or bringing ruin. Yes, wine is a mocker and too much is a brawler.

Moving to the Prophets we find Isaiah speaking of wine in laudatory and degrading terms. Often they spoke of the harvest as a good and redeeming time of restoration and prosperity. But yet abstaining from wine was a command for some. Yes, it was a sacrificial gift as well.

The New Testament again speaks of wine and wineskins likened as to the Holy Spirit. We must use new wineskins when the power of the Spirit will expand them as Matthew writes. Jesus did not drink the putrid wine offers on the cross. But He turned water into wine in John 2 as His first miracle, celebrating abundance and joy represented through His gift of His life and death for us. He saved the best until last. In Acts people made fun of the Spirit-filled disciples thinking them full of wine. In Romans we are reminded not to let wine become a stumbling block to another brother or sister. We already read how in Ephesians Paul commands us not to be filled with wine but the Holy Spirit of God. Titus reminds us not to be addicted to too much wine, a regular theme of Scripture.

Revelation sadly brings us to wine and the winepress of God’s wrath to be poured out in the tribulation on a disobedient human race that will be destroyed for their own folly. He will tread the winepress and the wine and blood will flow. But let’s also pause and remember Christ today as we take the bread and the wine of Communion. The wine is the cup of the blood of New Covenant shed for the forgiveness of sins of all. We are to drink it in remembrance of His life, death and resurrection until He returns. The wine represents His blood poured out for us that we might live as forgiven.  As we drink the cup we celebrate Jesus Christ. In a very minor way, when we lift a glass in a toast of celebration, we are doing the same thing. But it is only His blood in wine that purifies and cleanses us of all unrighteousness. Drink yea, all of it. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

Phone Calls

Do you hate phone calls in the middle of the night? Of course you do. But have you reviewed some of the history of the calls you have received? I did and found that although there has been stress, there has also been salvation.

“It’s for you, again,” said one of my fraternity brothers. It was another call at lunchtime from my father, just checking in with me. He called very regularly in my sophomore year in college. Why? I was failing academically, primarily because my priorities were wrong. I had chosen athletics and parties over scholastic achievement. I was getting to class, but not necessarily wholeheartedly. The Dean had counseled me. Many of my classmates had been asked to leave this prestigious, high academic standard school. I was very fortunate to be able to attend, but was not mature enough to know the opportunity I was blowing up.

Dad kept calling and I kept meandering along the sidewalks across campus. I was pretty good as a varsity athlete, even captain of the hockey team. But that isn’t why I was there. This truth evaded me until my junior year when I finally sobered up and headed to class for real. It was a little late in the game, but advancing grade levels made my final GPA worthy for graduate school. I never really gave the persevering love of daily calls from my father as a caring and motivating factor.

Then I remember calling my own son in his freshman year at college. He was wrecking his opportunity just like I had, and I had not even told him of my experience. Like father, like son. He was with the wrong crowd like I had been, drinking and smoking pot and I don’t know what else. “I’m doing OK,” he would say. One day my call was answered after searching him out with a frightening response that he was at the end of his rope and ready to take his own life. I don’t know what had happened, but I remembered the time of great pain he had suffered after very traumatic chest reconstructive surgery. He had hit lows, but not this. I talked him down and sped to the college some two hours north to pick him up and bring him home. My call had been just in time.

The next months would be difficult as we did counseling together and removed all the guns from our house preventively. Unfulfilling jobs lead my son into depression. But connection with a grieving neighbor, dealing with his wife’s death from cancer and a fortuitous phone call brought healing. The call led my son to meet a girl at Elmbrook, the largest evangelical church in Wisconsin. There he found Christ and fellowship with other struggling teens. The sharing and grace brought healing and direction. Within a few months he had chosen to follow his Grandfather into dentistry and his older friend to Montana trout fishing. Both decisions would lead to momentous choices to move to “Big Sky” country with his brother and marriage to Montana girls far from home. My wife still blames our “older friend” for their leaving the nest, West.

For several years we experienced around the clock harassing phone calls from attorneys and collection agencies because of the financial troubles of our younger son in Montana. Bad business decisions had led to multi-business failure and tremendous credit card debt. We had assisted financially through the trials, bringing our phone numbers to the attention of craven and aggressive debt collectors. We would receive “robo” and threatening calls throughout the day, sometimes dozens. I am not sure the intent, other than harassment. Perhaps the offensive, course language was designed to pressure our contribution in solving our son’s troubles. I believe lessons have been learned, but these phone calls has reduced my trust in mankind and their increasingly heathen nature.

Over the last decade, phone calls have been almost the only connection with our older son and wife now living in Oregon with our three grandsons. Thankfully the miraculous technology of “Facetime” has allowed video expression to the adolescent boys voices.

Over the last month our son’s phone calls have been filled with a very frightening drama from Mass General Hospital, where our daughter-in-law has endured brain surgery to remove a massive benign tumor covering her whole brain. Although the surgery went well, subsequent incision and site infections have brought “bring-back” surgery and very stressful consequences. She will survive and heal, but with continued cross- country trips for further invasive procedures and radiation. Our trust is in the Lord and His merciful healing grace.

My career as a hospital chaplain brings phone calls in the middle of the night on a regular basis. I am “on call” for crises in need of spiritual care. These calls come at random and require immediate response. I have to say that as I enter my 70th year, after 46-years serving hospitals, these calls are taking their toll. I just don’t spring back anymore after losing several hours of sleep. It takes a week to be revitalized, given no more midnight phone calls.

I just got off the phone with my Mother-in-law. She calls numerous times a day as her dementia and living alone brings fears and needs she desires us to satisfy. This morning it was the weekly, “take out the garbage” call. Yesterday it was the “do you have any eggs?” followed by when do I take what medications calls. We take these seriously because twice I have responded and found her on the floor leading to hospital ED trips in the middle of the night.

So, how did we live without phones for so long? I guess things just got done a little slower, and perhaps the urgent appropriately took a little lower priority. However, instant communications has also saved lives as it has stressed lives. These are tradeoffs of technological advancement. Call any time; the phone’s always ringing.