Friday, June 14, 2019

Sin

“But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out”  (Numbers 32:23).

Moses was speaking with the Israelites about not following the Lord in settling over the Jordan. Not seeking the Lord to go before them would mean disaster and it was sin. Have you sinned, confessed, repented and been forgiven or do you regret what you have done and still are stuck in it? Scripture tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

There are many examples of sin in Scripture that led to severe consequences and death, until repented. King David and his sin with Bathsheba is perhaps the best-known story. In this sad case, David sinned and then covered it up to the extent of having Bathsheba’s husband killed to set up a rouse that he was the father of the child not David. Well, it didn’t work. David was found out. Psalm 32 tells us, “Blessed is he whose transgressions is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. When I was silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you will forgiven the iniquity of my sin”  (Psalm 32:1-5). David delineates a process wherein his sin was heavy upon him until he confessed to the Lord. Actually we know from the sequence in 2 Samuel that David did not confess until the prophet Nathan went to him and confronted him in his sin. David then was crushed and knew that he had sinned against the Lord, but confessed and was forgiven. However, there were consequences to his sin, there always are. David and Bathsheba’s love child died and David’s life, although once full of valor was filled with sorrow over a runaway family even with his son Absalom treasonously trying to overthrow eventually tragically leading to his death. David was a broken man, yet more wise about sin, even believing that the cursing from a Wildman Shimei in 2 Samuel 16 might have some truth in it.

Sin will find you out. I think of President Clinton and his lies, that eventually were uncovered leading to impeachment trials. President Nixon’s cover up and Clinton have caused the Office of the President to be forever marred.

My own sin found me out during a very intense period of my professional life as a turnaround hospital CEO. I led troubled hospitals through transitions back from bankruptcy. The overwhelmingly intense processes through hospital reorganizations turned them and myself upside down. Long days and weeks, leading to months of intense 16-hour days led to heavy drinking and moral mistakes. Several of these efforts led to successful hospital turnarounds, but crushed me, causing the end of my hospital career at the C-level. Confession and repentance has led to forgiveness and the Lord’s blessing me with a new career in His “calling” for me.

I have been a hospital chaplain for the past 15 years having been restored and completing seminary and two years of chaplaincy training to move from “the front office to bedside.” This process is journaled in my book, Hospital Parables: “Front Office to Bedside.”  Now I serve people in crisis in hospitals that were once in crisis as I served in a different capacity.

David learned very hard lessons that he spoke out in Psalm 55. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies. Blot out my transgressions, wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned…Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me…Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice…Create in me a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me”  (Psalm 55 excerpts). David confessed and was forgiven. He was the only man, even in his sin that it was said, And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’”  (Acts 13:22).

Jeremiah the Prophet said, The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind,to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10).  This is a scary verse about man. Coupled with David’s statement that we are sinful from conception, we are indeed a dark people, only to be saved from our sin by believing what God Himself did for us through His Son.  God said to Solomon when building the temple, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  (2 Chronicles 7:14). This was also the theme verse of a Sacred Assembly, Stand In The Gap, of nearly 1.3 million men, that I also attended in October, 1997, occupying the Washington D.C. mall to pray for our nation and its sin. It was the largest meeting in the nation’s history for nay purpose. God take our sin and our repentance of it seriously. I believe that our country in morally bankrupt, a state that can only be dealt with by turning to God in confession of sin, repentance and prayer. May it not be too late.



Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Messy

Douglas Frank Photo
Messy

Are you messy, or do you have it all together? Whichever way you responded, we are all in progress forever. However, both extremes, if you will, are broken- forsaken. By this I mean we are all cracked pots with honey, motor oil or bitter gall leaking out all over. It is possible to have light flow through your cracks. Dr. Seuss had a way of expressing messes like this: And this mess is so big and so deep and so tall, we cannot pick it up. There is no way at all! — The Cat in the Hat. Have you ever considered that you can’t “pick up” or cleanse yourself pure? You can try all you want, but humans are a mess, made in the image of God, but soiled and full of boils. You may call this a negative view of life. But no, it is the truthful view of life. We are all walking in darkness until we see the light. Isaiah the Prophet said of us all, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before youas.people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
Are you walking in darkness and seemingly hopeless? For most of us it is both. But it does not need to stay that way. God accepts you the way you are; He just wants you to follow Him.

Many of you are familiar with the “Love Chapter” in the Bible, which is 1 Corinthians 13. It tells us that without love we have or gain nothing. In this place we see dimly as through a looking glass darkly, imperfectly. Life is messy and full of molasses. It sticks onto you and attracts bugs, then decays before it goes away. So what do you say, should we find another way?

The Apostle Paul had a way with words, particularly making important concepts very clear, like sin. As it is written: ‘“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness…For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”’ (Romans 3:10-18,23). All is everyone of us. There is no cure on earth; we cannot clean up ourselves. Listen to 5 minutes of TV news and you will hear and see, but how can it be? We have lost the key to see while we are on the tee you and me. But start with a humble step of recognizing and repenting that you are unclean. Don’t run, for this is no fun, yes we all are undone. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”(1 John 1:9). Who is He? He who made you, is He who can bathe you. Who? Love, Perfect Love is who made and molds you. Paul prayed for you who don’t know this love from above:
 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-18). 
What kind of love lives and gives? Seuss says, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”Here’s the hard part, the doctor says, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”You can do this hard thing. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”  It is a choice, “If you never did you should. These things are fun, and fun is good.”What is this you say, “Think and wonder, wonder and think.” Where do I go and what do I do? “You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.”Dr. Seuss would say, “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”What direction to take or for goodness sake? “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”Some 2,700 years ago Isaiah said, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘“ this is the way, walk in it”’(Isaiah 30:21). Seuss might say, “Which is the way? There’s only one way, this is the way.” 

So don’t be confused. There may be many animals in the zoo, but God made them all including you too. Don’t be confused, just choose or lose, its not a ruse. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). What’s the way you say? He’s the way; don’t be dismayed, don’t be afraid. Love will show you the way to stay.  Once you say, I know He’s the way, I want this way, you’ll know the way to obey, just say. And once it’s OK because there’s no other way, you’ll be forever above the fray. Dr. Seuss would say of the way you now say, “Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope...“Oh, the thinks you can think!”

So what to do with all the wrappings all brand new? “If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew, just go right along and you’ll start happening too.”He’ll make you brand new. He gives you His love, which after all is from above. “You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.”








Friday, June 7, 2019

Quick to Listen and Not Quarrel

James, the brother of Jesus is pretty clear on a major issue for many including me, the tongue. He says in trials My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry(James 1:19). This admonition continues to plague me, as I tend to talk too much without hearing. This art and trait grows as we increase in godliness. As a chaplain we are to have the ministry of listening presence.  This is a discipline drilled into us in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). We are trained to get ourselves out of the way for the patient to speak or express himself or herself in whatever way they can. When we are talking we cannot hear, obviously. I tend to be quick to prepare my next response and therefore miss the point of someone else’s expressions.

Being slow in this society is frowned upon. We must be quicker than the other. It reminds me of a story of two hikers in the mountains where there were grizzly bears. When one asked the other what he would do if attacked by a bear he responded that he would run. How fast, the other replied? Just fast enough to outrun you he said. That is sort of the philosophy of today, dog eat dog, survival of the fittest and “it’s all about me.” This is about pride as well. James again speaks on the subject saying, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God”  (James 4:1-2). We do quarrel or cause conflict and strife for our own selfish needs. Recently a brother in Christ saying that I quarrel constantly confronted me.  The counsel hurt but was taken seriously. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6). It is important to look at our own motivations. James went on to say, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). Who is like the person we want to be? “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).


I am glad that God is slow to anger and full of love and forgiveness to those who recognize and confess their sin. He gives us His grace and tells us to be compassionate and forgiving toward one another lest we become proud. He has a way of humbling us when we think we are doing well. This does not mean to be anxious of a God waiting for a chance to put down the hammer. But rather we should praise Him that He takes interest in making us mature and complete, lacking nothing as James 1:2-4 tells us. It also says that if we lack wisdom on how to proceed that we should ask of God in full assurance of His generosity to show us what to do and how to do it to His glory and our good. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Phlox


Phlox

They have appeared along with rivers and ponds I walk and ride. The pastel beauty of phlox in lavender, purple, pink and white festoon the roadside in a garland heralding the ending of winter. There are 47 varieties of this perennial. I love them because they grow between the lilacs of lavender and honey suckle pinks, both offering scents that perfume the air in pleasing ascent to the brown Milwaukee River and the flooded woods with stagnant waters.  It is spring and the world is coming alive with new life. You can pick them, but soon you will be disappointed as they droop. These flowers are meant to beautify God’s creation. 

This short essay joins some 33 others in a collection I have gathered called River Road Reflections. They hide in a file to be published some day probably posthumously. You see as I ride my bike even at dawn in the spring and summer I am privileged to view flowers, clouds and sunrises of gold, azure and purple coloring the landscape. It brings me to sing songs to God for His luxurious brushwork. I choose this pastoral scenery over that of the squalid political landscape that more resembles riding my bike behind a manure spreader. Gone then are the sights and smells of God to be replaced by the digested waste of animals after chewing their cud. It is only good for fertilizing the fields. 

You could say, this does not preach well. I would say there are 13 fascinating Bible verses with dung and manure. In Deuteronomy 23:12 we read of God’s desire for us to go outside the camp with a shovel and bury it. Jesus was violently crucified outside the city, as well as bodies burned, not to stain the inhabitants. "Since the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you or He will turn away from you.”  Jerusalem had a “Refuge Gate” just for this purpose as we read in Nehemiah and elsewhere. Throughout the Old Testament we can read of how enemies’ bodies were thrown on the fields like manure. The evil Jezebel was one of these bodies and so were all the kings that disobeyed the Lord. There were only five good kings in Judah and none in Israel, so a lot of manure was spread. 

I hear a lot of manure being spread on the airwaves today. The new movie about Shakespeare’s last three years, All is True, reminds me of many brilliant thoughts for contemplationFrom Hamlet we hear, ‘To thine own self be true.’ Pilot asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Today it seems it is whatever we want it to be. One of Shakespeare’s friends said “I don’t let the truth ruin a good story.” Is that true of you? Do you have a source of truth? Perhaps you believe the pundits on TV? Many are the bazaar musings reminding me also of Hamlet saying,‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ He also said we have seen better days and brevity is the soul of wit and this is very midsummer madness. But enough of the playwright, lets go to a 17thcentury Bishop or the Kings of France, Marquis Antoine de Fenelon. He would tell the king, “Perhaps you think too much of thyself, give yourself completely to God.”  How about, “A humility that is still talkative does not run very deep.”

We must be very careful when speaking at all. One verse often falsely attributed to Francis of Assisi is “Preach the Gospel at all times and if you must use words.” I haverealized that I talk too much and now have adopted James 1:19“Let everyone be quick to hear (listen), slow to speak, and slow to anger.”

I was going to talk more about the black and white contrast of presidential candidates political talk, but it threatens my sanity and serenity I find along the River Road. So
back to the magnificent Phlox et al.
We just returned from the Audubon Center where Phlox and other wild flowers abound. It was very refreshing by our inland sea. As I gazed over the glistening water I thought of Psalm 97 to bring refreshment: 
“The Lord reigns, let the distant shores rejoice; let the many coastlines be glad. Clouds and thick darkness are all around Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Fire goes before Him and burns up His adversaries all around. His lightenings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles…The heavens proclaim His righteousness, and all the peoples see His glory…O you who love the Lord, hate evil! He preserves the lives of His saints; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart” (Psalm 97:1-4,6,10,11 ESV). Go to the rivers, lake bluffs, forests and fields to drink in His wonders to proclaim!



Monday, June 3, 2019

Blown Away


Blown Away

"The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD"(Job 1:21).
The Scripture quote above is from Job, a man of God, written shortly after he had lost everything in life dear to him and then his health as well. In fact he continued even after his poor wife, who had experienced all this travesty with him said, ‘“Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die! He replied, you are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”’ (Job 2:9-10). OK, I am blown away by Job’s incredible faith and strength in the middle of devastation. What causes this? 

He started to speak to God in pain and wonderment, but without sinning. Even though his friends thought that He must have done something wrong to deserve discipline, Job held to the consolation of the Holy One in unrelenting pain. He questioned God on what he has done, knowing that his life was but a breath. After taking a beating from his so-called friends he still said, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him” (Job 13:15). It is a frightening story of trial and eventual triumph to the faithful. Even in his complaints to God he still said, “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). What persevering faith and wisdom to understand God’s purpose in trials, I am blown away by his enduring faith. 

I know all people experience difficult trials, but “Job’s Journey” is meant to be beyond our understanding in a way that causes us amazement and even fear that it could happen to us. Guess what? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). This fear is in His awesome power and presence in all of our lives, whether we believe in Him or not. “Dominion and awe belong to God, He establishes order in the heights of heaven” (Job 25:2). God is in control, and we are not. 

For those of you who trust in the Lord, you become new through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. I am impacted greatly by Job’s saying even as his life ebbed away in suffering pains that, “In His great power, God becomes like clothing to me; He binds me like the neck of my garment…He throws me into the mud and I am reduced to dust and ashes” (Job 30:18-19). Yet even near death he said, “He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live and enjoy the light” (Job 33:18). Through trial, troubles and pain God answers Job out of the storm challenging him, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”(Job 38:2).And so began chapters of God’s presenting His expansive omnipotence concerning all creation and life. This is about His sovereignty. Job is speechless and finally answers, ‘“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted…my ears have heard you and now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2,5,6). Job is put in his small place in the universe, yet God is still merciful and loving. 

“The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first…and he died old and full of his years” (Job 42:12,17). God blessed Job greatly through it all in His way and His timing. Our pastor Brian Dainsberg said of all of this, “Walking through suffering is like flying at night.” I can attest to this admonition through unknown storms of futile illness, implosions in the church, treacherous mountainsides and wild ocean waves, plane crashes and waterfalls. I have been blown away by God’s bringing healing through my own life and countless others’. Why Job? to show us God’s faithfulness through it all. 




Friday, May 31, 2019

So, Keep walking!
      
  To all who mourn in Israel, he will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. For the LORD has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory” Isaiah 61:3







This verse is telling us of the Lord who takes our burdens and replaces them with “beauty, praise and joy” while planting us in firm ground like a strong oak tree with grace for the glory of God. What an image and promise.  I am also reminded of
Psalm 1 that speaks of him whose walk in righteous and delights in the law of the Lord. “He will be like trees planted by rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in season, whose leaf shall never wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:3).  I can take delight in this promise in and through my trials. In fact I can take courage and do what the Lord has called me to do; encourage other people in their trials.  An encouraging passage in Isaiah 61 starts says,
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—“

This is the same passage that Jesus as a youth read in the synagogue with great power and authority causing the leaders to be astonished and filled with wrath. Sometimes we are called to a ministry where others will rebuke or reject us. If fact, now in the end-times, persecution is increasing and distain for Christians and our teaching is ramping up as Jesus predicted in Matthew 24. Satan would want to sift us or make us ineffective, so we must continue to proclaim the word of truth in and out of season. How do we continue with assurance and confidence?

“The eternal God is your refuge,
    and underneath are the everlasting arms.
He will drive out your enemies before you,
    saying, ‘Destroy them!’” (Deuteronomy 33:27).

This verse was the theme verse of Elizabeth Elliot on her radio shows “Gateway to Joy.” She returned to Ecuador as missionary to the Quichua Indians after her husband Jim had been murdered by them. She persevered and won them over to Christ. How? By knowing and trusting that a powerful and loving God would deliver her through the trial into His presence no matter what may come.

My ministry is not to native peoples, but to those in crisis and hurting in hospitals. As a chaplain, I am “called” to care for the lost and broken in spirit. I am charged to share light in the darkness of life. Sometimes patients and their families do not want to see me, but most will. So I take courage in the Lord’s help.
“if the Lord had not been on our side
    when people attacked us,
they would have swallowed us alive
    when their anger flared against us; 
the flood would have engulfed us,
    the torrent would have swept over us, 
the raging waters
    would have swept us away. 
Praise be to the Lord,
    who has not let us be torn by their teeth. 
We have escaped like a bird
    from the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
    and we have escaped. 
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 124).

This wonderful psalm reminds me of God’s faithfulness to always be on our side in trials. This psalm and those 121-134 are called the Psalms of Ascent. These were song by the Jewish pilgrims on their annual journey up to Jerusalem for religious festivals. Eugene Peterson, author of The Message and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, writes of our need to persevere on our pilgrimage to the Promised Land. They are psalms for the in-between time, the period between the dashes on our gravestones. He reminds us to rope together like mountain climbers, to each other and God’s word during the tough times in order to get to the summit.


So, keep on walking! Isaiah the Prophet would say, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”’  (Isaiah 30:21). This is the title of one of my books written in two volumes to articulate God’s guidance on how to make our walk sure in obedience to His word. This verse is my “calling” verse, spoken by God audibly to me while in a Christian counselor’s office. It resonated with both of us with an unmistakable power and clarity that has led me in hospital chaplaincy the last 15 years. So, keep walking!