Friday, January 22, 2021

Vapor

Have you thought of yourself as a vapor or mist? Well, that is what we are as Scripture and therefore God tells us humans. You may say that you have plenty of time and plans for the future. Really?

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil”  (James 4:13-16). Other translations say, mist, morning fog, wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. That’s life for us. It is not certain or long and it can and will disappear in an instant. It will burn off and be gone forever. Now this is an encouraging view of life isn’t it? Well, it is God’s view. Other Bible passages elucidate the idea saying that life is a “passing breeze” (Psalm 78:38). How about Job 7:7 saying that “life is but a breath.”  This might frighten or even anger you because of all the plans you have made and things you need or must do. But take stock, you are not in control of your life. It is God who rules and reigns and has ordained all your days as Psalm 139:16 of David portrays. God is involved in all details of our lives even though we have free will to go where and do what we want. Therein lies the rub.

Yes, God knows all from beginning to end, yet we can do whatever we want, whether it’s good for us or not. We can disobey God and be outside His will for us our whole life, but what will that do for us?  David the “man after God’s own heart,” realized that he had sinned and did what he wanted. But he was found out and there were severe consequences to his actions. God is not a cosmic killjoy, but a good and merciful Father who loves us even in our sin. Yet all actions will be judged. God is slow to anger and ready to forgive if we figure out that we are not here on earth for ourselves, but to serve God and love one another.

How far out do you plan? I have become more and more quizzical about the Japanese 150 year plans. I once was a strategic planning consultant for hospitals and health systems around the country. We developed missions and visions and then operating goals and plans stretching out for five years. It is a good exercise as long as you realize that God is in charge of the steps. “To a man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue” (Proverbs 16:1). Yes, we can plan, but Solomon goes on to say, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). This makes it sound like it is useless to plan, that life is fateful or karma. No, not at all. Proverbs also tells us, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10). If you want to be safe or on the right path follow the Lord or as Proverbs 3:5-6 delineates, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”  Different versions say that He (God) will make your paths straight and guide you if you listen to His voice and don’t assume you know everything. The New Living Translation says, “Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”  Frankly speaking, I am encouraged by this recognition and actually, my experience has proven Him out.

You might say as the poem written by William Earnest Henley in 1875, Invictus,
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul hel
This is the m and sail into

This is the mantra of many today,  "no one is going to tell me what to do." Authority is anathema to them and they will chart their own course. “Good luck with that,” as the world also says. God says, My son, pay attention to my wisdom; listen carefully to my wise counsel” (Proverbs 5:1). Many times in Scripture God says to listen to Him and He will give you wise counsel. God tells us His will “Through prayer, His word, other godly people and circumstances,” states author, pastor, Henry Blackaby in Experiencing God. There is great truth to that. There is absolute truth and it is in God and His word, the Bible. Read, study, meditate on it and follow what it says. It is the way, the life and truth to those who find it (John 14:6 paraphrase).  So, perhaps you don’t believe this like most of the world today. Interestingly, our country was founded upon this word and our first president said, “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.” He prayed continually and found strength in God. It is no random act that our money says, “In God We Trust.”  Those who want to take it away want to captain their own ship and be in control of their own destiny. This increasingly loud group that is growing is wrong. Sorry, there is truth and not all ideas are equally valid.
"So make the most of every opportunity, full of grace and seasoned with salt" (Colossians 4:6).

Friday, January 15, 2021

I Am Loved


Do you ever wonder if you are loved? I certainly have. In fact the first 40 years of my life I did. I grew up in a family of some privilege, but also with dysfunction. We all have families with problems. Mine had alcohol and mental illness, primarily in my mother. My father’s own father had committed suicide jumping off the roof of his then prosperous business in a major recession at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a family secret that got out. We were no longer wealthy, but stigmatized. An uncle paid for schooling for my father and his brothers. The WWII hit and my Dad became an artillery officer fighting Rommel and the Nazis from Africa to Italy. He was hit by a German 88MM shell and left for dead in a crater under a jeep. However, he was found by another soldier and raced through the German lines to an English field hospital where he would be stabilized and started a series of 18 operations and 18 months in hospitals.

My father returned home to a three-year old son and his now alcoholic wife. He was angry. He had not learned how to express himself properly through role models or war, so I never really knew how he felt about me. We were not allowed to talk about anything substantive or painful at the table, I guess it would have been hard. Everything was “fine, fine, fine.” Perhaps you can relate to this upbringing.

I have written about anxiety at home as I never knew if I would be greeted with a warm or angry mom. It was “walking on eggshells.” As a result, I sought control through extreme exercise and dieting, read starvation. I developed an eating disorder that would take me to a place close to death. A family friend carried me out of professional tennis tournament in Milwaukee back home to begin a very frightening effort back to life. The medical field was yet to understand eating disorders. By the way, because of my own sad experience I became a chaplain and counselor in psychiatric hospitals for women and some men facing this often-fatal psychiatric syndrome that warps body, mind and spirit.

I was anxious, with a feeling of nausea, all of my life until age 40 when the Lord entered my life in a Damascus Road-like conversion. By then I was a hospital executive specializing in helping “turn around” troubled hospitals. This very intense career path meant 14-16 hour days dealing with layoffs, re-engineering of systems, angry labor unions and medical staffs. Anxiety, fear, anger and distrust were the bywords in these facilities. I have written many stories about this “dark” period in my book Hospital Parables: “Front Office to Bedside.”  Professionally, I oversaw several successful turnarounds; however personally the toll was again almost fatal to my family, career and my soul.   Suffice it to say, the stress caused me to lose perspective and judgment in many ways that took me back to excessive drinking and other vices.

I was married in my early 20s to a wonderful former high school classmate and nurse. Our marriage was very satisfying, however neither one of us had skills to express emotion. My wife came from a family that just did not talk. Her father worked every day as a dentist, providing well financially, but not emotionally. Her mother was absent as a professional shopper leaving my wife to take care of the other four children. She grew up as a caregiver, explaining a 46-year nursing career.

I am not looking for excuses for my own behavior, but understanding. One major thing I lacked was a sense of the love of the father.  I am speaking about my own and God the Father. My parents were too busy socially to take us to church and get a solid religious foundation, and certainly not a sense of salvation. I had no knowledge of how the trinity related to any reality. Even though my own family now attended a Lutheran church, where I became the head of the church council, I never heard the gospel or an invitation or need to be “saved.”

But God intervened, inviting me to receive Him as Savior and Lord at the lowest point of my life traveling as a “Crisis Manager” in troubled hospitals. The irony of this would become clear much later. Now I was kneeling in several feet of snow emblazoned by the headlights of my car in a midnight blizzard along Lake Superior to receive God’s invitation to receive Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord.  The journey has been long and hard since then, but I was changed that night. I have been in counseling and received much more clear guidance from God as He has spoken audibly to me saying, “This is The Way, Walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). This is also the title of a two-volume book of essays that I have written on how to walk in this “Most excellent way,” as the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:31. The next Bible chapter, known as the “love chapter,” deals with how love looks in our lives.  The love of the Father is a promised reality in Scripture and I too have experienced it palpably.

God wants us to find joy out of fear in our lives through His healing power made perfect in our own weakness. This seeming paradoxical telling us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, that when we are weak, that He is strong. I hear often in my hospital rounds that we must be strong. Well that is true, but our strength is not from ourselves, but from God. God presented Himself to Joshua when he had become the leader of the Hebrews after Moses death. He said, “’Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’” (Joshua 1:9). 

I am now reading a book for a men’s Bible study called, The Strength You Need, by Robert Morgan. It delineates passages of Scripture that empower. Of particular encouragement for me is Nehemiah 8:10 saying, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”  Nehemiah was a cupbearer for Persian King Artaxerxes and grieved for the fallen walls of the Holy City of Jerusalem. He found strength in God to raise up the people and rebuild the walls and their spirits through the power and healing of God’s word in the Bible. He was a leader, encourager and father-like figure in history.

It was nearly 20 years ago now that I can recall a very special healing time in my life. I go to the basement, one of my “man caves,” to study Scripture, exercise and journal. There one pre-dawn morning I sought God for the love of the father that I had never received. This blessing of the father is a Jewish tradition started with Jacob, a Patriarch of Israel. As I prayed, the Holy Spirit of God embraced me. I could feel a very strong and warm hold around my entire body lifting me off the floor, wrapping me in a love of the Father. It was for what seemed perhaps 15 minutes that I lay suspended in His arms above the earth and my troubled past. I was being shown the complete love of God the Father to replace and exceed anything I might have ever received or lost from my own earthly father. It was ecstasy and reality for me. I had been healed deeply and indelibly.

John the Apostle was known as the “Apostle of love.” This love is about a relationship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. We live in a dark world. I recently attended and served a family in our hospital as they received the news that their youngest son had committed suicide and that he was now brain dead. The grief and anguish experienced was terrible. This 18-year old boys organs were harvested the next day to at least be a gift of life for many others. I “debriefed” staff the next day to help them process their own trauma and grief experience. Yes, life is difficult and we all suffer.

John said, “God is light; in Him there is not darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).  We who believe this truth have an “anointing” to continue in hope, loving in words and actions. You see this love of the Father is greater than he that is in the world and will overcome the darkness. This love of the Father drives out all fear and allows us to love one another through it. John tells us that this is the “victory that overcomes the world…only he who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” 1 John 5:4-5).

Love is patient and kind Paul tells us. It is never rude and does not grumble. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13 paraphrase). Get the love of the Father.






Friday, January 8, 2021

Ancient

Do you have interest in the ancient? A lot of people seem to study things like the pyramids of Egypt that are more than 3,000 years old. But above 8,000 feet in the White Mountains of California and around the west there are the oldest living things, the Bristlecone Pines. The oldest them still living is known as “Methuselah,” estimated to be some 4,800 years old.  Even older was “Prometheus,” cut down by an over zealous doctoral student. These ancient and gnarled trees are protected and their locations are not well publicized because of the dark side of people who are sadly looking for ways to make money from them.

These trees grow in the nutrient poor soils of the dolomite rock high in the mountains. They survive more than they grow. The highest are only 60 feet, but some 36 feet in girth. Wind and sand whips them, their resin protects and the bark conducts the rare water at the altitude they grow. They are also known at “wind timber” for obvious reasons.

I have seen these trees, but my cousin, a renowned landscape photographer has studied and photographed them on their rugged perches.
My cousin when seeing these trees said, “but their great ages had a more powerful effect on my imagination and their mysterious and beautiful forms begged to be photographed.” This is a quest for the wonderful and mysterious things of the world. Many search and few find it.
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Do you search for such things? Are you searching for ancient truths and purposes of life? It is a central theme of all men’s lives. Blaise Pascal, the great mathematician and philosopher of the 17th century said that, “there is a God-sized hole in every man’s heart.” The ancient and wise words of Solomon penned in Ecclesiastes, “Everything is meaningless…He has made everything beautiful in its time. He as also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 1:1, 3:11-12).  So do you search for meaning in the world of material things? You won’t find it there. The world is transcient and its posessions do not fill our soul holes. You see that matters because we are body, mind and spirit and only our souls are eternal. Our bodies start falling apart when we are in our 20s and you can’t take anything with you when you die. We will all die and have a choice where we spend eternity. Some believe that we are coming back; some think that this life is it. But Scripture tells us that, “It is appointed once for man to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Yes, we will die and be judged by the Creator God. We can spend eternity in His presense and in light or in darkness outside His presence.

The sand blows slowly to destroy the pyramids and the bristlecones tenaciously hold on as life passes by, but mankind will live forever along with God and His word,

“until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom” (Daniel 7:22).

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Light in The Darkness

Douglas Frank Photograph


Light in the Darkness

Is the line sharp to you between the light and the darkness? Sometimes it is obvious, but often blurred. In our society today lines on moral issues are often very hard to see since we have lost our compass and a sense of truth. Today whatever feels good is appropriate. If it works for you, that’s OK by me I hear. This politically correct and inclusive culture no longer bases its opinions on truth but the whim of the “in thing.” Wisdom from Scripture or ancient prophets is now out of touch with the feelings of people today.

The photograph above clearly delineates dark from light. It is the opening in the clouds that lets the sunlight shine through onto the rocky floor below. This morning as I rode the River Road stars shined in part of the sky above as fog enshrouded clouds blocked other shining lights. Life is a lot like that. There are clouds of complaints and groups of grumblers gumming up our atmosphere. Some call it free speech. Some just want to out shout others. To me there are times when so-called free speech is just selfishness and pride working itself onto the football field or protest walk. I just don’t see clear moral basics and certainly not biblical principles at the foundation of most arguments and ranting today.

The Bible is the foundational document, God’s Word, bringing light in the darkness. Forty human writers empowered by the Holy Spirit of God wrote it over several thousand years. Its teachings through the 10 Commandments are at the basis of our legal system, not just the church. So why has this teaching become an afterthought for most of our society. It requires self-discipline and control to walk in its way. This part of the “Fruit of the Spirit,” comes last because it is required in all moral law and behavior.


I for one find biblical admonition as a clarifier for my walk of life like no other. Failure to teach it or include it in our schools and culture today is to our peril. Fear of trusting in it because of the chiding and even persecution from others is understandable but playing right into Satan’s hand, because “The One that is within me is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Jesus is more than enough for the battle.  He will guide us to whatever is right if we trust Him.