Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Stand Firm

 “Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm”(Ephesians 6:13). Paul is telling us to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power so that we can take a stand against the wiles of the devil, who is roaming around looking for someone to devour as Peter tells us in 1 Peter 5:8.

Stand firm is a call of God to believers in an era becoming increasingly compromised to follow the culture that is falling into the moral abyss.  Paul clearly challenges us that in these later days the world will be falling apart, but that we must take a stand against it. Triumphantly, in 1 Corinthians 15-16 he tells us that “death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). This is speaking of Christ’s victory over death on the cross and His resurrection to new life. “Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). Paul is talking to his disciples about continuing to be a witness if the Lord permits. He admonishes us, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love” (1Cor. 16:13-14).

This encouragement is throughout Scripture. In Exodus 14:13 the Hebrews were afraid of the Egyptians as they stood at the Red Sea, and Moses said, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.”  A little later in history, Jehoshaphat was in battle with the Moabites. “This is what the Lord says to you: Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 14:15). 

As many readers know, I love the Psalms. In Psalm 33 we are to sing joyfully to the Lord, why? “… the Plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalms 33:11).  There is in Psalm 40 an encouragement for Christians and Jews who trust in the Lord. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth” (Psalm 40:1-3).  The image of the Rock as God on the cover of my book Great is God’s Faithfulness signifies a place where we can stand firm.  The Prophet Isaiah 7:9 told us, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”  Standing firm in your faith means standing on the truth of the Word of God, the Bible. This admonition comes just before his prophetic words of the coming of Immanuel, “God with us,” speaking of the incarnation of Jesus Christ who would have to come to die for our sin so that we might live in Him. 

Paul again in 1 Corinthians 10:13 speaks of temptation and trials we will face. “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; and will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”  Yes, temptations and trials will come to each of us. What do we do? What do we do when our church changes the Word of God? The answer is clear in Scripture that His Word must not be changed. “If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in his book” (Revelation 22:18). This is speaking of His Revelation or revealing, which is the apocalypse. The whole Bible is the revealing of God in Christ Jesus, the Old Testament concealed, the New Testament revealed. God is providing a way out or through this difficulty.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery”  (Galatians 5:1). Paul addressed the believers in Thessalonica to stand firm in the Gospel as Satan and counterfeit teachers bring adulterated words in end times. “So then brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

James, the brother of Jesus has strong words about suffering and trials and how they will make us mature and complete, lacking nothing. He speaks about asking God if we do not know what to do and He will give us generously what we need and how to do it. This is a wonderful promise in times of trouble. “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits …you too be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:7,8,9).

Throughout Scripture, God tells us that His Word stands forever (Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25). Paul is telling us to stand, “Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: The Lord knows who are His, and Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness” (2 Timothy 2:19). The next verses are very telling of the times we are experiencing in His church. “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servants must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:23-26).

I will continue to serve and teach and try to reach all people with gentleness and respect for the times are short. I will look to the light for, “God is light and in Him there is no darkness” (1 John 1:5). Maranatha! Come quickly Jesus.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Silence and Serenity

You are shouting so loud I can’t hear you. This seems to be the sound of today in the harsh reality of traffic jams, blaring music, television and radio. We have the attention span of seconds, or of a gnat.  "Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant gratification is a pressing spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for greater numbers of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” (Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster).

In his profound work, Intimacy with the Almighty, Chuck Swindoll speaks of the spiritual disciplines of simplicity, silence, solitude and surrender. It is the voluntary withdrawal Far From The Madding Crowd to find quiet and stillness.  The Psalms tell us to lie down beside the still waters (Ps 23:2) and “to be still and know that I am God.” Ps 46:10. But we seem to stampede past these places today. Can we pause; with God’s help and modeling.  

Jesus gave us structure to the discipline. In wilderness and desert he sought His Father in Matthew 4. In Matt 14 he headed to the mountains to pray. Mark 1:25 and Luke 4:42 tell us that Jesus went early to a solitary place to pray.  Corrie Ten Boom, the German survivor of the Holocaust told of the secret place, the closet or desert place to seek God.  Noise and words and frenzied schedules dull our senses, closing our ears to His "still small voice" as Elijah finally found in 1 Kings 19:11 after running from Jezebel.

Zephaniah 1:7 says, “Be silent in the presence of the Lord God, for the day of the Lord is at hand.”  The Prophet Habakkuk 2:20 reminds us too, “But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let the earth keep silence before Him.” Again, Zechariah 2:13 tells us, “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for He is aroused from His holy habitation.” These are not often read passages in this activity-addicted world. What value is it? The Prophet Isaiah in the 30th chapter gives us powerful counsel. “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Do we understand this ancient truth that our salvation and strength are in quietness and rest?  Jeremiah the Prophet in Lamentations 3:26 tells us, “it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” God is telling us that we must learn to listen to His still, small voice continuously. Why? Isaiah 30:21 goes on to 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.'  God is saying, that He is speaking always and we must listen to stay on His path and be in His will.

So where do you go to find silence and solitude. Jonathan Edwards found it in fields and forests. Suzana Wesley, with 13 children, found it by pulling her apron over her head. I find it in the basement in early morning for devotions, or anywhere in God’s awesome creation where there are no people. A favorite place is Pier’s Gorge, a torrential rapids on the Menomonee River in Upper Michigan, or in the Rocky Mountains of Montana where one of my sons lives.  Find your secret places.

Seek the will of the Lord in silence and solitude. There is a time to be silent the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, or as James 1 tells us, be silent and listen for the tongue can sink ships and start forest fires. Listening is hard and a radical discipline Dallas Willard states.  In his book, People Are Dying To Be Heard, my friend and author/ speaker Ben Merens says it well. “Sometimes the best way to have effective communication is to allow for silence between the words. Don’t fear silence in your conversations. Embrace it.”

Well, I’ve said a mouthful, so now it’s time to be silent until next week.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Surprised By Joy

Psalm 130
A song of ascents.

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy. 
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand? 
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope. 
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with Him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

In my book Great is God’s Faithfulness I wrote from Psalm 130 about this magnificent Psalm of Ascent to the Holy Hill, the Temple in Jerusalem. Moreover, this psalm is also about forgiveness of sins and guilt. I am reminded of the story of my father’s life.

My father grew up without a father as he had committed suicide, jumping off the roof of his troubled business in the first recession of last century when my father was just nine years old. A caring uncle paid for my father’s education in Ivy League colleges. Then WWII began.

My father shipped off to Africa as an artillery officer in the 32nd Division to chase Rommel. Then up to Sicily and the “Boot” of Italy. In the Battle of Monte Cassino, January 1944, he was severely wounded by a German 88MM artillery shell. After being rescued from under a jeep that had blown over him, he was driven through enemy lines to a British field hospital and then overseas on a hospital ship. Once back in the U.S., he suffered through 18 operations on his legs, arms and back, leaving considerable shrapnel in his body. The pain of the shrapnel and the war left him bitter and angry, even though decorated for bravery with the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his physical injuries. He was honorably discharged from the Army with the status of total disability.

Growing up with my father was a privilege yet often not a close or warm one. His fatherless upbringing and I believe residual anger and bitterness with the Germans often surfaced leaving him emotionally aloof at times. However, he was a generous man, financially supporting my education as his had been. He buried himself in work; particularly volunteer board leadership in Milwaukee. This emotional life was understandable, and made more complex by the fact that our family were German emigrants to the United States. He would not forgive the Germans.

My father’s unforgiveness festered in him. The Bible is clear that unforgiveness will lead to imprisonment of the soul and cause increasingly difficult anger that will eventually consume.  I know that my father was proud of his military service, particularly the men with whom he had served, however, his inner gloom remained. I know that he was a man with an outside humor, one of the best joke tellers around. That is often a clue of something going on inside.

Well, the years passed and my mother, with undiagnosed bi-polar disease and alcoholism, slipped into Alzheimer’s dementia. Life with her was almost impossible, exacerbating my father’s distress. We moved her to an assisted care facility, but they could not hold her. After numerous forced moves up the care chain, we eventually found a locked Alzheimer’s unit for her. Here she deteriorated until unable to speak or eat, she disappearing behind the dark veil of dementia. My father could not handle it, and suicidal, he moved back to their Florida home to find sanity, while I oversaw my mother’s care.

My father had shoulder surgery shortly thereafter and I visited him in Florida. He had found a friend whose spouse also had dementia with whom he could commiserate. We spoke of the trials of life and I spoke of how the love of God in Christ could free us. During this trip, my father forgave the Germans and gave up his bitterness. He also confessed his anger and sin and received the forgiveness of Christ and salvation. He became a new man, whole and healed physically and spiritually. Joy entered his life like C.S. Lewis speaks of in his moving book Surprised By Joy. I returned to Milwaukee where I would care for my mother.  About a year later, my father died in his sleep recovering from hip surgery. His worldly pain is gone, and I will see him again. 

At that time, I visited my mother at least weekly, with her not recognizing me or screaming at me in anger in her demented state. Yes, this was very difficult. Slowly, she deteriorated, until she had not spoken for two years. I was then working at a large health insurance company in Brookfield only a few miles from her care facility.  One day, while I walked to a meeting in the CEO’s office, the Lord spoke to me to visit my mother. I told God of my meeting, but he persisted and I went to visit.

As I visited her with no response, I tried something new. I had brought her mother’s Bible for some reason. I shared her childhood upbringing and told her of my own “born again” faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I told her that I would be going to heaven some day and that she could too.  Tears in her eyes now, the veil of Alzheimer’s tore, opening her mind and mouth. She said, “If you trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and are going to heaven, then I too could trust in Jesus and would go to heaven and we would be together.”  I prayed with her and we embraced in our new- found faith together.

Later that day, one of my mother’s nurses called me asking what I had done to her because she was aglow.  She died shortly thereafter,five years to the day after my father.

The photo below is my father in uniform after the war standing with my German Uncle Bill- Go figure. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Rock Revisited

This week we return to the Rock. King David’s Psalm 18 portrays a man being delivered from the hand of his enemies, Saul particularly. I give thanks for David as a “man after my own heart.” (Acts 13:22). Although he sinned in many ways, he sought the Lord and found forgiveness and strength for the battle.

I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.  He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.”(vv.1-3). The strong image presented of God’s immoveable strength and power is very reassuring for me.  I note that in this psalm and most, David calls on the Lord and praises him. Often he cries out to the Lord. Yes, that is what each of us must do in every situation. Do not be wise in your own eyes, but seek the Lord’s wisdom and strength in times of trouble.

The psalm thunders on about God’s intervention. “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of the deep waters” (v.16). This is reminiscent of several psalms of salvation and healing. I think of Psalm 103:3, “He lifted me out of the pit and filled me with love and compassion.”  Back to Psalm 18:25, “To the faithful, you show yourself faithful.”   I love verse 28, “You O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.”  Remember God is light and in him there is no darkness” (1 John 1:5).

God’s ways are perfect and, “It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” (vv. 32-33).  He guides us in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake as Psalm 23 tells us. These ways may not be smooth or easy, but they will be his way, the right way to go.

So, what do we do in difficult times? “The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior!...I will sing praises to your name” (vv.46,49). I don’t know about you, but as I praise the Lord, I envision his immoveable strength as a Rock. The Rock on the cover of my book, Great is God’s Faithfulness, from Psalm 61 is such a vision and empowering thought for me.  God is faithful and will deliver us through the valleys with his rod and staff. It may not be easy and it may take time, but his ways and timing are perfect and he is making our ways perfect too!

Friday, April 10, 2015

God's Faithfulness Revisited

I am revisiting the theme of God’s faithfulness, because this crazy world keeps giving me a need to find an unmovable strength.  Again, the Psalms are a wonderful source of God’s faithfulness.

Psalm 92 says, “It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, …I sing for joy at the works of your hands.”
God is faithful as the writer continues in Psalm 89. “I will sing of  the Lord’s great love forever, with my mouth I will make you faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that you love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself. .. You are might, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you…Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence O Lord.”

The Sons of Korah write in Psalm 85:10, “Love and faithfulness meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.”  Peace is promised for those who trust in the Lord because of His righteousness and faithfulness to all generations. In fact God’s faithfulness is mentioned 109 times in Scripture.  So how is that relevant?

This morning I headed to the YMCA for my morning swim and “water meditation.” On the way in, I ran into a friend of the Jewish faith with whom I have an ongoing dialogue about life. He was glad to see me, but was facing a couple of tough meetings today. I told him of my morning devotional time in the Psalms concerning God’s faithfulness even in our chaotic world. He listened intently. That is his style as he recently published a book on listening, PeopleAre Dying To Be Heard: A guide to listening for a lifetime of communications. I was communicating a truth or attribute of God to him and he was receiving the blessing of its strength for the journey. 

God admonishes us to share His truths and promises with all we meet in life. It is for our good and His glory. This practice can become a habit for life that builds you and other people up.  Encouraging others of God’s love and faithfulness is a powerful tool in our chest for facing the difficulties of life. He is saying, be faithful for I am faithful. Are you reading, meditating upon and sharing God’s truths and promises so you can be more faithful?