Saturday, August 30, 2014

River Tears


Psalm 34-  Praises to God in time of Trouble

“Have mercy on me. O God, have mercy on me.” David from the cave. His lament to God. “Hear my prayer. O Lord; let my cry for help come to you….Turn your ear to me; when I call, come quickly.” (Ps 56-57) “Record my lament; list or save my tears in a bottle or write them on your scroll.”

David cries out to the God of mercy who cares so much that he seems to catch his tears in his hand. His tears are on his face for David and for you. He is that close and caring. He cries out in anguish as Saul pursues him, and God answers.

“In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?” (Ps 56:10-11).

“I cry out to God the most high to God, who fulfills his purpose for me, for in you my soul takes refuge. He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me.” Selah. (Ps 57:2-4). God sends his love and his faithfulness.

This lament ends with verses that have been enshrined in songs and hymns.
I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted O God above the heavens; let your glory be over al the earth. Ps 57:9-11).

And Now I say SELAH (Peace, rest, pause, meditate) for Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise. David goes on though. His experience with being pursued by Saul and fleeing to Gath and acting Mentally ill or crazy to escape by the skin of his teeth has made a deep and eternal impact that we can read and meditate upon today as we face struggles like David’s: loss of independence, illness, fear of the unknown. Perhaps no one wants to kill you or maybe you feel that way as you consider the age-old questions: Why is life so hard and why am I still alive??

God has answers. Perhaps, not immediate or easy to discern. He brings them through Prayer, His Word (Bible), other Godly and even ungodly people and circumstances. We can learn a lot from David on what to do when faced with struggle and trouble or many kinds. What does he do 1st?? He goes to God in prayer and more specifically PRAISE.

Ps 34-  Context: David is pretending to be insane in 1 Sam 21. He is threatened to almost extinction, the last place on earth he would go, the enemy camp to escape. And there he finds God. At the end of the rope he finds God. “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice, Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.” V. 1-3).

Praise of the Lord for deliverance  in answer to prayer and instruction in godliness.
This is a commitment to continual prayer- an encouragement to the godly who are afflicted for any reason.

Perhaps you have experienced a loss or are grieving even now. The Lord is with us as we are tumbled and washed over by the waves and currents of mourning. I have an interesting natural artifact called a “River Tear” by Pacific Coast native Americans. It is an elongated knot from a tree that has been burnished in a strong river current for years. It is hard and smooth. It is beautiful. This is the way we will look and feel after undergoing the long and trying process of grieving the loss of a loved one or any difficult trial. God will bring us through and make us like gold as we trust in him as Job did.




Friday, August 29, 2014

Fear


Fear is a primal emotion that can save us from danger or cause us to be unable to cope with or enjoy life at all. Fear and fear not appear some 365 times in the Bible, once for every day. Most things we fear are not never happen, some estimate 90%. One acronym for F.E.A.R. is:

  • False
  • Expectation
  • Appearing
  • Real
Fear causes bodily hormones to secrete for protection and to raise the acuity of senses. Over time these hormones are destructive to the body. I grew up in a family where there was always present for me a level of anxiety which is closely related to fear. This caution created a mild nausea for me wherein I was walking on eggshells. Being part of a household with an alcoholic and mentally ill parent caused an uncertainty that was frightening. I never knew if I would be yelled at or there would be warm cookies, or why. Life was very uncertain.  It is normal to want to please our parents, but impossible if you never know what will happen or having expectations accurate.

Psalm 29:25 says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare.”  This trap of pleasing man or being afraid of what to do will entrap, imprison and chain us to fear. The solution might be to run, but this is temporary. The true solution is from Psalms 111.10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This truth is repeated twice in Proverbs.  What is this fear? It is respect and reverence for God. Why? Because as Isaiah 41:10 tells us, “So do not fear for I am with you.”  Psalm 23, the Shepherd’s psalm reminds us not to fear even when we go through the valley of the shadow of death for God’s rod and staff protect and guide us.  This truth reminds me of the earlier blog on Love. “Perfect Love castes out fear.” (1 John 4:18).

As we live in Love or God we will not have fear, for his love never fails, 1 Corinthians 13.
Again the Psalmist in 27:1 reminds us, “The Lord is my light and my salvation-whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life- of whom shall I be afraid?  Today hear this admonition and know that the Lord is our strength and deliverer through the valley of fear. He is your Valley Guide if you trust and listen to him. The Lord will show us what to do or how to respond when in fear. God’s Holy Spirit reveals himself through prayer, God’s word, the Bible, through other godly people and circumstances his will for you. Listen and obey. Bring your fears to the Lord and confess to other godly friends to pray for and help you.


As you find strength in the Lord, you find that many of the expectations or situations appearing real, lose their strength to hurt you. As we are “still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10,11), we will know “The Lord Almighty is with us; The God of Jacob is our fortress.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Hope and Healing

Costa Rica

Have you ever cried out to the Lord in distress? Often in Psalms David is crying out to God. “Hear my cry O Lord, listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faith; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” (Ps 61:1-2).  This is a call I made recently from a place of darkness and close to despair. I felt like the men caught in the mine collapse, waiting for the air to run out or for someone to rescue them. I think of the Chilean mine disaster.  Psalm 20 begins, “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress.”

For me, it was an intense two years under the pressure of the collapse of a church that consummated in the summary firing of all the pastoral staff except me. The two years I served had been ones growing slowly into darkness and tension as many turned against the pastor and gossiped to cause cracks, fissures in his ministry and His church. For what? That God’s church would bleed? That individuals would despair and leave? That the church would split?  I don’t know, but all and more transpired. It is the evil one’s desire for such splits in churches and his people.

During this interim period, my faith and strength waned and darkness grew, as there was not only no encouragement, but also estrangement from the familiar and all my moorings.  I grew into depression, crying out to God and seeking help from a godly Christian counselor for light.

My darkness grew until I reached a place where I was despairing of my life and wanted a way out. I don’t know if any of you have been there? It is a surreal, painful passion of the heart and mind that does not find light or direction even as you seek the Lord. This is a dark and deep tunnel, a mineshaft.
In a disastrous time, all the pastoral staff was forced out except me. I was numb, overwhelmed. I prayed for guidance. God seemed silent, but also seemed to be saying, “stay for the survivors.”

Through the following months, I stayed, submitted and remained under the strain. I served in pain and anxiety, fearing for life. I preached, counseled, visited hospitals and presided at funerals. But not until Pentecost did the dark become light. As I stood in the front row of our sanctuary during Sunday services almost in a fog, I was reminded of the gift of the Holy Spirit to and in us. As the words from Acts 2 were read, I was overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, coming down on me. His warmth and healing power filled me from head to toe. I felt enraptured in God’s healing love. I was soaking wet and trembling. The other pastor standing beside me noticed and asked if I was all right? I responded that I was in ecstasy as God had healed me.

After the service the clear presence of God’s hand on me stayed and spoke. God made clear to me as James 1:2-4 relates that I had remained under the trial, I had obeyed and submitted to him and persevered. He had tested my faith to make me more mature and complete. He did, “send help from the sanctuary and grant me support” (Ps 20:2).  He remembered my sacrifices and accepted my burnt offering; he had given me the desire of my heart and made all my plans succeed. I could shout for joy in victory and lift up banners in the name of our God. He had granted my request and anointed me and answered me from heaven with the saving power of his right hand (vv.3-6).  Yes, I could rise up and stand firm. He answered me when I called. Like the Chilean miners, he had lifted us from darkness into His light.


God made clear to me that I had stayed under and now I was free to leave my call to pursue new pursuits that he would make clear to me. I did resign in his freeing and healing actions.  Members of the church thanked me for my being an anchor for them in a rough sea. I never felt that, but somehow God had stood within or before me to show his faithfulness. And that’s why my next assignment has been to write my book and present this blog, “Great is God’s Faithfulness.”

Friday, August 15, 2014

Rejoice

Courtesy of Pamela Ruschman, Photographer

“The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad, let the distant shores rejoice.” Ps 97:1
This is a psalm of gladness and rejoicing even amongst the storms of life. It is a reminder of his righteousness and justice. They are the foundations of his throne (v.2). He guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. What a promise as we trust in him. The bible has thousands of promises. Verse 11 says “Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart.

As I gaze out over the waters of Lake Michigan early this summer morning I see the horizon, the sun just beginning to blaze from the distant shores with rejoicing.  I am sitting on a stone bench at Concordia University with verse 1 of this ancient psalm carved on the back. It is always a reality exploding into my consciousness. Poet Frederick Faber wrote,

My God, how wonderful thou art,
Thy majesty how bright,
How beautiful thy mercy seat
In depths of burning light!

This morning be glad that our God’s light is shining brightly across the waters. Whether there is a storm with crashing waves on the shore or quiet, flat calm, his light reflects. Sometimes the golden beams are sparkling like diamonds. Other times  dark blues and purples with white foam between the waves wash.


There is a story in Matthew 4 where the Disciples are in a storm in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and fearing for their lives. Jesus is asleep in the stern. When roused by the terrified men, he rises and tells the sea, “Quiet, be still!” and it does. Yes, God can quiet and bring peace in the storms of our lives and he will in his timing and ways.  There are many stories and verse in scripture that remind us that the waters will not overcome us or the fires burn us (Isaiah 43). God is telling us to take an eternal view of the circumstances. Even though we may be in the valley of the shadow of death as Ps 23 relates, we are walking and we will get through. So fear not and be glad. Look to the distant shores and rejoice.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Mountaintops

The prophet Micah said, “Let us go to the mountain of the Lord.” (Micah 4:2). “In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and the peoples will stream to it…Come let us go to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.”  In the Psalms we read, “I look to the hills, where does my help come from. My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Ps 121:1).  This psalm is one of the psalms of ascent written for the pilgrims as they made their way to the house of the Lord, the temple in Jerusalem. It was on the top of the highest hill.  This is where God reigns so often as written in scripture. This is also where I love to go to find a special time with the Lord in his awesome creation in the mountains of Montana. Here the mighty Missouri River carves its way between the mountains’ majesty.

I make this trip every year to join my two sons and their families as they have married Montana women. We all love the beauty and the hiking, hunting and fishing in God’s wilderness under the “Big Sky.”

Last fall I trekked once again to Montana to help my son finish a house he was rehabbing.  We took out time to hike high above the valley to the top of the Highwood Mountains .  They were green with scrub sage and moss above the verdant spruce tree line and golden Aspens.  As we sat on a huge summit boulder watching a soaring golden eagle flying into the setting sun, the Psalmists word came alive again. “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep.” Ps 36:6.  We were in awe at the beauty and peace in the quiet of the moment. The bright yellow blazes of Aspen splashed through the evergreens below as they that came up again the cobalt sky.  We had not seen the bull Elk we were tracking with bow, but that hardly mattered.

We paused in silence to praise God for His creation and presence. “For in His presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand pleasures forevermore” (Ps 16:11).

Once more at the base of the mountain we made a brief stop at our favorite trout stream to catch a dinner of brown trout. This little creek meanders through the high plains grasses along the Belt Mountain foothills beside a buffalo ranch. We wore hip boots to wade and to protect us from the ever-present rattlesnakes in this dry cliff valley. Quickly a “canary yellow” brown took my grasshopper and dinner was in the bag.  One more stop at the micro brewery in the town of Cascade to pick up a couple of growlers of Belgian White made our dinner complete.


Once home we bathed in the twilight and beauty of our afternoon,  knowing  that we had just experienced how long, wide, high and deep is the love of God.